Breaking the habit of speaking to the screen; Issue #240 July 19, 2011

PowerPoint Tip: Breaking the habit of speaking to the screen

In the past, I have discussed the habit some presenters have of talking to the screen instead of the audience when using PowerPoint. In two previous newsletters (here and here), I suggest that the problem stems from presenters using the slides as speaker notes and needing to regularly look at the screen in order to remember what they are supposed to say. I suggested strategies such as setting up a monitor so you can see what is on the screen instead of turning around, and rehearsing so you know your material better. In today’s article I want to move the discussion to a higher level and talk about the mindset that can help break the habit of speaking to the screen.

Recently I spoke to a group of accountants on why many financial presentations are so ineffective and confusing. It boils down to a need to shift our mindset to one of serving the audience instead of delivering the data. If you are speaking to the screen when delivering a PowerPoint presentation, I suggest you consider making this mindset change as well. Place a greater emphasis on serving the audience instead of delivering the content and you will discover that your approach to the presentation will change.

You will want to have a conversation instead of a content dump. To start a conversation, all you need is a persuasive visual that contains a summary headline and a visual that illustrates your point. This is your starting point to then explain what is behind the visual, tell a story that illustrates the point further, or engage the audience in thinking about the point. You will get rid of the overloaded text slides that constrain you in your presentation (read this newsletter for more on why overloaded slides constrain presenters).

When you start with a focus on serving the audience, you don’t feel a need to regularly check what is on the screen. You can focus on delivering each point because you know the audience will find it helpful. Practice looking at one person in the audience as you deliver the point. Make it feel like you are having a one-on-one conversation with that person. When you are done with that point, move on to deliver the next point to another member of the audience. Deliver your points as a series of one-on-one conversations.

Many presenters have the habit of looking at the screen when delivering a PowerPoint presentation and they don’t even realize they are doing it. To check how often you do it, videotape your presentation. When you watch it back, turn off the sound and focus just on where you are looking. This is the only way to really know how often you are looking at the screen instead of the audience.

If you find you are looking at the screen too much, change your mindset to one of serving the audience. Create a clear message without information overload using the GPS approach and select the correct visual for your message. And practice delivering your presentation as a conversation with the audience instead of a content dump directed at the audience. Your presentations will be more effective and your audience will appreciate it.