Issue #173 November 25, 2008

PowerPoint Tip: Please don’t speak to the screen

It happens far too often. It happened again last week – speaking to the screen instead of the audience. We are in the process of attending high school open house nights in order to figure out which high school will be best for our son. The first one we attended last week was for a school that has an international curriculum and one of the areas they said they stress is communication. So the coordinator stood and faced the screen as she spoke, usually reading what was written on each slide. At least she used a microphone so we could hear her. Why does this happen so often and what can we do about it? In this newsletter I’m covering some more strategies to use so you can avoid speaking to the screen. I gave some strategies six weeks ago, but it seems like more are needed. First, let’s look at why it happens. There are a number of reasons, but most common are the inability to see what is on the screen and over dependence on the slides as speaker notes. Let’s deal with each one of these. When your computer monitor is not positioned so that you can see what is being projected, you will want to turn towards the screen to make sure you know what the audience is seeing. This is natural. But when you then proceed to speak to the screen, it becomes a problem. So what can you do? Two strategies to add to what I suggested before about positioning the computer monitor where you can see it. First, if you must look at the screen because you are unable to get a monitor where you can see it, practice glancing at the screen to get your reference point, then turning and speaking to the audience. You should practice so you can use your peripheral vision most of the time and your glance becomes a slight head turn instead of a full body turn. Second, if you face the screen because you are nervous about facing the audience, work with a coach to overcome your anxiety and put yourself in a position to present regularly so you become more comfortable with it. Join a local Toastmasters group to get the chance to practice and get encouraging feedback. The other major cause of facing the screen is that the speaker is using the slides as speaking notes. This can be overcome with the following strategies. First, transform your overloaded text slides into persuasive visuals (my book The Visual Slide Revolution gives a five step process for doing just this – see for more information). By changing your speaking note slides into a series of visuals that you can glance at and then explain to the audience, you eliminate the need to keep looking at the screen after the initial glance. A single glance at the slide headline and the visual are all you will need in order to speak about this point. Second, keep a printout of your slides and any additional notes in front of you when you speak. This way, your reference material is in the direction of the audience, not the screen. You glance to see that the correct slide is up, then turn to face the audience and use your notes to remind you if necessary. Finally, as I shared last time, rehearse your presentation so you are familiar with your message, and won’t need to refer to any notes or the screen to tell you what to say. Facing the screen while speaking can be overcome by applying the strategies I’ve shared before and today. If you suffer from this habit, start today to change your ways.