PowerPoint Engineering: Laser Pointer Discipline

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This week, I attended a mechanical engineering symposium, the purpose of which was knowledge sharing across business units and groups. A lot of valuable information was presented, which I may discuss in future posts, but there is one takeaway I want to share now:

Don’t swing your laser pointer!!!!

Seriously. I watched nine talks, and six of the presenters had extremely poor laser pointer discipline. This lack of discipline is completely unrelated to unsteady hands due to nervousness or excitement. Instead, it’s thanks to a lack of awareness of what pointer movements will be distracting and which will augment your presentation.

Proper use of a laser pointer may seem a trivial thing to gripe about.  It’s one of those actions that no one notices – yet still appreciates – when done properly, but is incredibly obvious when done poorly. Here are a few pieces of advice for improving your laser pointer discipline…

Only push the “on” button when the laser pointer is actually pointed at the screen. Turning on the laser anytime it’s not pointed at the screen risks firing it into an audience member’s eye, potentially causing them harm. Too many times I noted the presenter moving the pointer from his side to the screen, but turning it on while it was en route over the audience.  Forcing your audience to prepare to duck will not ingratiate them to your message.

Do not move the laser pointer in wild, erratic circles or underlines to emphasize data on the screen. At best, this technique is distracting and unnecessary, and at worst, vertigo inducing to some audience members. Instead, just point, or make slow, methodical traces. After all, it’s called a laser “pointer” for a reason. Save the racing for exercising your kitten at home.

The less you use the laser, the more impactful it is. I’m the first to admit laser pointers are cool, especially the green ones, and I very much enjoy playing with them. But a laser pointer is intended to augment your presentation, not dominate it. Some presenters I watched pointed to each bullet as they talked to it, which added nothing to what they were saying. Others underlined statements as they spoke them aloud even though they needed no further emphasis.  Instead, only use the laser point when it counts; walking through charts and graphics, and drawing attention to takeaways.

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