Want to Punch Up Your Presentation With Visuals? Here Are 5 Ways.

If not done correctly, presentations can come off as dull and flat -- making them difficult to sit through. To get your audience more engaged in what you are saying and pitching, add some visuals to spice it up.

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By Drew Skau • Apr 4, 2014 Originally published Apr 4, 2014

This story originally appeared on Visual.ly

Few things in this world are more boring than sitting through a bad presentation.

While a big portion of a presentation's quality is up to the presenter, the quality of the visuals augmenting the presentation play a bigger role than most people think.

The key to building a good presentation is to know and remember the purpose of each of its components. Ideally, the visuals in a presentation should complement what the speaker is talking about. This means that what the speaker says is the main focus, while the visuals provide something relevant to look at as a background.

Here are five ways to make sure your visuals help your presentation instead of hurting it.

1. Speak your words -- don't write them on your slides. Too many presenters add large blocks of text to their slides, thinking this helps enhance their presentation with detailed information. Not true. Text -- even bullet points -- distracts your audience from listening. The human brain has a lot of difficulty listening to speech and reading something different at the same time. And reading exactly what is on your slide is just going to bore your audience. People read much faster than a comfortable presentation pace, so they'll be done with the slide before you finish.

Related: 8 Pro Secrets to Delivering a Knockout Business Presentation

Jonathon Colman definitely knows this, and his slides in "Why Our Content Sucks" expertly incorporate supplementary visuals.

2. Use beautiful images to supplement your content. Beautiful images help people to remember what you are talking about at the time. You can add to the memorability of your presentation by having compelling images that go along with what you are currently talking about.

This presentation on Digital Citizenship by Alec Couros does an great job of using attractive images to supplement the content the speaker is covering.

3. Make your diagrams interesting - but not self-explanatory. Diagrams are a great way to help explain complicated concepts but make sure that you actually address the diagram in an interesting way. Diagrams for a presentation are different from diagrams in standalone content. If the diagram is self-explanatory, it probably gives away too much info (just like reading the text on a slide).

Related: As Social Media Becomes More Visual, a Tool for Analyzing Image Engagement

"Conquest of the American West" by Tom Richey effectively uses diagrammatic maps to help explain several concepts about manifest destiny and the politics of moving America westward.

4. Use data visualizations to clarify information - not repeat it. Data visualization is the best way to present data. As Hans Rosling proved, well designed data visualizations can help augment a great presentation and create something truly engaging. As with diagrams, talk about the visualization in a way that helps to clarify and complement. Discuss the visualization on a conceptual level and add context. Don't just repeat what the visual is already showing.

5. Balance what you say with what your presentation delivers. Above all, remember the visuals aren't the whole presentation. When you're building your presentation, don't dump all of the knowledge into the visuals. If you do that, then there's nothing left to present. The best presentations out there won't make 100% sense unless you see the presenter deliver the presentation. Many of the slides you'll see online only give you a general idea of what was being discussed, not of the details, or even the main point. Dan Gilbert balances visuals and actual presentation very well in "The Surprising Science of Happiness", with just enough visuals to augment his charismatic presentation, but not so many to draw attention away from the message he is making.

Building a great set of visuals for your presentation is just the first step. There's still no substitute for practice, but a great presentation requires all of these ingredients.

Related: The Top Visual Design Trends for 2014 (Infographic)

Drew Skau
Drew Skau is visualization architect at Visual.ly and a PhD computer science visualization student at UNCC with an undergraduate degree in architecture. 

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