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7 mistakes people make when using visuals during presentations

Business communication expert, Graham Shaw, explains how small business owners can best use visuals during presentations, and how to avoid some classic mistakes.

1. Using only electronic means of presenting


  • Ignores other powerful methods.
  • Slides can become a repetitive format.
  • Predictable – almost everyone does it.


Sketch key messages/graphs/model or diagrams ‘live’ as you speak – on flip chart or whiteboard

  • Start with blank sheet and build the picture gradually.
  • Use simple lines, shapes and symbols – you don’t need to be great at drawing.

e.g. A stick figure balancing on a high wire can convey the message; ‘There is no safety net’.

Positive Impact

  • The moment you make a mark their attention is captured.
  • Building the picture gradually makes your message memorable.
  • Informal style – a refreshing change.

2. Feeling there must be a slide for everything they say


  • Results in numerous slides.
  • Lack of variation in style.
  • Unnecessary – you are there to explain so you don’t need it all on slides anyway.


Use slides only where they make a positive difference

  • Ask yourself; ‘Do I really need a slide to explain this point?’
  • Use other methods e.g. story or anecdote.
  • Think of yourself as the presentation, not the slides. Use slides in support not as the main focus.

Positive Impact

  • Fewer slides to prepare.
  • Your presentation will feel lighter and easier to absorb.
  • More chance to connect directly with the audience.

3. Showing too many slides with text


  • Bullet point slides tend to look very similar.
  • But the brain enjoys and remembers things that are different.
  • Therefore this impedes ability to remember.
  • People become tired trying to follow the presentation.


Minimise the number of slides with lines of text – use more graphics

  • Use e.g. pictures, diagrams and charts – hand drawn or electronic.
  • Where text is used keep it to one key message, or several bullet points.



Victory, achievement, goal


e.g. A simple graphic of a stick figure at the summit of a mountain can represent achievement, victory or goal. Such a picture is easily hand-drawn.

Positive Impact

  • Ideas are easier to absorb.
  • Your message will be memorable – the ability of people to remember pictures is almost limitless.

4. Speaking whilst people are reading your slide


  • People process information perfectly well in verbal or written form but not both at the same time – concluded in a study by the University of New South Wales.
  • People find it difficult to read text whilst the presenter is explaining it.
  • It becomes draining quite quickly.


Give people time to glance through text before getting their attention back and speaking

  • Keep quiet for a few seconds as you first show the slide – people will take it in.
  • Cut slides with text to a minimum.
  • Use minimum text per slide.

Positive Impact

  • Audiences find it easier to listen.

5. Not making the key message crystal clear


  • A lot of information can bury the key message.
  • Information alone often fails to connect emotionally.


Make your key message a visual metaphor


  • Write your key message – e.g. ‘It is a very competitive market’.
  • Think of a metaphor to encapsulate it – e.g. sharks hunting for food.
  • Rewrite the key message metaphorically e.g. ‘We are in shark-infested waters’
  • Think of suitable picture e.g. shark’s fin above the waterline.
  • Draw it or find a suitable graphic.



We are in shark-infested waters.

Positive Impact

  • Key point engages the senses.
  • It has impact.
  • It is memorable.

6. Making it a passive one-way experience


  • Not varied enough.
  • Attention wanes – e.g. the glazed look.


Ask a question before you show a slide

Asking questions creates curiosity. Questions engage the brain and even rhetorical questions work well.


  • “I am going to show the results of three main competitors. I wonder if you can guess which is which?”
  • “The next slide has the three most common complaints from customers. See if you have experienced any of them.”
  • “Here are three proven ways to double our profit. Which do you think is the most achievable?”

Positive Impact

  • People are involved.
  • They enjoy it.
  • Creates variation.

7. Leaving a slide showing when talking about something else

Perhaps someone asks a question unrelated to the slide you are currently showing.


  • The slide can detract from what you are saying.


Press ‘B’ on the keyboard when using PowerPoint

  • Pressing ‘B’ results in the screen image disappearing.
  • To make the slide to reappear, press ‘B’ again.

Positive Impact

  • Increased flexibility.
  • Enables audience to focus better.

Enjoy applying the techniques

You will know which of the ideas apply best to yourself. Enjoy having a go and see what works best for you.

Further Information

Graham Shaw
Graham Shaw is author of The Art of Business Communication (published by Pearson) and founder of Vision Learning.


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