Working with Visual Aids

From our: Presentation Skills library.

You should only use visual aids if they are necessary to maintain interest and assist comprehension in your presentation. Do not use visual aids just to demonstrate your technological competence - doing so may compromise the main point of your presentation - getting your messages across clearly and concisely.

If visual aids are used well they will enhance a presentation by adding impact and strengthening audience involvement, yet if they are managed badly they can ruin a presentation. 

Most visual aids will need advance preparation and should be operated with efficiency. If you wish to use such aids in an unfamiliar room or location, check what facilities are available in advance so that you can plan your presentation accordingly.

Before you start, ask yourself:
What is the purpose of the visual aid?

  • To clarify a key point?
  • To provide an illustrative example?
  • To clarify or simplify a model?
  • To summarise?
  • To entertain?

This page gives details of the following common visual aids:

  • Whiteboards and Interactive Whiteboards
  • Flip chart
  • Over-head projector (OHP)
  • Slides
  • Video
  • PowerPoint or other presentation software
  • Handouts

Whiteboards and Interactive Whiteboards

If available, whiteboards are good for developing an explanation, diagrams and simple headings, and for recording interaction with, and comments from, the audience during brainstorming sessions.

Remember that writing on a whiteboard takes time and that you will have to turn your back to the audience to do so. If using a whiteboard, you should ensure that your handwriting is legible, aligned horizontally, and is sufficiently large to be seen by all the audience. Also ensure that you use non-permanent pens (sometimes referred to as dry-wipe pens) rather than permanent markers so that your writing can be erased later.

Bear in mind that white background of a whiteboard can cause contrast problems for people with vision impairment.

If you have access to an interactive whiteboard, you should make sure you know how this works, and practice using it, before your presentation.

Flip Charts

A flip chart is a popular, low cost, low tech solution to recording interactive meetings and brainstorming sessions.

A flip chart can be prepared in advance and is portable, it requires no power source and no technical expertise.  Flip charts are ideal for collecting ideas and responses from the audience and are good for spontaneous summaries.  However, if the audience is large, a flip chart will be too small to be seen by everyone.

Ten tips for the effective use of a flip chart:

  1. Arrive early and be sure that the flip chart is positioned so that you can get to it easily when you need it.
  2. Ensure that the flip chart is positioned so that you can stand next to it and write while still facing your audience. Do not turn your back on your audience.
  3. Make sure you have to hand several markers pens that work.  Throw away any pens that don't work.
  4. Only use blue or black marker pens: it will be difficult for those at the back of the room to see any other colours. You can however use the colour red to accentuate things already written in blue or black.
  5. When writing on the flip chart, make your letters at least 2-3 inches tall so that everybody can clearly see what you have written.
  6. Draw lines in pencil on blank pages before your presentation - to help you keep your writing legible and straight.
  7. Plan out your pages as you are writing the outline for your presentation. They will be the support for your public speaking presentation.
  8. Write notes to yourself, in pencil, on the flip chart to help remind yourself of all the important points to be included. Your audience will not see the pencil notes.
  9. If you have something that you want to present and then accentuate during the presentation or discussion, write out the flip chart page beforehand so that you can just flip the page to it.
  10. If you need to refer to something that you wrote on a page at a later point in your presentation, rip off the page and affix it to the wall.


Videos are excellent for training purposes, but can be difficult to fit into a presentation structure.

If a computer connected to a projector is available then videos can be played as files, from a DVD or with an Internet connection via YouTube or other online sources.

Videos can also be built into a presentation using PowerPoint or other presentation software.


Use of PowerPoint and other presentation software is very common when presenting today. 

Care should be taken, however, that visual effects do not detract from the presentation itself.  If you do choose to use PowerPoint try to have a practice run well in advance of a presentation so that you are confident when giving the presentation itself.

Older Visual Aids That May Still Be Effective:

Over-Head Projector (OHP)

Displays can be prepared on acetates, both in written and graphic form.

They command attention but, as with other visual aids, care must be taken to talk to the audience and not the screen.  OHPs are suitable for both large and small groups although the machines can be noisy and unreliable and the projector can obscure the screen. OHPs as a method of presenting have now largely been replaced by presentations projected from a computer onto a whiteboard or other screen.


Slides of excellent visual quality can have great impact on any size of group. 

However, a good blackout is required for the images to be seen clearly and this causes eye contact with the audience to be lost. Unlike with other methods of presentation, you will not be able to add any spontaneous notes or records to the slides. If you are using slides, ensure that they are prepared in the correct order, ideally numbering the slides so that if the carousel is dropped the slides can quickly be reordered.

Like OHPs, the use of slides has largely been replaced by digital photography projected using PowerPoint or other presentation software in professional situations.


Handouts summarising or including the main points of a presentation are an excellent addition but must be relevant. Presentation software packages such as PowerPoint can automatically generate handouts from your presentation slides.

However, think carefully about when to distribute your handouts. Giving out handouts at the start of a talk will take time and the audience may start to read these rather than listen to what the speaker is saying. However, if your presentation contains complex graphs or charts, the audience will appreciate receiving the handout before the presentation starts since they may find it easier to view these on paper than on the projection screen. The audience may also appreciate being able to make their own notes on the printed handout during the presentation.

Consider the best time and method to distribute any handouts, including either placing them on seats prior to the start or giving them out at the end of your presentation. You may also consider emailing copies of handouts to participants after the event. If your talk includes questions or discussion this will give to time to summarise this and communicate it back to the attendees.