Studies have been established that prove:*
• The human brain processes visuals 400,000 times faster than it does text.
• Visual aids have been found to improve learning by up to 400%.

Other important facts about visual aids:**
• Retention of information is six times greater when information is presented visually and orally than when it is conveyed by spoken word alone.
• Approximately 83% of human learning happens visually; the remaining 17% is achieved via the other senses--1% through hearing, 3.5% through smell, 1% through taste, and 1.5% through touch.
• Three days after an informational presentation, people retain 10% from an oral presentation, 35% from a visual presentation, and 65% from a visual and oral presentation.

So the use of effective visual aids during your presentation is a powerful tool that adds impact and interest to reinforce your main ideas. When used properly, these visuals significantly enhance and deliver information in a way that makes it memorable.

However, used ineffectively, visual aids detract considerably from your message and will lose your audience’s attention. And statistically, only about 10% of presenters use visuals properly. So it is key to keep the following points in mind when preparing your visual aids.

Guidelines for using visual aids

1. KISS. Keep it simple--the age-old advice applies as much today as it ever did, in these times of sensory overload. Do not use visuals for words, words, words. The graphic element should be simple and contain the single message of one particular set of data--for instance, a chart or graph for numerical info, a sketch or drawing to show designs and plans. And don’t overload the visual with extraneous data.

2. Don’t send your audience dreaming. Very often, a PowerPoint text presentation--slide by slide--can be a sleeping pill and eyes will glaze over as the first bullet point formulaically ‘flies’ in from stage left. Always try to avoid text slides (and especially don’t read from them). Perhaps leave handouts as take-aways instead.

3. The 4x4 Rule. If, for some reason, you’re convinced you must use text slides, abide by the 4x4 Rule: Limit four lines of text to a slide, and limit four words maximum to a line.

4. Silly, or corny, images. Resist using the royalty-free photos of actors showing emotions like disappointment and surprise, or other photos that attempt silly humor. Your audience will not be amused but will more likely find it amateurish.

Remember, visual aids should be the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. Concise, clean graphics and charts will pack the message punch you are looking to deliver. If you use slides for your words, your message will become robotic, and is likely to be forgotten.

Reinforce your words with simple but effective graphs and illustrations. Keep these guidelines in mind when planning your next set of visual aids and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how effectively your audience will retain your message.

George Kops
Focus Communications International

*Knowledge Industry Publications, 1998
** training

Author's Bio: 

George Kops is a leading authority on, practitioner of, and instructor in the interpersonal communications arena. He has worked with thousands of employees globally to make them more effective communicators, reinforcing the mission of his company, Focus Communications International: “Helping to build your business through better personal communications.” Whether one-to-one or one-to-hundreds, his goal is to help clients hone their oral and written communication skills.

With a BA in Economics from Ohio State and a Columbia University MBA, Kops began his career at the advertising/PR agency Young & Rubicam, went on to the ‘Rational Process’ critical thinking consulting group Kepner-Tregoe, ultimately finding his own niche in communications consulting while east coast regional manager for Communispond. In 1985 Kops launched Focus Communications International and continues to be highly sought after by Fortune companies around the globe for his Value Added Communications® programs, teaching effective communications in meetings, technical presentations, executive communications, sales presentations, media skills, voicemail messaging, videoconferencing, train the trainer, and writing for results. Additional information regarding Value Added Communications® programs and philosophy can be found at

George Kops and his wife, Ginny, make their home in New Canaan, CT, where they have raised two sons and a daughter.