To ensure that you cater for all types of learners in your presentation, and to keep your audience interested, it is helpful to put some thought into visual aids.  It is important that all visuals complement your oral presentation and that they are interesting, legible and convey only the necessary information.

To do this you will need to:

Use an appropriate font on PowerPoint slides or posters

Different fonts can be easier to read than others. It is best to avoid cursive or uppercase fonts as these can be harder for your audiences to read.

Use an appropriate font size on PowerPoint slides or posters

It is important to remember that your audience is sitting some distance from the screen and, therefore, will have difficulty reading anything written in less than an 18 point font.

Know your slide boundaries

Your audience can not read text or words that run off the screen or that are covered by borders or pictures.  Be aware of your text and whether it fits within the borders of your slide or poster.

Limit text

The old saying ‘a picture says a thousand words’ is none so true than when presenting information orally to an audience.  It can be useful to limit text and use graphic ways to present information such as using graphs and pictures.  Your audience will respond better to slides and posters that deliver information quickly, and pictures are a great way of doing this.

Use clip art to complement content

A lot of time can be wasted looking for appropriate clip art - time that may be better spent on the content of your presentation.  Pictures should only be used to compliment subject matter and should not distract from the focus of the presentation. 

Use colour cautiously

Be aware of the colours you choose on a poster or a PowerPoint presentation.  It is best to stick to a theme of 2-3 colours and preferably choose either dark backgrounds and light text or light backgrounds and dark text.  Colours can look different on LCD projectors than they do on your computer screen, so give your presentation a trial run to check.  Avoid overly bright or fluorescent colours.

Avoid long titles

It is important that titles summarise only the main point from the slide or section of the poster.  Titles are meant to reinforce the idea that that you are aiming to communicate and it is important that they do this in a succinct fashion. 

Use Spell-check

Ensuring that you have correct punctuation, grammar and spelling is important when presenting information in any forum, but particularly when you are presenting information in a visual way in front of a live audience.  If you have spelling mistakes or grammar errors it can distract the audience from your presentation and make them question your credibility.

Avoid unnecessary distractions

Ensure that your audience has no excuse to be distracted from your presentation by eliminating unnecessary visuals on your poster or PowerPoint presentation.  Unnecessary visuals could be things like distracting animations or chart junk. Chart junk are components of graphs that distract the audience from the actual data.  They can come in the form of grid lines or detailed ticks on axis and grey backgrounds.  Although these can be helpful when viewing a graph on paper, they make graphs difficult to read in an oral presentation context.  In addition, label data directly as legends force the reader to look back and forth between two points.

Walk your audience through graphs/charts

When you put up a graph or chart, take your audience through it by explaining what each of the axes are and what the important features to note are. (E.g. “On this chart, the horizontal axis is the speed at which a bird is flying while the vertical axis gives the rate at which energy is used. Note that flying slow/take off is very hard work, as is flying very fast, and that there is an optimum speed at which the energy used per unit of flying time is a minimum.”)

When appropriate, bring information in a bit at a time

Doing this excessively is distracting to the audience and can slow down the pace of your presentation, but if you have quite a bit to say about different components of a slide, bringing these in one at a time can be an effective way of directing the audience’s attention and keeping them with you rather than them skipping ahead or off on tangents.