Section 6.1

Categories of Presentation Materials

There are several types of presentation materials, each with its own audience and purpose. It is certainly possible to give an excellent talk without using any presentation materials at all, but in some cases you may want to support your presentation with at least one of the following:

1. Visual aids

Audience: People listening to you

Purpose: To support you in the delivery of your message. Visual aids should have limited text and should make use of graphical images where appropriate.

2. Speaker notes

Audience: You

Purpose: To help you remember to address key points. These notes should be minimal, consisting of the fewest words necessary to remind you of an idea or detail. The font (or handwriting) should be large enough that you can read it very easily.

3. Handouts distributed just before or during a talk

Audience: People listening to you

Purpose: To support you in the delivery of your message. For example, if there were no projector available, you might hand out a chart that clarified data trends you wanted to discuss. Before handing out any materials, however, consider carefully whether the audience really needs to refer to them during your talk. Ill-timed handouts can distract listeners and diminish the strength of your message.

4. Post-talk handouts

Audience: People reading the handouts after a talk. These could be people who did not attend the presentation or, alternatively, people who did attend but who want to be reminded of the specifics later.

Purpose: To enable the readers to understand the presentation you gave without the benefit of having you right there to illuminate the material. These handouts, therefore, can often be quite detailed.

Many speakers do not distinguish among these different categories in preparing their presentation materials. The results can be disastrous. For example, some presenters convert outlines of their talks (essentially their own speaker notes) into slides and project them while they speak, reading from the screen. Such behavior diverts focus from the speaker and detracts from the spontaneity of the message.

Another common and unfortunate approach is to use detailed documentation (which should really be distributed as a post-talk handout) as a visual aid. The result is a series of high-density slides that can pull attention away from the speaker as the audience tries to decipher the slides. Furthermore, the important messages that the speaker would have liked to convey in such a presentation are often lost in the details.