Visual Aids: How Much Is Too Much?

Article excerpt

The presentation was held at a large conference venue in late 1999. Hundreds of banking and insurance executives had assembled to hear a popular academic talk about what the next five years meant for their industry. "An Exciting, Multi-Media program That Leaves a Message," was the program billing.

After a friendly introduction, the speaker began with a question: "I'm not worried about Y2K. What worries me is our future. Just what will you do if things go badly? How prepared are you for the unexpected?" Next, moving to a table where her laptop was set-up, she simultaneously pushed enter and asked, "Assume that you are heavily invested in Tech stocks and, one sunny day, the market does this!

With an elegant sweep of her hand, she focused to the three dark projection screens behind her. But they remained dark. She walked back to the laptop, tapped some keys. Still nothing. She hit "reload," and the words "Reloading Program" appeared on the screen.

The next five minutes for her must have seemed like an hour. For those close enough to see, it was straight out of the comedy Airplane when the "pilot" was nervously trying to land the 747, with rivers of sweat running down his face. Our feelings went from the initial, "Ah, poor gal," to "Why wasn't she better prepared? Who needs all that stuff anyway?"

When more is less

"Far too many bankers are convinced that every presentation requires the use of visual aids, especially of the newest, glitzy variety," my own banker commented when I told her that I was about to do a story on this subject. Carolyn Martinez has been in banking for over 22 years and is vice-president of marketing with Mission Bank, a business bank in my town. An excellent speaker, Carolyn's style can be described in two words: Listener Centered. "When I give talk, I try to imagine the audience as just sitting across the table," she explains. "If I use visual aids, I use very few. Indeed, if over-used, PowerPoint and other media can become a dangerous crutch.

Do I need visual aids?

Conducting Presentation seminars for the past ten years, both in this country and abroad, there is one question that I can count on being asked. "What [visual aid] do you use? Overhead? PowerPoint? Video?" While polite, the question reveals that we have forgotten that the essence of public speaking, which is having a speaker and an audience.

When I say, "Thanks, but I don't use any of that," a frequent reaction is "You don't? …