Presentation Tips: Getting the Most Out of Your Visuals

This is the second post in the Presentation Tips series.  The suggestions in this series are based on observations of trainings and presentations during the 2008-2009 school year. Tag: Presentation Tips.

When giving a presentation the visuals you choose to incorporate can greatly add or detract from your effectiveness as a speaker.  Be sure to carefully consider how you are using your visuals to support your content.

There are two books that I highly recommend to people who are looking to refine their presentation skills. The first is Presentation Zen by Garr Reynolds.  This book is an easy read with a lot of information on how to make your presentations more powerful and effective.  It is a great place to get started if you want to know more about presentation design.  Garr also has a Presentation Zen Blog, which is a great resource.  The second book I would recommend is Slide:ology by Nancy Duarte.   This book delves more deeply into the design principles of good presentations and has some great food for thought.  Both of these books have shifted the way I approach presentation design for professional development and for use in the classroom.

Before designing your presentation, decide the purpose of your visuals/slides.  Do you need them to help support the content of your presentation? Are they a way to better include your visual learners?  Do your slides need to stand alone for absent colleagues or students?  Would your content be better served with no visuals?  Whatever the reason, decide ahead of time and use that to guide the design of your presentation.


  • If you have participants doing various activities (group work, breaks, etc.) use Power Point or Dashboard timers to give a visual cue of how much time is available and to signal when time is up.  It helps you to regain your audience more quickly.
  • Turn off your screen saver, especially if it contains personal photos. I have seen these become highly distracting to the audience because the presenter’s photos can be so very interesting!
  • Clean up your computer desktop. LOOK organized, even if you aren’t. 🙂


  • Videos should be short, relevant, and to the point. Unless this is the stated purpose of your presentation, avoid long videos.
  • If you are using video clips, try to embed them into your slide show.
  • Are you using a site like YouTube to show your videos?  Be sure to use the full screen option when playing them.  This allows better viewing of the clip and minimizes distractions from website “clutter” that often surrounds online videos.


  • When presenting with a PowerPoint/Keynote or other visual aide, do not put a slide up until you are going to discuss it. As soon as your slide changes, so does the focus of your audience.
  • Are you at a conference? Be sure to have a title slide up while people enter so they know if they are in the right place.
  • Whenever possible, include less info and make you slides more concise and visually appealing.
  • Avoid reading your slides to your audience & avoid having all of your info on your slides.  If you are doing either other these things, the audience only needs a copy of your slides.  You are the reason they are present, not your PowerPoint.
  • Be sure that your audience can easily read your materials.  People should always be able to read your slides both on the wall and on any handout.
  • Looking for high quality creative commons images?  Use the advanced search features on Flickr, Google Images, or other image search engines to specify images that fit your use requirements.  My personal favorite is currently Compfight, a Flickr search engine.  Be sure to provide attribution for the images you use either on the slide, a works cited page, or a link to a gallery of the image sources.
  • Be sure to include a works cited slide if you did not cite your sources in your presentation.
  • Consider including a “Teaching Strategies Used” slide at the end of your presentation. This helps to show that you practice what you preach in terms of instructional strategies and allows your audience to learn more.

Some useful resources:

Garr Reynold’s Presentation Zen blog

Jan Schultink’s Slides that Stick blog

Ethos 3 Communications: Empowering Presenters – Company Blog

Will Lion’s Flickr Photostream of presentation slides

Flickr Group: Great Quotes About Learning and Change

If you have comments or questions on any of the tips provided or if you would like to add your own tips, please feel free to comment. Thank you!


4 thoughts on “Presentation Tips: Getting the Most Out of Your Visuals”

  1. ….good stuff… I’d go further and suggest that you never underestimate the power of the blank slide. I’m a professional presenter and looking at one Keynote deck (no pro would use PowerPoint! 🙂 ) I found that about a third of my slides were black, so that the audience focussed on me and what I wanted to say.

    That way I could explain things before the audience saw the slide (as you suggest) but without the old material they’ve just got on the slide behind me to distract ’em.


    PS: I’ve written a four-side article on how to change from bullet-points to Presentation Zen style stuff. Drop me a line and I’ll let anyone who asks for it have a copy.

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