Myth 21: A laser pen is one of the best ways of indicating what you’re talking about

Maybe you know those individuals – maybe you’re one yourself! – who just have to have anything and everything that’s new, innovative and revolutionary.
They’re the ones who first bought CDs when they still cost a fortune, they’re the ones who bought the first tablets when they came out, and they bought the first clumsy and noisy LCD screens to place on their overhead projectors and link to their computers.
So, too, they have to buy a laser pen, the electronic pointer to replace the traditional piece of wood looking like a miniature billiard cue.
Most remote controls these days have a built-in laser beam.
It’s time to stop and ask what is the use and functionality of such a piece of equipment during a presentation.

Are you able to conjure up a picture in your imagination of the teacher or lecturer who, long ago, used a long wooden stick to point out items on a blackboard covered with chalk? That’s a tradition that some speakers continue in their own lectures – because there’s little to recommend them as ‘presentations’! First there was wood. Then came the fine, telescopic, metal version (the de luxe versions had a rubber tip and even a small built-in ball-pen), the pocket-lamp which could project a faint red arrow on the screen, and later came the laser pen. The telescopic pointer fell out of grace because the speaker would play with it like a mad conductor. The ‘tick, tick’ on the projection screen became a sort of wry tradition on its own.
The laser pen appeared to solve all these problems in one go. Was it the end of ‘tick, tick’, banging on the screen, and the distracting telescopic movements? Or was it the beginning of another era?

The facts
Even when the speaker knows nothing about the focus function, the laser pen provides a point of red light on the screen.
The better the focus, the sharper the point, the clearer and brighter the red light.
When the room lights are turned off or just dimmed, and the speaker can support his hand somewhere (maybe on the edge of the lectern), there’s a good chance that a solid and relatively still red point is visible on the screen.
But it is and remains just a ‘point’, which for many is quite difficult to see.
Ah, indeed, is that the reason why the speaker waves the laser pen around, drawing wobbly lines around the spot where the listeners’ attention should be?

Mythe 21: "Laserpen"Imagine that the speaker is fairly anxious or, just like the other participants at the congress, has indulged in the wine at lunch or has paid no thought to steadying his hand or arm against something… what can then be seen on the screen? A vibrating red mark that – for those who can even see it – tends to distract the attention rather than focus it.

Since this is the most frequently used presentation software, courtesy of Microsoft, this is what we’ll refer to. When you present electronically, make sure you avoid the mistake made by a participant in one of my open workshops. Frank works for a large, multinational high-tech company. He believes firmly that he must then present using the high-tech combination of computer and beamer. After 17 minutes (!) setting everything up, he finally starts his presentation. He takes a telescopic pointer out of his jacket pocket, goes up to the screen and stands in one place talking to his illustrations and waving the pointer first at this point then at that point on the crowded screen.

When you work with presentation software, use a modest number of the useful features provided.
Just consider for a moment that the software engineers who designed the program probably know nothing about presenting, and never present anyway. All these features are just distractions which tempt the inexperienced speaker to turn his presentation into a multi-media event which ensures that neither the speaker nor his message get much attention.

Let’s look for a moment at some of the useful features. In the context of this myth, one of those features is the arrow or circle in contrasting colour which you make appear at the right moment in your presentation, at the right place on the screen. Or you let the colour of an area change, or you zoom in or out.

One of the most useless, yet alas most common, features is projecting the full picture all at once, with everything underlined or emphasised in other ways.
Use the possibilities of your software sparingly and with appropriate timing.
A good presenter is like a good teacher: he provides a small amount of information, visual and verbal, at a time.

Even better
Instead of a laser pen or pointer, use your words.
You are presenting, you are the person whom your listeners ‘buy’ before they ‘buy’ your solution.
Your projection screen sells nothing.
What you project should support the transmission of the essential message. Your screen may not tell the story, your listeners must not be able to follow the story from the screen – otherwise you may as well not be there!

How it works
Tell the listeners what they can expect to see in a few moments on the screen.
Direct their attention with words to the appropriate part of the illustration.
This is where you may now make modest use of some of the features of your software.


“Now that you have a better idea about the possible developments in the area of ABC…”
[you sum up what’s on the screen right now or what you’ve just described in greater detail]
“… let’s now move on to look at the technical requirements for the XYZ product group.”
[you prepare to switch to the next sheet or illustration]
“In a moment you’re going to see a fairly complex table.”
[prepare the listener for what he’s going to be looking at]
“Look first of all at the column of figures on the right.”
[there’s still nothing on the screen; you’re just warming the listeners up; with the imperative form you come across with confidence and you direct the attention]
“Take a few moments to consider the implications of these figures. What are the challenges for you and your department?”
[the imperative again, followed by a question to set them thinking; you’re in charge! And now you can show the next sheet]

With this said, and with the next illustration on the screen, you move aside out of the line of sight and wait until the listeners have had the time to carry out your instructions.
Relax, soften your shoulders and jaws, watch your breathing… then draw the attention back to you and continue the presentation.
While standing close to your audience, keep using your words to indicate what’s on the screen: “Bottom left you can see the input from your HRD department, Frank…”, “When you read the third line again more closely in the light of what Peter just pointed out…”, ‘…the red line linking the second and third quarters of last year…”

In conclusion…
Remember that you present, not your visual aids.
They’re there to support you, and may only be the central point of attention when everybody knows it’s designed to be a high-tech laser show.
Because – and you know this now! – the listener can’t do business with a screen, but with you!

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