Pictures or words

Art 53

Or pictures and words

“The tongue can paint what the eye can’t see” is a Chinese proverb that might have been written about Project 8 in the Competent Communicators program. The idea is to learn to use visual aids – as a prop — to help our speeches, not as a crutch to support weak talks.

Most of us have been subjected to “Death by PowerPoint” as a presenter read us his print-filled, endless slides. Or been subjected to a speaker who had a great 20 minute presentation he tried to prune to 5 minutes as he gave it, peering at the screen, mumbling and selecting images as he spoke.

As Toastmasters we learn that visual aids can be a prop for a great talk. Or they can be used as crutches for crippled presentations.

Crutches often begin with “a slide show “I’ve already made” or collections of cute pictures and cartoons that speakers want to show. Then babble is cobbled around the images; that is, the speech evolves into a “hobble around the images.”

Effective visual aids suggest themselves as a great talk develops. Perhaps we find a piece of data that is particularly important or startling – “that’s an opportunity for a great visual!” Or maybe we produce a diagram of how our product works to sums up our explanation.

Two key questions to ask as we select visual aids:

First, do they enhance or illustrate the talk? And, second, can they be taken in at a glance?

Using the visual aids we’ve selected is straightforward:

Show, pause silently while the audience takes them in – blank the screen (show a black slide), and then continue to paint the “word-picture” masterpiece.

Judges evaluating visual aids during speech contests consider:

Were the visual aids designed effectively?

Did they complement the speech’s arguments?

Was the use of visual aids timed well with the speaker’s words?

Were they simple and easy to understand?

Were they easy to see?

Did the speaker make appropriate use of the speaking area? (Yes, the stage is a visual aid.)

These questions can help us refine our own talks, too.

Toastmasters training teaches us to organize our words and to prune them ruthlessly;   every single word must contribute to our message. Project 8 teaches us to organize and prune our visual aids the same way.

Our job as speakers is to “paint word pictures” that inspire/inform/entertain. Good visuals can help – but they can’t carry – the speech.

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