Public Speaking


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Chapter 9: Presentation Aids in Speaking

Learning Objectives After reading this chapter, the student will be able to:

• List and explain reasons why presentation aids are important in pub- lic speaking and how they function;

• Describe the various computer-based and non-computer-based types of presentation aids available to the students;

• Explain the correct use of various types of presentation aids; • Design professional-looking slides using presentation software.

Chapter Preview 9.1 – What are Presentation Aids?

9.2 – Functions of Presentation Aids

9.3 – Types of Presentation Aids

9.4 – Using Presentation Slides

9.5 – Low-Tech Presentation Aids

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9.1 - What Are Presentation Aids? When you give a speech, you are presenting much more than just a col- lection of words and ideas. Because you are speaking “live and in person,” your audience members will experience your speech through all five of their senses: hearing, vision, smell, taste, and touch. In some speaking situations, the speaker appeals only to the sense of hearing, more or less ignoring the other senses except to avoid visual distractions by dress- ing and presenting himself or herself in an appropriate manner. But the speaking event can be greatly enriched by appeals to the other senses. This is the role of presentation aids.

Presentation aids are the resources beyond the speech itself that a speaker uses to enhance the message conveyed to the audience. The type of presentation aids that speakers most typically make use of are visual aids: pictures, diagrams, charts and graphs, maps, and the like. Audible aids include musical excerpts, audio speech excerpts, and sound effects. A speaker may also use fragrance samples or food samples as olfactory (sense of smell) or gustatory (sense of taste) aids. Finally, presentation aids can be three-dimensional objects, animals, and people; they can change over a period of time, as in the case of a how-to demonstration.

As you can see, the range of possible presentation aids is almost infinite. However, all presentation aids have one thing in common: To be effective, each presentation aid a speaker uses must be a direct, uncluttered exam- ple of a specific element of the speech. It is understandable that someone presenting a speech about Abraham Lincoln might want to include a pho- tograph of him, but because everyone already knows what Lincoln looked like, the picture would not contribute much to the message unless, per- haps, the message was specifically about the changes in Lincoln’s appear- ance during his time in office.

Other visual artifacts are more likely to deliver information more directly relevant to the speech—a diagram of the interior of Ford’s Theater where Lincoln was assassinated, a facsimile of the messy and much-edited Get- tysburg Address, or a photograph of the Lincoln family, for example. The key is that each presentation aid must directly express an idea in your speech.

Moreover, presentation aids must be used at the time when you are presenting the specific ideas related to the aid. For example, if you are speaking about coral reefs and one of your supporting points is about the location of the world’s major reefs, it would make sense to display a map of these reefs while you’re talking about location. If you display it while you are explaining what coral actually is, or describing the kinds of fish that feed on a reef, the map will not serve as a useful visual aid—in fact, it’s likely to be a distraction.

Presentation aids

the resources beyond the speech itself that a speaker uses to en- hance the message conveyed to the audi- ence


of or relating to the sense of smell


of or relating to the sense of taste

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Presentation aids must also be easy to use. At a conference on organic farming, one of the authors watched as the facilitator opened the orienta- tion session by creating a conceptual map (or “mind map”) of our concerns using a large newsprint pad on an easel. In his shirt pocket were wide- tipped felt markers in several colors. As he was using the black marker to write the word “pollution,” he dropped the cap on the floor, and it rolled a few inches under the easel. When he bent over to pick up the cap, all the other markers fell out of his pocket. They rolled about too, and when he tried to retrieve them, he bumped the easel, causing the easel and news- print pad to tumble over on top of him. The audience responded with amusement and thundering applause, but the serious tone of his speech was ruined. The next two days of the conference were punctuated with allusions to the unforgettable orientation speech. This is not how you will want your speech to be remembered.

To be effective, presentation aids must also be easy for the listeners to see and understand. In this chapter, we will present some principles and strategies to help you incorporate effective presentation aids into your speech. We will begin by discussing the functions that good presentation aids fulfill. Next, we will explore some of the many types of presentation aids and how best to design and utilize them. We will also describe various media that can be used for presentation aids. We will conclude with tips for successful preparation and use of presentation aids in a speech.

9.2 – Functions of Presentation Aids Why should you use presentation aids? If you have prepared and re- hearsed your speech adequately, shouldn’t a good speech with a good delivery be enough to stand on its own? While it is true that impressive presentation aids will not rescue a poor speech, it is also important to recognize that a good speech can often be made even better by the strate- gic use of presentation aids. Presentation aids can fulfill several functions: they can serve to improve your audience’s understanding of the informa- tion you are conveying, enhance audience memory and retention of the message, add variety and interest to your speech, and enhance your credi- bility as a speaker. Let’s examine each of these functions.

Improving Audience Understanding Human communication is a complex process that often leads to misunder- standings. If you are like most people, you can easily remember incidents when you misunderstood a message or when someone else misunderstood what you said to them. Misunderstandings happen in public speaking just as they do in everyday conversations.

One reason for misunderstandings is the fact that perception and interpre- tation are highly complex individual processes. Most of us have seen the

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image in which, depending on your perception, you see either the outline of a vase or the facial profiles of two people facing each other. Or perhaps you have seen the image of the woman who may or may not be young, depending on your frame of reference at the time. This shows how inter- pretations can differ, and it means that your presentations must be based on careful thought and preparation to maximize the likelihood that your listeners will understand your presentations as you intend them to do so.

As a speaker, one of your basic goals is to help your audience understand your message. To reduce misunderstanding, presentation aids can be used to clarify or to emphasize.

Figure 9.1 - Coriolis Effect

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Figure 9.2 - Model of Communication

Clarifying Clarification is important in a speech because if some of the information you convey is unclear, your listeners will come away puzzled or possibly even misled. Presentation aids can help clarify a message if the informa- tion is complex or if the point being made is a visual one.

If your speech is about the impact of the Coriolis Effect on tropical storms, for instance, you will have great difficulty clarifying it without a diagram because the process is a complex one. The diagram in Figure 9.1 (“Coriolis Effect”) would be effective because it shows the audience the interaction between equatorial wind patterns and wind patterns moving in other directions. The diagram allows the audience to process the information in two ways: through your verbal explanation and through the visual ele- ments of the diagram. Figure 9.2 (“Model of Communication”) is another

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example of a diagram that maps out the process of human communication. In this image you clearly have a speaker and an audience with the labels of source, channel, message, receivers, and feedback to illustrate a basic model of human communication. As with most models, it is simplified. (Can you remember what two components of the communication process, explained in Chapter 1, that are missing here?)

Figure 9.3 - Petroglyph example

Figure 9.4 - Planetary Water Supply

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Another aspect of clarifying occurs when a speaker wants to help audience members understand a visual concept. For example, if a speaker is talking about the importance of petroglyphs in Native American culture, just describing the petroglyphs won’t completely help your audience to visual- ize what they look like. Instead, showing an example of a petroglyph, as in Figure 9.3 (“Petroglyph”) can more easily help your audience form a clear mental image of your intended meaning.

Figure 9.5 - Chinese Lettering Amplified. Source: Image courtesy of Wikimedia,

Emphasizing When you use a presentational aid for emphasis, you impress your listen- ers with the importance of an idea. In a speech on water conservation, you might try to show the environmental proportions of the resource. When you use a conceptual drawing like the one in Figure 9.4 (“Planetary Water Supply”), you show that if the world water supply were equal to ten gallons, only ten drops would be available and drinkable for human or household consumption. This drawing is effective because it emphasizes the scarcity of useful water and thus draws attention to this important information in your speech.

Another way of emphasizing that can be done visually is to zoom in on a specific aspect of interest within your speech. In Figure 9.5 (“Chinese Let- tering Amplified”), we see a visual aid used in a speech on the importance of various parts of Chinese characters. On the left side of the visual aid, we see how the characters all fit together, with an emphasized version of a sin- gle character on the right.

So, clarifying and emphasizing are two roles that support the “Im- proving Audience Understanding” purpose of presentation aids. What are other purposes?

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Aiding Retention and Recall The second function that presentation aids can serve is to increase the audience’s chances of remembering your speech. An article by the U.S. De- partment of Labor (1996) summarized research on how people learn and remember. The authors found that “83% of human learning occurs visual- ly, and the remaining 17% through the other senses—11% through hearing, 3.5% through smell, 1% through taste, and 1.5% through touch.”

For this reason, exposure to an image can serve as a memory aid to your listeners. When your graphic images deliver information effectively and when your listeners understand them clearly, audience members are likely to remember your message long after your speech is over. Moreover, peo- ple often are able to remember information that is presented in sequential steps more easily than if that information is presented in an unorganized pattern. When you use a presentation aid to display the organization of your speech (such as can be done with PowerPoint slides), you will help your listeners to observe, follow, and remember the sequence of informa- tion you conveyed to them. This is why some instructors display a lecture outline for their students to follow during class and why a slide with a preview of your main points can be helpful as you move into the body of your speech.

An added plus of using presentation aids is that they can boost your memory while you are speaking. Using your presentation aids while you rehearse your speech will familiarize you with the association between a given place in your speech and the presentation aid that accompanies that material.

Adding Variety and Interest A third function of presentation aids is simply to make your speech more interesting. For example, wouldn’t a speech on varieties of roses have greater impact if you accompanied your remarks with a picture of each rose? You can imagine that your audience would be even more enthralled if you had the ability to display an actual flower of each variety in a bud vase. Similarly, if you were speaking to a group of gourmet cooks about Indian spices, you might want to provide tiny samples of spices that they could smell and taste during your speech.

Enhancing a Speaker’s Credibility Presentation aids alone will not be enough to create a professional image. As we mentioned earlier, impressive presentation aids will not rescue a poor speech. Even if you give a good speech, you run the risk of appearing unprofessional if your presentation aids are poorly executed. Conversely, a high quality presentation will contribute to your professional image. This means that in addition to containing important information, your presen-

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tation aids must be clear, clean, uncluttered, organized, and large enough for the audience to see and interpret correctly. Misspellings and poorly designed presentation aids can damage your credibility as a speaker.

In addition, make sure that you give proper credit to the source of any pre- sentation aids that you take from other sources. Using a statistical chart or a map without proper credit will detract from your credibility, just as using a quotation in your speech without credit would. This situation will usually take place with digital aids such as PowerPoint slides. The source of a chart or the data shown in a chart form should be cited at the bottom the slide.

If you focus your efforts on producing presentation aids that contribute effectively to your meaning, that look professional, and that are handled well, your audience will most likely appreciate your efforts and pay close attention to your message. That attention will help them learn or under- stand your topic in a new way and will thus help the audience see you as a knowledgeable, competent, and credible speaker. With the prevalence of digital communication, the audience expectation of quality visual aids has increased.

Avoiding Problems with Presentation Aids Using presentation aids can come with some risks. However, with a little forethought and adequate practice, you can choose presentation aids that enhance your message and boost your professional appearance in front of an audience. One principle to keep in mind is to use only as many pre- sentation aids as necessary to present your message or to fulfill your class- room assignment. The number and the technical sophistication of your presentation aids should never overshadow your speech.

Another important consideration is technology. Keep your presentation aids within the limits of the working technology available to you. Whether or not your classroom technology works on the day of your speech, you will still have to present. What will you do if the computer file containing your slides is corrupted? What will you do if the easel is broken? What if you had counted on stacking your visuals on a table that disappears right when you need it? Or the Internet connection is down for a YouTube video you plan to show?

You must be prepared to adapt to an uncomfortable and scary situation. This is why we urge students to go to the classroom well ahead of time to test the equipment and ascertain the condition of items they’re planning to use. As the speaker, you are responsible for arranging the things you need to make your presentation aids work as intended. Carry a roll of duct tape so you can display your poster even if the easel is gone. Find an extra chair if your table has disappeared. Test the computer setup. Have your slides on a flash drive AND send it to yourself as an attachment or post to

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a Cloud service. Have an alternative plan prepared in case there is some glitch that prevents your computer-based presentation aids from being usable. And of course, you must know how to use the technology.

More important than the method of delivery is the audience’s ability to see and understand the presentation aid. It must deliver clear information, and it must not distract from the message. Avoid overly elaborate presen- tation aids because they can distract the audience’s attention from your message. Instead, simplify as much as possible, emphasizing the informa- tion you want your audience to understand.

Another thing to remember is that presentation aids do not “speak for themselves.” When you display a visual aid, you should explain what it shows, pointing out and naming the most important features. If you use an audio aid such as a musical excerpt, you need to tell your audience what to listen for. Similarly, if you use a video clip, it is up to you as the speaker to point out the characteristics in the video that support the point you are making—but probably beforehand, so you are not speaking over the video. At the same time, a visual aid should be quickly accessible to the audience. This is where simplicity comes in. Just as in organization of a speech you would not want to use 20 main points, but more like 3-5, you should limit categories of information on a visual aid.

Figure 9.6 - Acupuncture Charts. Source: Image on the left from Wikimedia, http:// Image on the

right © Thinkstock

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Figure 9.7 - Birth Weight Chi-Square. Source: Woods, S. E., & Raju, U. (2001).

9.3 – Types of Presentation Aids Now that we’ve explored some basic hints for preparing visual aids, let’s look at the most common types of visual aids: charts, graphs, representa- tions, objects/models, and people.

Charts A chart is commonly defined as a graphical representation of data (of- ten numerical) or a sketch representing an ordered process. Whether you create your charts or do research to find charts that already exist, it is important for them to exactly match the specific purpose in your speech. Figure 9.6 (“Acupuncture Charts”) shows two charts related to acupunc- ture. Although both charts are good, they are not equal. One chart might be useful in a speech about the history and development of acupuncture while the other chart would be more useful for showing the locations of meridians (the lines along which energy is thought to flow) and the acu- puncture points.

The rest of this section will explore three common types of charts: statisti- cal charts, sequence-of-steps chart, and decision trees.

Statistical Charts For most audiences, statistical presentations must be kept as simple as possible, and they must be explained. The statistical chart shown in Figure 9.7 (“Birth Weight Chi-Square”) is from a study examining the effects of maternal smoking on a range of congenital birth defects. Unless you are


graphical represen- tation of data (often numerical) or a sketch representing an or- dered process

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familiar with statistics, this chart may be very confusing. When visually displaying information from a quantitative study, you need to make sure that you understand the material and can successfully and simply explain how one should interpret the data. If you are unsure about the data your- self, then you should probably not use this type of information. This is surely an example of a visual aid that, although it delivers a limited kind of information, does not speak for itself. On the other hand, if you are pre- senting to an upper level or graduate class in health sciences or to profes- sionals in health occupations, this chart would be appropriate. As with all other principles of public speaking, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE.

Sequence-of-Steps Charts Charts are also useful when you are trying to explain a process that in- volves several steps. The two visual aids in Figure 9.8 (“Steps in Cell Re- production”) both depict the process of cell division called mitosis using a sequence-of-steps chart, but they each deliver different information. The first chart lacks labels to indicate the different phases of cell division. Al- though the first chart has more visual detail and may look more scientific, the missing information may confuse your audience. In the second chart, each phase is labeled with a brief explanation of what is happening, which can help your audience understand the process.

Decision Trees Decision trees are useful for showing the relationships between ideas. The example in Figure 9.9 (“Open Educational Resource Decision Tree”) shows how a decision tree could be used to determine whether to use open-source textbook material. As with the other types of charts, you want to be sure that the information in the chart is relevant to the purpose of your speech and that each question and decision is clearly labeled. This particular tree is pertinent to this textbook, which is an open educational resource drawing from other open educational resources, and the decision tree shows some of the processes the authors went through to decide on the content of this text.

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Figure 9.8 - Steps in Cell Reproduction. Source: Images courtesy of LadyofHats,, and

the National Institutes of Health, File:MajorEventsInMitosis.jpg.

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Figure 9.9 - Open Educational Resource Decision Tree. Source: Image courtesy of T-kita,

Figure 9.10 - Enron’s Stock Price. Source: Image courtesy of Nehrams 2020, http://

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Figure 9.11 - Suicide vs. Homicide. Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,

Figure 9.12 - Distribution of Income and Wealth in the United States. Source: Wolff, E. N. (2007). Recent trends in household wealth in the Unit- ed States: Rising debt and the middle-class squeeze (Working Paper No. 502). Retrieved from the Levy

Economics Institute of Bard College website:

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Figure 9.13 - Causes of Concussions in Children.

Figure 9.14 - World Populations.

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Figure 9.15 - Pictograph - Favorite Pizza Toppings of Dalton State College Freshmen.

Figure 9.16 - Misrepresentative Graph of GPAs of Students.

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Graphs Strictly speaking, a graph may be considered a type of chart, but graphs are so widely used that we will discuss them separately. A graph is a pic- torial representation of the relationships of quantitative data using dots, lines, bars, pie slices, and the like. Graphs show how one factor (such as size, weight, number of items) varies in comparison to other items. Where- as a statistical chart may report the mean ages of individuals entering college, a graph would show how the mean age changes over time. A statis- tical chart may report the amount of computers sold in the United States, while a graph will use bars or lines to show the breakdown of those com- puters by operating systems such as Windows, Macintosh, and Linux.

Public speakers can show graphs using a range of different formats. Some of those formats are specialized for various professional fields. Very com- plex graphs often contain too much information that is not related to the purpose of a student’s speech. If the graph is cluttered, it becomes difficult to comprehend. In this section, we’re going to analyze the common graphs speakers utilize in their speeches: line graphs, bar graphs, pie graphs, and pictographs.

Figure 9.17 - The Human Eye.


a pictorial represen- tation of the relation- ships of quantitative data using dots, lines, bars, pie slices, and the like

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Line Graph A line graph is designed to show trends over time. In Figure 9.10 (“En- ron’s Stock Price”), we see a line graph depicting the fall of Enron’s stock price from August 2000 to January 2002. Notice that although it has some steep rises, the line has an overall downward trend clearly depicting the plummeting of Enron’s stock price. This is far more effective in showing the relationship of numbers than a chart (as in Figure 9.7) or reading the numbers aloud.

Bar Graph Bar graphs are useful for showing the differences between quantities. They can be used for population demographics, fuel costs, math ability in different grades, and many other kinds of data. The graph in Figure 9.11 (“Suicide vs. Homicide”) is well designed. It is relatively simple and is carefully labeled, making it easy for you to guide your audience through the recorded numbers of each type of death. The bar graph is designed to show the difference between rates of suicides and homicides across vari- ous age groups. When you look at the data, the first grouping clearly shows that eighteen- to twenty-four-year-olds are more likely to die because of a homicide than any of the other age groups.

Figure 9.18 - Map of Africa with Nigerian Emphasis.

Line graph

a graph designed to show trends over time

Bar graph

a graph designed to show the differences between quantities

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Figure 9.19 - Rhode Island Map.

The graph in Figure 9.12 (“Distribution of Income and Wealth in the United States”) is a complicated bar graph depicting the disparity between the so-called “haves” and the “have nots” within the United States. On the left hand side of the graph you can see that the Top 20% of people within the United States account for 84.7% of all of the wealth and 50.1% of all of the income. On the other hand, those in the bottom 40% account for only 0.2% of the wealth and 12.1% of the actual income.

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Figure 9.20 - Wigwam Photograph.

While the graph is very well designed, it presents a great deal of informa- tion. For example, it shows “wealth” and “income,” for several groups; however, these are related but different concepts. In a written publication, readers will have time to sit and analyze the graph, but in a speaking situa- tion, audience members need to be able to understand the information in a graph very quickly. For that reason, this graph is probably not as effective for speeches as the one in Figure 9.11 (“Natural Death vs. Homicide”).

Pie Graph Pie graphs are usually depicted as circles and are designed to show proportional relationships within sets of data; in other words, they show parts of or percentages of a whole. They should be simplified as much as possible without eliminating important information. As with other graphs, the sections of the pie need to be plotted proportionally. In the pie graph shown in Figure 9.13 (“Causes of Concussions in Children”) we see a clear and proportional chart that has been color-coded. Color-coding is use- ful when it’s difficult to fit the explanations in the actual sections of the graph; in that case, you need to include a legend, or key, to indicate what the colors in the graph mean. In this graph, audience members can see very quickly that falls are the primary reason children receive concussions. However, the pie graph in Figure 9.14 (“World Populations”) is jumbled, illegible, confusing, and overwhelming in every way. The use of color cod- ing doesn’t help. Overall, this graph simply contains too much informa- tion and is more likely to confuse an audience than help them understand something.

Pie graph

a graph designed to show proportional re- lationships within sets of data