Picture this. The next speaker is announced and rap music begins to play. The speaker struts onto the stage wearing a faux fur coat, a broad-rimmed hat and dark sunglasses. Once he arrives at center stage, the music dies away and he begins to share with you the evolution of rap music, eventually removing the coat, hat and glasses.
I’ve seen this speech. It broke all the rules of the competition at the time, but it illustrates a very good point about visual aids.
Visual aids are there to support your speech. They are there to add information, ambiance and to set the tone. This speaker helped his audience get an idea for early rap culture by dressing the part. He added a visual to his words that was powerful, effective and memorable. (I saw this speech in 1984 and still remember it.)
In today’s technology drenched world, you have a myriad choices for visual aids. Select them strategically and carefully. And always be prepared for the occasional technical difficulty.
Use visual aids to add emphasis to your point … not make it for you. The key word in the phrase “visual aid” is “aid.” A visual aid aids you in making your point, but you still need to be able to make that point without the visual aid.
Public speaking superheroes know how to use visual aids with grace and ease, and they know how to adeptly handle things when visual aids become visual flops.
Now let me leave you with a tale of visual aids gone wrong. When I was in my 20s, I was a belly dancer. Every month, the group I belonged to would hold a dance party where a few of us would perform a solo for the others. At one party, I decided to do a solo tribute to James Bond. I opened with a middle eastern piece that reminded me of the James Bond theme, did veil work to “From Russia with Love” and ended with the James Bond theme.
But there was one visual aid that I wasn’t prepared to handle.
You see, I wear glasses … but I always took them off when I was performing. For some reason, this time I forgot to take them off. Half-way through my performance I noticed I was still wearing them. In shock, horror and surprise, I took them off and threw them across the room.
Afterward, my teacher told me she thought the glasses were a part of the act and was expecting me to take them off during the performance in a spy-like fashion.
Too bad I hadn’t thought of that … but I will next time.
The moral of the story? Be prepared to be surprised. And be OK with those moments you aren’t prepared for. You’ll learn. You’ll grow. And you’ll become an even better speaker in the process.