4-H Demonstration Posters and Steve Jobs: Simple visual aids with or without technology

Today is the first day of the Minnesota State Fair, and as I have mentioned previously, one of my favorite aspects of the fair is that I get to help judge 4-H demonstrations.

And as old as this makes me feel, the 2013 fair also means that it is has been a full decade since I have actually given one of my own 4-H demonstrations at the State Fair. Perhaps the greatest change in demonstrations during that decade has been the widespread use of electronic visual aids during presentations.

The major change from when my mother demonstrated in the 1970s to when I demonstrated in the 90s/00s was the ability to use a computer to help make posters. While her posters had to be made using nothing but magic markers, my sister and I had very easy access to an ink jet printer that allowed to have posters with a much more professional look.

Today demonstrators, carrying nothing more than a flash memory drive, can bring an elaborate PowerPoint presentation to St. Paul without ever having to visit their local office supply store for tag board, magic markers or rubber cement.

While this access to new technology should be creating better presentations, I have not found this to necessarily be the case. PowerPoint has just made it much easier to make really bad visual aids.

Because posters are still relatively difficult to make (with or without the use of a computer), 4-Hers would limit the amount of words or pictures that they would place on a poster. Today, even a moderately tech-savvy 4-Her can put together a set of slides with tons of words and annoying animation in under ten minutes.

Just Google "bad PowerPoint" and you will find many, many more

Just Google “bad PowerPoint” and you will find many, many more

I recently finished “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to Be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience” (which I was made aware of by Charles Green III and his Presentation Skills Summer Reading List) by Carmine Gallo.

One of Gallo’s many interesting points is how Jobs would spend hours meticulously creating his slides that never contained bullet points. The YouTube video below, which shows Jobs’ introduction of the iPhone at MacWorld 2007, gives a good example of the complex yet simple visual aids used in a Jobs presentation.

That is why when I am judging demonstrations, I give no preference to posters or PowerPoint slides, I am always more focused on if the visual aids serve their basic role: Do they add or do they take away from your oral presentation?

While very few of us carry around the poster boxes that many 4-H demonstrators still do, we can still learn a valuable lesson about visual aids. If your visual aids (whether they are hand-written or are using 72 point Helvetica font in PowerPoint) are too wordy and take away the attention from you the speaker, they are not achieving their full potential in your presentation.

Image credit: North Caroline State University, Department of Biological & Agricultural Engineering, 2013
Image credit: Teach climbing, 2011

Question: What are your preferred visual aids when you are speaking?

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