“I present to you the newest in Stark Industries’ Freedom line. Find an excuse to let one of these off the chain, and I personally guarantee, the bad guys won’t even wanna come out of their caves. Ladies and gentlemen, for your consideration… the Jericho.”  -Tony Stark, Ironman

Today was my first day back at Toastmasters after a long hiatus. They tapped me to be an evaluator for someone giving a technical presentation and the speaker was supposed to leverage the power of visual aids.

When I’m asked to coach individuals in speaking situations like this, I typically look for two major components:

Speaker Engagement In Technical Presentations

I’m sure you’ve all seen situations where the speaker focuses more on remembering the words from their notes and less on generating a response from their audience. They haven’t quite become zombies, but you can tell that they are talking at their audience, not engaging them. Incidentally, I also hear this when sales people do prospecting over the phone. The caller is more concerned with adhering to their script than they are with engaging their audience, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for building a relationship.

Audience Engagement In Technical Presentations

Usually, I’ll look around the audience and watch what other people are doing. Are they doodling? Are they dozing? Or are they hanging on the speakers every word? Public speaking is a form of human communication and it involves a symbiotic relationship between the speaker and the audience.  If the speaker is connecting with her audience, then  the people in the audience will respond favorably and show it through their behavior. The speaker sees the impact she is making on the audience and that feedback reinforces her own behavior and speaking style. However, if the speaker is not tracking the audience’s behavior, she ends up talking at her audience rather than to them. She becomes an information spigot and the audience learns nothing because there is no emotional involvement.

Since my speaker today was encouraged to augment his presentation with visuals, I outlined five things that all presenters need to keep in mind when using visual aids in their technical presentations to keep their audience engaged.

5 Tips To Using Visual Aids in Technical Presentations

  1. Use your visual only when you need it. Remember, as the speaker, you are the message, not your visual aid. Your visual is a spice that adds a delicate flavor to the main course of the presentation, but you don’t make it the main course. Keep the main thing the main thing, which is you, and bring out the visuals only when you need them.
  2. Hold it so everyone can see it. There is a reason we use the word “visual” in the term “visual aid”. If your audience can’t see it, then it’s not doing its job. Make sure your visual is high enough and big enough so that everyone can see it.
  3. Don’t hide behind it. Again, you are the message, not our visual. Make sure that you have center stage. You can’t do that if you are hiding behind your visual.
  4. Don’t talk to it. You’ve all seen it on the SAG awards or on the night of the Oscars. Recipients of the award are so overwhelmed with emotion that they stand there at center stage and thank everyone they know… and they spend the entire time gazing longingly at the award! Your relationship is with the audience, not with your visual aid. You want your audience to respond to what you are saying. However, they can’t do that if you are in a private conversation with your visual enhancement. Talk to your audience and maintain your relationship with them.
  5. Get rid of it when you don’t need it. Nothing can drag your presentation down faster than using your visual aid when your presentation has moved onto the next point. When you are talking about your current point, the visual aid acts as an enhancement. When you move to the next point, a leftover visual aid act as an anchor dividing your audience’s attention between your current point and some other past point. Remember, you are the message. If your visual enhancement isn’t helping your current message, it’s a distraction. Get rid of it.

How do you use visual aids in your technical presentations to keep your audience’s attention? Get additional presentations ideas from this update.

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Maximum Impact Public Speaking and Presentations