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Using visuals for more effective presentations

Candice Evans

Imagine how difficult it would be to try and teach geometry with nothing but words. Now think of the effective simplicity of a Venn diagram and how a pyramid quickly conveys comparative sizes. Or the remarkable Punnett square that made it a breeze to understand dominant and recessive traits even for those of us not scientifically inclined.

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It’s a truth we’ve all known since childhood: a picture really is worth a thousand words. So why do we resort to rows and rows of bulleted lists when putting together a presentation?

Whether out of habit or perceived lack of design skill, we hamstring our presentations even before we begin if we rely solely on words and bullet lists. The truth is that today it’s easier than ever for anyone to create compelling visuals to build more effective presentations.

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You don’t have to be a graphic designer to add interesting visual elements to your next presentation. Today you can find templates and graphics from a variety of sources, many of which are free or included in commonly used software. Use right out of the box or mix and match images, icons, and text to come up with something uniquely your own. Check out HubSpot and Piktochart; both have templates and plenty of material for inspiration.

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So what do you do if the information you need to share isn’t conducive to graphics? Consider the general themes of the presentation, and even the feeling or tone of what you’re trying to convey. Turn text-heavy slides into handouts and present a chart of the underlying reasons why the information you’re sharing is important.

If appropriate, inject a little humor with a meme or cultural reference that matches your topic. Most people appreciate a dose of humor to liven things up, and it helps to make your presentation more engaging. You can even think about using recognizable game elements to emphasize your points, depending on the nature and topic of your presentation.

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Show don’t tell applies equally to our presentations as it does to our writing. Visuals and graphics let you simplify complicated topics while providing a more visceral connection to what may be new or unfamiliar to your audience. By adding graphic elements, you can turn a dry set of slides into an engaging and more effective presentation for attendees.