Presentations – A Key PowerPoint Usage Strategy is to Put Yourself in the Picture

There are lots of usage challenges when it comes to PowerPoint. It’s a challenge juggling a keyboard, the mouse, or a remote, trying not to trip over any wires, trying not to read the slide, and letting your audience can see the screen. One key strategy that resolves most of these usage challenges is very simple: step back to the screen and stay with the visual while you’re referring to it. 

When you separate yourself from the visual — whether by standing at the lectern or at the computer or off to the side — you split the audience’s attention. You’re forcing them to choose between looking at you or looking at the visual. By keeping yourself in the picture, so to speak — right next to the screen — you ensure that the focus stays on you. 

There are two other very good reasons for standing right beside the screen. If you stand at your laptop, there’s an excellent chance that your positioning will be blocking the view of the screen for some audience members. You don’t want to risk that. Secondly, standing by the screen gives you a chance for purposeful movement, as you can refer to the visual and help direct your audience’s attention to the specific line or column you want them to focus on. Remember though, don’t talk to the screen. You can glance at it and refer to it, but always make sure you turn and talk to your audience.

There is one exception to this guideline. If you’ve ever attended or presented at a large industry conference or convention, you’re probably familiar with the giant-sized screen commanding the center of the stage in a convention hall, or the double oversized screens that flank a stage. An already intimidating speaking situation, it’s aggravated by the fact that the proportion of screen size to speaker height — or even the number of screens present — implies that the visual is more important than the speaker. Under these circumstances, you can’t very well put yourself in the picture (where you’ll look like a dust mote on the screen) or refer to a line that’s two stories above your head. 

Although you certainly can’t refer to something specifically on a slide, you can still refer to it generally with an indicating gesture. This situation really calls for you to use your visuals purposefully. In other words, make sure there are times when you don’t have a visual up. Use black slides occasionally to ensure that there are times the audience can be focused exclusively on you.

This would be a good place to discuss which side of the screen you stand on. There are two schools of thought. One says that you should stand to the side that places your lead arm next to the visual. So, if you’re right-handed, then, from the audience’s vantage point of facing the screen, you’d be to the visual’s right. That way your right arm can easily make gestures and refer to the visual. If your lead hand isn’t next to the visual, you may find yourself twisting your whole body around — and therefore turning your back on your audience — when you refer to the visual.

The second school of thought, and one I’d probably recommend, is to stand to the left side (from the audience’s perspective) of the screen. This is where the beginning of each line and bullet point is, which therefore serves as an appropriate anchor point to stand and bring the audience’s attention to each line. However, this means your left hand will be the one you use for referring to the visual. If you’re right-handed, this might be a little awkward, but it’s certainly doable. The advantage to the right-hander in this position is that the right hand can hold and click the cordless mouse while the left hand refers to the screen.

It’s really your choice, just pick which side you’re going to use and stick with it.