Musings of an anonymous geek

November 29, 2006

Giving a Presentation? Lose the Laser Pointer

Filed under: Technology — m0j0 @ 11:19 am

You heard me. Put down the laser pointer and slowly step away.

There are two things that a lot of presenters do that just drive me nuts:

  1. Reading the slides to me. I can read. I don’t need you to do it for me. And, if every single word you want to say fits on the slide, you either don’t have much to say, and so shouldn’t be presenting, or your fonts are way too small, so you should skip the slides altogether and just go off of note cards. Slides aren’t there to take the place of good presentation skills, practice, or note cards. It’s a visual ***aid***. Referring to slides as “the presentation” is a misnomer. Recognizing this is half the battle.
  2. Laser Pointers. This deserves more than a paragraph.

Used to be people used pointers. They were made of wood or metal or plastic. They were typically about 3 feet long. Thing is, you had to walk around with a tree limb while giving a presentation. It was clumsy to handle for some, a little heavy, a little unwieldy maybe. Then came the laser pointer.

Now all of us audience members are driven to near seizures while people wiggle this little floating pointer all over the place. It’s hoppy and jumpy. It’s hard to be really accurate with it (in part because the slides are inevitably *not* designed for use with a laser pointer. “Oh, I need to do that?” Well, if you use one, yeah, you need to do that), and it’s really pretty useless to use any kind of pointer. This may seem ironic, but to me, the use of a pointer has always indicated a *less* prepared speaker, not a *more* prepared one.

Think about what people use these things to point at. 80% of the time (conservatively) it’s to point out some text on a slide. How about just… I dunno… *UNDERLINING* the text on the slide to begin with?! Also, I don’t need you to point to the very same text that *you’re* reading and *I’m* reading. To be clear, the distraction here is the frustration that comes with realizing that everything you’re doing is annoying, and in the audience’s mind, the presentation becomes about how annoying it is instead of the content.

The rest of the time is probably spent pointing to portions of a chart or graph. This has only slightly more merit. Very slight. Why? Because it generally is indicative of a speaker who hasn’t practiced presenting this specific data. When a graph comes up on a slide, the first thing I do is try to get my bearings – I look at the labels to figure out what data is being charted, then look at the line. If you’re charting the temperature for the 12 months ending in August 2005, you should be able to talk about an anomaly in mid-May by telling the audience “you’ll notice that in mid-May, the rains seemed to come in spite of barometric pressure readings and temperature. Note, too, that the percentage of weathermen that called the weather in this period also dropped precipitously”. You should be able to say that, and the audience should be able to digest it. Using a pointer will only serve to distract them. The reason is because not everyone takes in information in the same way. If you want to (and have time) you can verbalize the data, and then go back and point to the lines to reiterate what you just said a different way, but to talk, and point, and we’re reading and digesting, there’s just too damn much going on.

This is all without even talking about the plain and simple fact that those damn laser pointers are just the most annoying thing in the universe, even when they are used in textbook-proper style. So when you put it all together, it’s really just not worth it. Chances are, there are glitches in your presentation style somewhere. Maybe you look at your own slides a lot. Maybe you swallow the microphones. Maybe your voice is monotone. Maybe your pace is monotonous. Maybe you say “um” a lot. Maybe you’re visually uncomfortable. All of these can have a deliterious affect on the audience’s attention span. You don’t need to spend money on tools to lose an audience 😉

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