FAQs with Phil: Should I use a laser pointer for my slides?
Our resident communications expert Phil Stella answers the question, Do laser pointers still have a place in presentations?
In this Mind Your Business series, FAQs With Phil, COSE’s own Phil Stella answers some of the most frequently asked questions small business owners have regarding how to communicate effectively*.
Q. Should I use a laser pointer for my slides?
A. Don't let the technology tail wag the presenter dog.
As a person who has given many, many presentations over the years, I have some opinions about using laser pointers—as you might expect I would. For decades I have seen presentation technology change and evolve—yet the laser pointer is still here.
Let me walk you through why I don’t care for the laser pointer, but also how you can use it more effectively if you do feel the need to use one.
One major downside of the pointer is the need to look at the screen when using it. I regularly rant about not turning your back on the audience to read a slide to them. Using the laser pointer has the same effect. When you’re turned around looking at the screen and directing the laser pointer, you’ve immediately lost eye contact. Eye contact during a presentation is so important for many reasons, and they all have to do with establishing audience connection. If you can’t look your audience members in the eyes, they will be less engaged—no question. And you won’t know who is paying attention, or if there appear to be questions or concerns from attendees. Without facing your audience, you can’t read the room. And they will think you’re just another presenter, not caring to establish a connection or become invested in your listeners’ experience.
Another less serious and more amusing result is the likelihood that a jittery hand would make the red dot jump around like a buzzing bee. Talk about magnifying your nervousness so everyone can see it more clearly! It not only means you’ve lost a connection with your audience from lack of eye contact, but you’ve just provided them with a huge distraction.
If a slide with a chart or graph is so complicated that you really need the pointer to help the audience understand it, then it really must be a terrible slide. If you have so much copy on a slide that you need to highlight certain parts, you have too much copy on the slide. And needing to use the pointer, points that out. You would be better off if you invested time to create more effective slides and animate or zoom in for emphasis or clarity.
With all of that being said, if you must use a laser pointer, use it wisely. Practice with it so when you point things out on the screen, you look at it in silence as much as possible. This will minimize loss of eye contact. You can then turn back around after pointing to the portion of your slide you’re referring to and reengage with the audience as you continue your talk.
Additionally, it’s good practice to just leave the pointer on the podium or table when not in use so it doesn’t otherwise limit gestures and become something to play with. The last thing you need is to have less eye contact, a buzzing bee laser pointer, and something in your hands that you fiddle with as you’re talking.
So, I hope you get my point about avoiding this evil little device as much as possible. It only weakens your image and reduces your credibility.
Phil Stella runs Effective Training & Communication, www.communicate-confidently.com, 440 449-0356, and empowers business leaders to reduce the pain with workplace communication. A popular trainer and executive coach on writing, communication styles and sales presentations, he is also on the Cleveland faculty of the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program.
*If you have a question for Phil, please send him an email at Phil@communicate-confidently.com