Laser pointers are NOT magic wands so…..Pointers, be gone!

Harry Potter wandAs a professional presenter and presentation skills trainer & mentor, it is depressing to see how many presenters do not dedicate sufficient time to the proper preparation of their presentations – even if it might mean the difference between their organization growing or closing, succeeding or failing.

The 5Ps : “Previous Planning Prevents Poor Proposals”.
This phrase is one of the most important phrases that any presenter should follow 100%. If the presenter is NOT properly prepared, they should not waste their time and that of the audience: they should find a reason to not make the presentation. People are not stupid – they know when a presenter has not prepared properly and has just grabbed an old presentation and adapted it (“done a cut & paste”) so that they have something to present.

One of the ways of identifying if a presenter has prepared properly is whether they use a laser pointer to identify key elements on each slide. If they need a pointer, it is a sure sign that they have not prepared sufficiently.

The Benefits(?) of using a laser pointer:
– The presenter doesn’t have to prepare the presentation in detail. After all, the presenter can “point out” with the laser pointer what is important on each slide.

Bad points:
– It shows a lack of respect for audience because if the presenter had prepared properly, they would have prepared a better way to highlight important information.

– The presenter´s non verbal communication (N.V.C.) is not directed towards the audience but more towards the screen. Specifically:

– Orientation : In order to use a laser pointer the presenter has to shift their orientation from the audience towards the screen. However, if the presenter wants to convince or engage the audience, it is important that their orientation is towards them. Frequently, as a consequence of a shift in orientation, presenters can see audience members using their tablets, smart phones or laptops during the presentation. This can be interpreted in only two ways: (1) They are bored or not engaged by what the presenter is saying and are not educated or respectful enough to hide it or (2) The presenter has lost psychological control over them. This occurs when the presenter is not oriented towards the audience and reinforcing their orientation with posture, gaze and gestures.

– Gaze: In order to effectively and elegantly control the group it is vital that the presenter reinforces their orientation with gaze. Instead of merely finding a friendly face to focus on, the presenter should know who the “Power”. “Influencers” and the “Hot bodies*” are and direct their attention principally to those who matter: the “Power” & the “Influencers”. The presenter should not merely “scan” the room which results in increased levels of adrenaline. It is far better to focus on one person and deliver a couple of phrases to them and then move on to another person. NEVER go from one person to the next person sitting beside them as the audience soon pick up on the presenter’s style and know when the presenter will look at them again! ALWAYS go around the room randomly – EXCEPT when you want to focus on delivering a “special” message to the “Power” or an “Influencer”.

– Proximity: When the presenter change their orientation and gaze, they are also changing their proximity (psychological & physical) which means that the audience tend to disconnect more easily from the presentation and makes it easier for them, psychologically, to start using their communication devices.

– Gestures: Many people suffer from nerves when presenting and often have shaky or trembling hands. This shakiness is accentuated when the presenter is trying to focus on a small spot on the screen and also trying to explain its importance. What do they focus on – the laser pointer & it’s target or what they want to say? This can be very distracting for the audience and also says a lot about the presenter.

It is a sad fact of life that whatever a presenter looks at, and points to, ends up being what they talk to. The effort of making sure that the pointer stays centred on the target means that it becomes the focus of attention. When the presenter is speaking to the screen, it may also cause listening problems for some audience members.

When the presenter CORRECTLY applies all of the above-mentioned elements of N.V.C. in a presentation, they combine to ensure that the totality of the verbal and non-verbal communication is congruent and directed towards the audience and not towards the screen which, in turn, reinforces the value of the presenter and his message.

If anyone has doubts about any of the elements mentioned above, the solution is simple: try each element in their next presentation and observe the results and then consider their implications.

An alternative and more effective technique to using a laser pointer: “Directionals”.

What exactly are “Directionals”?
Their purpose is to clearly draw attention to key elements that the presenter believes that the audience need to consciously focus on without sacrificing the presenter’s N.V.C. and losing control of the audience. In addition, it enables the presenter to:
– appear modern & up-to-date with the latest, most effective communication techniques.
– indicate that the presentation has been meticulously planned.
– show their respect for the audience.

Directionals are created using the different shapes that can be found in PowerPoint under the “insert” tab. The shapes we prefer are usually found in “Basic Shapes” or “Arrows” although other shapes can be used.
– The presenter chooses one specific shape and place it around the area to be highlighted – ensuring that the format of the shapes is appropriate. (Examples are given below.)

The shape should then be animated in such a way that the audience, who are looking at the screen, are drawn to the moving object and focus on it and where it stops. (Examples below.)

The use of “Directionals” is based, in part, on the fact that when something is static or unmoving, it does not attract undue attention. As soon as a static object starts moving, attention is drawn to it. Think about the design & use of camouflage clothing: when a soldier is wearing camouflage and does not move, it is difficult for the enemy to locate them, but as soon as they move they are much easier to see. In presentations, we have all had an audience member stand up and walk towards the door. What do the other attendees do? They usually stop listening to the presenter and follow the person as they leave the room!

Directionals: Personalized animations:
Here are some of the directional animations that we use. There are, however, an almost unlimited range of possibilities available in PowerPoint.
Enter + appear = poor – if a direction just “appear” without movement, it is often overlooked.
Enter + Bounce = good
Enter + Emphasis = good
Enter + Increase = good
Enter + Spin = good
Important elements to consider:
– Pronounced movement – Ascend / descend, etc. without being done to excess.
– Maximum time of animation: 2 seconds.
– Minimum line thickness: 5 (in Arial)
– Maximum 5 Different “Directionals” per slide. Recommended: 3.
– Line colour appropriate to the background colour of the slide.

In order to ensure that the presenter is using all of the key communication elements in their interaction with the audience, it appears obvious that using a laser pointer, while being an easy option for the presenter, is NOT an effective way of using their N.V.C. to enhance the delivery and memorability of the message.

Your feedback on this article would be appreciated.

* “Hot bodies” have absolutely NO influence over the decisions made and are there merely to make the audience bigger).

© Ian Brownlee, Brownlee & Associates, S.L., Madrid, Spain. February, 2015.


About ianbrownlee

Ian Brownlee, the founder of Brownlee & Associates has been actively involved in the field of interpersonal & transcultural communication since 1977. He has worked in universities and companies in the following countries: Laos, Thailand, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan, Singapore, Saudi Arabia, France, Italy, England, The United States of America & Spain, as a teacher, university lecturer, trainer, researcher & consultant. In addition, his experience in living in these countries, and studying the language & communication and interaction styles of each has aided him in reaching a real understanding of intercultural and transcultural differences and how to resolve them. Ian Brownlee has various masters degrees from British Universities: One in Linguistics & Teaching English Overseas from Manchester University, one in Training & Development with a specialization in the area of Communication and Adult learning awarded by the University of Sheffield. He has also gained professional qualifications in Psychotherapy & Hypnotherapy from various professional organizations. During his university career he has also studied elements of Sociology, Organizational psychology, Educational psychology, Psycholinguistics and Kinesics. He is a licensed Practitioner, Master Practitioner, and Master Trainer in NLP. as well as being a trainer in Ericksonian Hypnosis. He is a member of a wide range of professional organizations involved in Training, Applied Psychology, Hypnotherapy & Ericksonian Hypnosis, Psychotherapy, Interpersonal Communication & Cross-cultural Communication. He is also recognized by the Program on Negotiation, Harvard University, as a Negotiation Skills Trainer & Mediator and has been a collaborator on various projects with the program, and as such is in great demand as a negotiation consultant for some of the largest multinationals operating worldwide. His wide experience gained in multinational organizations in positions such as Director of Training, Communications Consultant and Negotiator / Mediator has helped many people to learn and apply new methods of negotiating skills and advanced communication techniques both in their private and professional lives. He has published various articles & books related to the field of interpersonal communication and he is the author of all the courses taught by Brownlee & Associates. He has lived and worked in Spain since 1985, initially as a trainer / Special Assistant in a multinational pharmaceutical company and then as the Training Manager for a multinational company involved in Clinical Analysis & Nuclear Medicine. Brownlee & Associates was formed in 1991 and currently has a small, highly-trained staff. While based in Madrid, courses are given world-wide either in English or Spanish. Brownlee & Associates currently work with leading international companies in the areas of pharmaceuticals , Information systems, luxury products, food & beverages, etc.
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