Update, March 2013: What I’ve learned about this technique is that it requires meticulous practice. You need to internalize exactly when you will make your transitions and sync your clicker hand to your speech. When you don’t have a lot of time to practice, the alternative is to simplify your slides to the point where there are only 1 to 3 items that need pointing out.
If you’re giving a slide presentation (typically, with PowerPoint), never again use a laser pointer. I will offer a solution/alternative later in this post, but first, let me explain why laser pointers are bad:
- To use the pointer, you have to look at your slide to ensure that it is hitting the correct spot. As you describe the item you’re pointing at, you end up speaking at the wall rather than to the audience.
- If one hand is committed to the laser pointer, you are forced into an awkward posture and can’t gesture naturally with your hands.
- The “transition” between speaking to the audience, turning to point, and then turning back is inherently choppy. And on top of that, someone in the audience likely fails to see the laser pointer (gets distracted, too much glare, etc) and misses the point of the slide entirely.
I was inspired to write this post after I attended a talk where the speaker was turned 90 degrees away from the audience the entire time he spoke, even when there weren’t slides to point at with the laser pointer. He had turned to use the laser pointer, and never turned back to face the audience!
If you feel that you need to use a laser pointer, I am guessing that you have TOO MUCH CONTENT on that slide. So, declutter. Cut through the auxiliary info and figure out what your most important message is, and focus on that one message on that slide. Plenty of people who write about how to make effective presentations have advice on how to declutter your slides (fyi, each of those links is to a different guide).
Two alternative solutions to the laser pointer
Even after you’ve decluttered your slides, you might have some important idea that requires the audience to consider multiple graphics at once. Here are two approaches to use that will allow you to remain engaged with and facing the audience. Read more…
Previously, I pointed you to what Steve Jobs does in making awesome presentations. As I’ve read more on presentations using visual aids, I’ve come across a couple blogs on how to get the most out of Powerpoint for your talks. I point you to a couple example posts on each blog.
“Takahashi method” – on Presentation Zen
“What’s wrong with templates?” – Presentation Advisors (impressively, only one guy)
There are countless ways to incorporate PPT in a presentation, and the optimal way will vary with the nature of the presentation. These blogs have so many ideas, I will definitely have fun trying to work different elements into my talks, which will be a challenge since science talks are usually so data/visual-heavy.
Go here to see a slideshow on “The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs: How to be Insanely Great in Front of Any Audience.” Then try to incorporate some of those tips the next time you give a presentation, especially if its a powerpoint.