Don’t use Laser pointers

Laser tag by Indiefire

If you wave a laser pointer back and forth fast enough you will create a solid trail of light on the wall.

When I did some training in India I worked with a very inexperienced presenter. His slides were a dense collection of bullet points. He read out each bullet point verbatim. Worst of all he would wave his laser pointer underneath the bullet point he was reading it. To achieve this he had to stand with his back to the audience for the entire time. His cluttered slides were made even more difficult to read by the wavy red line cutting through the text.

I can’t think of many occasions when a laser pointer adds value to a presentation. Most of the time it makes it worse or indicates that your slides need improvement. Here are some questions you should ask yourself about your laser pointer usage:

Are you turning your back on the audience?

Wireless slide changers are excellent for advancing slides while maintaining a connection with your audience. Unfortunately most come with a built in laser pointer which presenters may be tempted to abuse. If you use your laser pointer at all you will have to turn your back to the audience. This means that you stop getting immediate feedback about their state of confusion/understanding and lose rapport.

Are your slides too complicated?

If you have to use a laser pointer to make sense of your slides maybe you should consider simplifying them. If you are presenting a complex diagram could you gradually build it up with a slide devoted to each component part? Are there irrelevant parts of the diagram that could be removed or faded out to show lack of importance?

Is everyone looking at the screen?

Do not assume everyone is looking at you the entire time you are presenting. People may be jotting down notes or reading through previous slides. Short sighted people may be following the handouts. People may be reading their email or browsing the Internet.

If explanation of an important concept hinges on your use of a laser pointer then be aware that it may take some time for people to realise that they need to be looking at the screen. Pause before you you start moving the pointer and run through the entire explanation at least twice so that people are given another opportunity to pay attention. Or even better, identify all of you slides that require laser pointer intervention and think about a more appropriate way of presenting the information.

Leave the laser light shows to Pink Floyd and concentrate on creating clear, intuitive visual aids.

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2 Comments

  1. Martin
    Posted May 6, 2009 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    There’s at least one conference centre I’ve been to that usues a huge glass (LCD?) screen to display slides rather than projecting onto a solid white dropdown screen from somewhere above the audience’s heads. The result is that laser pointers don’t work at all – it just goes straight through the glass and disappears. That foxed a couple of people who were planning to pretend to be a super cool sniper for 20 minutes rather than take the time to think through their slide composition.

    So you can’t even guarantee it’s going to work when you give your presentation.

    Loving the Floyd reference btw…

  2. Andrew
    Posted May 6, 2009 at 2:07 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for commenting Martin. That’s a very good point. There are a few other situations where it is completely unpractical to use a laser pointer:
    (1) Large conferences where slides are displayed on multiple screens e.g. two large screens behind you or multiple smaller screens scattered throughout the audience.
    (2) Slide-casts where your slides and voice are either recorded or transmitted live to another site.
    (3) When the speaker is standing behind the screen/projection.

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