Introduction to Types of Visual Aid

When we think of visual presentation aids, our thoughts usually go straight to PowerPoint. Microsoft’s presentation software so dominates the landscape of professional public communication that it’s hard to imagine a world before PowerPoint (which would be the world before 1987).[1]

However, visual aids have been backing speeches long before PowerPoint. Consider Samuel Johnson’s famous “Appeal to the Stone” in 1763, when, to argue against the idea that the physical world exists only in our minds, he kicked a large stone and said, “I refute it thus!”[2] Even further back, it seems that the ancient Roman politician L. Hostilius Mancinus did a public show-and-tell with pictures of the Battle of Carthage (in which he had participated) while campaigning for the consulate.[3] Whether you’re arguing about the nature of reality or running for office as a war hero, visual props can help make your case. But which will be most effective?

In this section, we’ll look at some of the visual aids available and consider which visuals—if any—would most enhance your speech.

  1. Wikipedia contributors. "Microsoft PowerPoint." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 21 Nov. 2020.
  2. Patey, Douglas Lane. "Johnson's Refutation of Berkeley: Kicking the Stone Again." Journal of the History of Ideas (1986): 139–145.
  3. Keuls, Eva. "Rhetoric and Visual Aids in Greece and Rome." Communication Arts in the Ancient World (1978): 121–134.