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The Effective Planning Commissioner

Using Visual Aids

Read an excerpt from this article below. You can download the full article by using the link at the end of the excerpt.

No one technique fits all. Use visuals to enhance, not replace, your oral presentation. Before deciding which visual aid to use, consider: the purpose of your presentation; how many will be in the audience and their knowledge of the issue; size of the room; and budget.

Pie charts are the best type of graph because they present proportions or relationships lay people can understand easily.

Whatever medium you choose, make sure your visual is well done. A simple chalkboard or flipchart can be effective if you write boldly and do not crowd in too many ideas. Pie charts are the best type of graph because they present proportions or relationships lay people can understand easily. Slide photos of particular sites can be either distracting or effective, depending on the quality of the photography.

Make each visual simple and unambiguous. Now that computer programs can create graphs and charts at the flick of a button, too many people are tempted to use them without thinking through the message they want to convey. It is easy to be overly ambitious and try to present too much information. Your message should be obvious to the reader after just a few seconds of scrutiny. All lists should contain phrases rather than whole sentences. Never use overheads that contain densely packed text.

Use familiar examples. When you were on vacation in Europe last year, you may have taken beautiful slides that relate to planning issues in your community. But if the audience is likely to wonder how you could afford such an expensive trip, junk those slides for examples closer to home.

Be sure the size and scale can be seen by everyone in the audience. Test your visual in the room you will use and discard anything that cannot be seen easily in the back row. If you find you have the wrong size visual for that meeting space, make your presentation without it. This is much preferred than having the audience become angry or alienated when your visuals appear to be visible only to the “chosen few” in the first few rows. …

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photo of Elaine CoganElaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.

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