Visual aids – 10 top tips

Few things will undermine you more than a visual aid that is neither visual, nor an aid.


So it’s that time of year when, surrounded by excited children, shopping lists, and tidying up before the relatives arrive, you’ve got to make some visual aids for the all-age talk.

Here are my ten top tips:

1. Splash some cash

You need the right tools for the job: at the least, a proper cutting board, a decent craft knife, and both Scotch magic tape and Sellotape – magic tape is matte, can be written on, and from not far is nigh-on invisible. Sellotape, though, is stickier.  So, Scotch for the bits that show, Sellotape for the stuff that’s hidden and needs to hold.  Pritt stick, Blue Tack and scissors are obvious, and velcro if you’re feeling ambitious  – but while you are in a graphics design shop, get the biggest, baddest marker pens you can find.  Big.

You also need the right materials.  For stuff that needs to be bold, I use mounting card (the stuff artists use in their picture frames) It’s large (we’ll come back to that), solid, and comes in a variety of bright colours as well as white. It is expensive, but it does the work.

Otherwise I use thinner card which comes in the same size, and use bright contrasting colours.  If you want things to have an even greater impact, use thin coloured foam, which is also easy to cut.

If you’re painting something, get some acrylic paints rather than water colours; acrylics are opaque straight out of the tube, and easy to mix if you’re feeling adventurous. They thin with water if you want something subtle, but in my opinion subtlety in a visual aid is a waste of time.

2. Go large

The card size I recommend is A0 – that’s big, but it needs to be seen at the back of the church.  On occasion you can get away with small (really, really tiny, for effect), but otherwise the normal rule applies: go big, or go home.

3. Go live

Don’t even dream of putting something on Powerpoint for an All Age service – everyone will look at the screen instead of you.  The only exception is if you want to show something (which you look at with them), and then blank the screens again.  Faced with a screen and you – even one with you on it – people (and especially children) will look at the screen.

4. Make it move!

By which I mean, don’t just introduce a visual aid and leave it there, assuming it will keep their attention.  It won’t.  Add elements to it, take stuff away, but keep it moving with the talk.

This is central to good visual aids – they grow with the talk, and can often do the work for you if you plan it carefully.

But be careful out there.  I once watched a friend give an all-age talk in which he enacted Elijah and the prophets of Baal, when he carefully constructed an altar, soaked it in water (lighter fuel) and then set it alight.  He hadn’t rehearsed. In a lovely medieval building, the 10 foot high flames were a worry…

5. Writing

Ah – the words.  I’ve only found two easy ways that work.  One is to get used to drawing them in moulded style, as if each letter were made out of a modelling balloon.  Overlap them, with later letters slightly behind earlier ones, outline them, and thimage1.JPGen cut them out as a word.  Use coloured card or foam, and put them on a contrasting colour for effect.

See how tricky things, like the dot over the ‘i’, are overlapped so that the word is all in one piece.

Otherwise, print them out on card.  Remember, when children learn to read they use lower case and occasionally capitals.  UPPER CASE IS NOT HOW CHILDREN LEARN TO READ.


6. Colour like a pro

lady-and-the-tramp-11-2.jpgDisney is the master – or used to be.  If you go back to the great old hand drawn movies, you’ll find  that the characters are always outlined, but never in black.  Instead, they used a related colour. Red with red, blue with a darker blue.  So, a bit of art theory:  find a colour wheel on the web (just Google it) and you’ll find two things: complementary colours sit near each other on the wheel, contrasting colours sit opposite.  So for a subtle effect, outline in complementary, but for brightness, go contrasting.  The bright yellows, blues and reds that the art shops sell their card in, are designed to zing when they’re put together.

7. Build to last

Few things will undermine you more than a visual aid that is neither visual, nor an aid.  So build it properly, and over-engineer it so it is really holding together.  If you worry about the amount of time it takes, think of the the number of people you’re speaking to, and multiple that by the number of minutes you’re speaking.  Doesn’t seem such a bad investment when you put it like that.  The same goes for the cost, of course.  Which brings me to…

8. Chuck it away.  

Yup, never keep a visual aid, unless that crown really is made of gold.  Otherwise bin it.  By the time you need it again, because you kept it ‘in case’, it will have grown tired and been bashed about.  And anyway, it won’t be exactly right for the next talk.

9.Phone a friend

If you’re really not a craft-y kind of person, get someone who is to help you.  Take some time to explain what you want, and allow them to fiddle around on a pad of paper with you, to give some concepts.  Often the arty types think as they are drawing, rather than before, so please be patient with them.

10 Bible

Oh, yes – that old thing.  A good visual aid is designed to draw attention to the teaching point from the passage, rather than detract.  So watch yourself for the bright idea that comes along, and makes you twist the text to teach it.  The text rules, remember?

Since you ask, this is tomorrow’s.  It opens out to double that size (or will, when I finish), and there are at least three other elements to be added along the way.


Have fun!



2 comments on “Visual aids – 10 top tips”

  1. Thanks Chris. Helpful as always. Do you think there’s any chance of your all-age talk being filmed and then posted somewhere? It would be good to see how you managed to put all of this into practice.

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