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July 27, 2021

5 reasons to use visual aids for speeches and presentations

A whopping 65 percent of humans are visual learners. This makes sense, considering the brain processes visual information about 60,000 times faster than text.

It also explains why it’s so important for speakers to incorporate compelling visual aids into their presentations. Impactful visuals help us communicate our ideas and messaging more effectively—no matter what type of audience we are trying to reach.

a person creating a PowerPoint presentation on their laptop.

Here are 5 facts that drill home the importance of visual aids when it comes to delivering a memorable presentation or speech.

1. Presentation visuals grab an audience’s attention—and keep it

Human beings are naturally curious creatures but we have a short attention span—and it’s gotten worse in our current era of information overload and non-stop scrolling. When listening to a speech or presentation, audience interest peaks around the 10-minute mark and then drops precipitously depending on the content and communication style of the speaker. (A Ben Stein soundalike drolling on about duality quantum algorithms? Godspeed.) That’s why so many experts insist on capping lectures at 15 to 20 minutes or mixing up the format with 20-minute blocks. Interesting visual aids can help you do that.

They spark interest when the brain is feeling fatigued, making it easier to receive and process complex information. Think of each new visual or animation as little shots of adrenaline—capturing the waning attention of an audience and re-energizing the room. This can be especially effective when embedding picture polls, or visuals that require audience members to pull out their phones and interact with the content you’ve presented.

2. Presentation visuals make complex ideas easier to understand

Not everyone computes information at the same speed. Infographics make data-heavy presentations more digestible—breaking statistics and other figures or timelines into bite-sized chunks. They’re also more persuasive. According to a study conducted at the Wharton School of Business, 67 percent of audience members were more convinced by the content of a verbal presentation with accompanying visuals versus 50 percent with a verbal-only presentation.

“They say a picture is worth a thousand words—it’s cliché but true. Images make viewers feel things that words cannot and give presenters a way to connect with their audience on a more visceral level.”

3. Presentation visuals build emotional bridges with the audience

They say a picture is worth a thousand words—it’s cliché but true. Images make viewers feel things that words cannot and give presenters a way to connect with their audience on a more visceral level. (Yes, even if your audience is a bunch of humorless academics.) Instead of listing off dull facts about global warming, pop in a few slides depicting recent floods or forest fires to drive home your point. Powerful imagery, including 3D effects and visually appealing templates, resonate with audiences and makes them care more deeply about what you’re saying.

4. Presentation visuals help audiences retain information

Researchers have found that people who are asked to recall information after a three-day period retained just 10 percent of what they heard during an oral presentation, 35 percent from a visual presentation, and 65 percent from an oral presentation with visuals. You’ve worked too hard preparing your address to have the audience walk away remembering only a tiny fraction of what you said. Embracing visuals will improve the odds by six times.

5. Presentation visuals keep your speech on track

Peppering your presentation with visual aids will help you organize your talking points, avoid off-topic rambling, and even jog your memory if you get hit with a bout of stage fright.

But remember: While thoughtful visuals will make a speech or presentation much stronger, they won’t save you if you show up unprepared. The purpose of a visual aid is to engage the audience, boost their understanding of your content, ignite an emotional response, and help you convey important messaging—but it is never a substitute for preparation.

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