Using Visual Aids

This resource was prepared by the Business Communications Lab at the Sam M. Walton College of Business
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Visual aids enhance presentations by helping audiences understand complicated information and stay engaged. Ideally, visual aids should be used to complement the speaker, not replace or distract from the message. Remember, technical difficulties can occur so always be prepared to present without the use of visual aids if necessary.

How do I use text?
When using visual aids, only use text when necessary. Unnecessary text can encourage the audience to read your visual aid instead of watching your presentation.

Avoid hard to read fonts like chiller or Jokerman. Instead, opt for a font like Arial (most commonly used and accessible presentation font), or another sans-serif font. Your font size should be at least 30pt to ensure that your audience can read your slides. The smaller the screen, the larger your font should be.

How do I use color?
A visual aid should follow a simple color scheme. Stick to a single background color, a single text color, and a third color for highlighting or emphasis. Generally, the background of your visual aid should be a light color, and the text color should be the exact opposite color on the color wheel, though there are some instances when a dark background color and light text can be used. Consider lighting. Will your audience be able to see the information in most lighting situations?

Especially when representing a company, consider branding when choosing colors and design elements for your visual aid.

How do I use images?
Use charts, graphs, or photographs to visually depict complicated information. Effective visuals clarify the story being told. Images should only be present if they enhance the presentation in some way, or give the audience something they could not get from hearing you speak alone. Unnecessary images can distract audiences just as much as unnecessary text.
How do I use motion?
Don’t. Avoid using motion as a slide transition, and unnecessarily animating images or text to bounce or zoom across the screen. Motion can be used to enhance a presentation if it is not distracting. Enlarging or changing the color of images and text boxes as they are being discussed can help audiences to understand complicated charts or graphs, for example.
How do incorporate balance?
Negative (white/blank) space is good, so do not unnecessarily clutter your slides. The text and images you do include should be appropriately sized and centered. Margins matter. Do not squish information on slides or use images with the aspect ratio distorted.
How do I build an effective slide deck?
Create your content before you create your slides. Plan out what you should say and when you should say it. Order your message for impact. In other words, skillfully arrange your content so the message connects to the images. Tell a story. For more information on business narrative, see our Business Storytelling resource.

Before you begin using design software, sketch out your presentation on Post-it notes or note cards as if it were a story board.  Storyboarding will force you to simplify your ideas and allow you to rearrange slide order.

Once you have mapped out your content and created a logical structure, it’s time to build your slide deck. Open your design software and begin creating your presentation. Watch Nancy Duarte’s HBR video below for additional tips on building effective presentations.



Remember, avoid distracting effects or images in your presentations. This includes clip art, animation, and sound or transition effects.

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