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Apr 09

Working with visual aids

By Kathleen Darling, WSU Vancouver Neuroscience student

One of the most prevalent struggles in the scientific community today, regardless of discipline, is that of getting your message across. After all the hard work, designing experiments, acquiring funding, collecting data, running analysis. None of it truly matters if your science can’t reach an audience. But presenting your raw data is sure to get head scratches, and you can’t very well walk each and every person through the bulk of your research. This leads to the importance of visual aids in the world of science. Visual aids allow for the swift and simple translation of your content to a general audience. When used properly, they enhance a presentation, making it more memorable, and therefore more effective.

From http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/

From http://i0.kym-cdn.com/entries/icons/original/

Learning how and when to use visual aids can be tricky. Too much content, you can end up with a jumbled mess. Too little thought put into the aesthetics, and you may end up with something like this. So, how do we avoid this dreaded pit of illegibility and make it to the promised land of audience engagement? There are three key things to keep in mind.

One: Clarity. Your Sanskrit font may look funky, but how does it look from the back row of your presentation? The neon colors on the chart looked eye catching, but after a few seconds, they’re giving everyone a headache. Always be considering the perspective of your viewers when creating visual aids. If people can’t look at your content and immediately see a clear message, you’ve wasted everyone’s time. Having a good grasp on graphic design is a quick way to make visual aids that capture interest, without being abrasive.

Kathleen graphic

Two: Simplicity. Don’t show in a thirty slide PowerPoint what you could manage in five. Don’t cram a poster with multiple graphs when you can consolidate it into one. That is to say, when putting together your content, always be sure you’re asking yourself, “what is this adding to my presentation?” Is it relevant content? Think about the main point you’re trying to get across. If the visual aid you’ve created isn’t enhancing that point, it’s not doing you or your audience any favors.

Three: Presentation. Remember, visual aids are just that, an aid. The bulk of your presentation will still be you, presenting. There’s no need to add words to your slides you’re going to speak to your audience. Visual aids should contain only information it would be impossible for you to communicate otherwise. You aren’t leading a book club, you’re giving a speech, and you should treat it as such. Keeping words on your visual aids to a minimum ensures that your audience is focusing on what you’re saying.

In keeping these concepts in mind, you can create content that takes your complicated research and transforms it into something clear, concise, and consumable.

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