Murphy's Law states: "Anything that can go wrong will go wrong." This is especially true and especially painful when there is an audience involved.

Categories

Archives

Welcome

This blog was active from April, 2008 to July 2012.
It is no longer being updated but will continue to be maintained for reference purposes.

Jedi Knights With Frickin' Laser Pointers

jediThe last presentation before lunch was just getting started and I’m trying to find my copy of the agenda. Since I was the PowerPoint guy at that meeting, my day was pretty much over and I was hanging out with the crew in the control booth daydreaming about the lunch buffet. The technical director’s whispered, but emphatic, “uh oh!” brought me back. “Cover your eyes,” he said “it looks like we have a Jedi Master on stage.”

Huh?

Oh yeah, the speaker. He was rather, well, enthusiastic about using the laser pointer. Back and forth from one corner of the screen to the other. Waving it under every bullet point to underline its importance. Look out, here’s the dangerous part. He forgets to take his thumb off the button as he turns back to the audience. The little red dot slides across the audience like he’s a nervous hit man looking for his target. It’s lucky he doesn’t burn out a couple retinas. Whoops, he’s turning back to the screen. Good thing he’s not a Jedi Knight. That evil Sith lectern would be toast. I could almost hear the sound effects from that scene when Luke…

(sorry, got carried away)

Anyway, I think you see the point. If you’re going to use a laser pointer, use it correctly. Some suggestions:

  • Many speakers seem to like holding onto the laser pointer to have something to do with their hands. They are using it as a security blanket. These are often the worst offenders. Try putting the pointer within easy reach on the lectern. It will be there when you need it but you’ll be less tempted to use it when you don’t.
  • Make sure the laser light only goes where you want it to. It’s capable of attracting a lot of the audience’s attention, and that attention should be directed only where you need it to be. And never, ever point it toward the audience. (This illustrates another instance of the need for the presenter to control the light. There will be more on that in future posts).
  • Make sure your hand is steady. It might be adrenaline, it might be the coffee, it doesn’t matter. It tends to make the audience uncomfortable when the little red dot won’t stay still and it’s clear that your hand is shaking.
  • If the laser pointer is part of your remote control, try to get in enough practice with it so you’re less likely to hit the laser pointer button when you’re trying to advance the slides.
  • Part of the problem with using the laser pointer is that you usually have to turn, at least partially, away from the audience. This makes it harder to engage them. It can also make it harder for the lectern microphone to pick up what you’re saying. Try to test the stage arrangement out in rehearsal. Can the lectern be turned slightly toward the screen? Can you wear a lavalier to support the lectern microphone?

Related Resources

29 comments to Jedi Knights With Frickin’ Laser Pointers

  • Heh. I received a laser pointer as trade show swag over 10 years ago. I never used it on stage myself — but for the first year or so, it was a dandy toy for pestering my tropical fish.

    I kept the toy in my kit for a few years, too — but whenever presenters asked to use it, I discouraged the practice.

    “Let’s see how you rehearse without it,” became a pat phrase. After rehearsal, I would usually offer positive reinforcement for their non-laser performance.

    My laser pointer has been in my kitchen junk drawer for quite a while now…

  • Heh. I received a laser pointer as trade show swag over 10 years ago. I never used it on stage myself — but for the first year or so, it was a dandy toy for pestering my tropical fish.

    I kept the toy in my kit for a few years, too — but whenever presenters asked to use it, I discouraged the practice.

    “Let’s see how you rehearse without it,” became a pat phrase. After rehearsal, I would usually offer positive reinforcement for their non-laser performance.

    My laser pointer has been in my kitchen junk drawer for quite a while now…

  • Lee Potts

    @Laura Bergells: I agree. In most cases, it’s best to reserve the laser pointer for exercising the cat once you get home. There’s one major exception in my line of work. When one of our speakers is showing a graph, especially one that’s displaying the data in a nonstandard way, we suggest to them that they take a moment or two to orient the audience to the graph before explaining what the data mean. Basically reviewing what’s on each axis, the significance of the particular scale of each axis, things like that.

  • Lee Potts

    @Laura Bergells: I agree. In most cases, it’s best to reserve the laser pointer for exercising the cat once you get home. There’s one major exception in my line of work. When one of our speakers is showing a graph, especially one that’s displaying the data in a nonstandard way, we suggest to them that they take a moment or two to orient the audience to the graph before explaining what the data mean. Basically reviewing what’s on each axis, the significance of the particular scale of each axis, things like that.

  • Mike

    Laser pointers banned after attacks Mon Apr 21, 12:11 PM ET

    SYDNEY (Reuters) – A major Australian state has banned laser pointers after a spate of incidents in which aircraft pilots have been temporarily blinded, the government said on Monday.

    High-powered hand lasers, including so-called “star pointers” used by astronomers, would be listed as prohibited weapons in New South Wales state with jail terms of up to 14 years for anyone carrying them without a permit.

    “It is a gutless and cowardly act that could result in an horrific outcome. It only takes a fraction of a second for a pilot to become temporarily blinded and that could have catastrophic consequences,” said state Premier Morris Iemma.

    Several pilots have recently reported high-intensity lasers being shone into their cockpits during take-offs and landings, and police recently enlisted intelligence agencies to help combat what papers called “laser lunatics.”

    The latest incident occurred over Sydney’s south at the weekend when an ambulance helicopter was hit by a green beam.

    The ban will build on planned national importation controls announce by the federal government earlier this month, treating laser pointers like firearms.

    “It’s destructive, dangerous behavior which needs a coordinated response across Australia,” said Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus.

    (Reporting by Rob Taylor, editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

  • Lee Potts

    @Mike: Thanks Mike. People have trouble hitting the spot they want to highlight on a screen thirty feet away from the podium they’re standing behind. How on earth is anyone aiming a handheld presentation laser pointer at a smaller, much less stationary target with anywhere near enough accuracy to be dangerous?

  • Mike

    Laser pointers banned after attacks Mon Apr 21, 12:11 PM ET

    SYDNEY (Reuters) – A major Australian state has banned laser pointers after a spate of incidents in which aircraft pilots have been temporarily blinded, the government said on Monday.

    High-powered hand lasers, including so-called “star pointers” used by astronomers, would be listed as prohibited weapons in New South Wales state with jail terms of up to 14 years for anyone carrying them without a permit.

    “It is a gutless and cowardly act that could result in an horrific outcome. It only takes a fraction of a second for a pilot to become temporarily blinded and that could have catastrophic consequences,” said state Premier Morris Iemma.

    Several pilots have recently reported high-intensity lasers being shone into their cockpits during take-offs and landings, and police recently enlisted intelligence agencies to help combat what papers called “laser lunatics.”

    The latest incident occurred over Sydney’s south at the weekend when an ambulance helicopter was hit by a green beam.

    The ban will build on planned national importation controls announce by the federal government earlier this month, treating laser pointers like firearms.

    “It’s destructive, dangerous behavior which needs a coordinated response across Australia,” said Home Affairs Minister Bob Debus.

    (Reporting by Rob Taylor, editing by Sanjeev Miglani)

  • Lee Potts

    @Mike: Thanks Mike. People have trouble hitting the spot they want to highlight on a screen thirty feet away from the podium they’re standing behind. How on earth is anyone aiming a handheld presentation laser pointer at a smaller, much less stationary target with anywhere near enough accuracy to be dangerous?

  • […] joeyhagedorn.com: Home-built Blu-Ray Laser Pointer – “In a completely dark room it is even possible to see the beam in air…” You definitely don’t want to give one of these to one of the Jedi Knights I wrote about last week. […]

  • My take on laser pointers is that they don’t add much. I much prefer to see a presenter get ‘physical’ with the slide – walk over to it, into the beam if necessary and show us the axes as they’re explaining it. The presentation by Hans Rosling at TED is a great example – http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/92.

    The only reasons I can see for having one is if the screen is too far away from the presenter to walk into, or if the presenter has a physical disability and can’t walk to the screen.

    Olivias last blog post..Conversational Presenting

  • Lee Potts

    @Olivia: I agree with you that, in most cases, laser pointers don’t add much. Great example of an alternate strategy. I also like the way Rosling uses the arrow cursor as a pointer. He’s an amazing presenter.

    Unfortunately, most of the presentations I support now take place in a very formal, regulatory environment. There are no lapel microphones. There is a lectern and, during the main presentation, the presenter is expected to be standing behind it. During the Q&A; period, if you’re not behind the lectern, you’re most likely at a microphone by the “bullpen” which is even further from the screen.

    Once again, it comes down to determining what tools and techniques best help the speakers make the points they need to make and tell the stories they need to tell.

  • My take on laser pointers is that they don’t add much. I much prefer to see a presenter get ‘physical’ with the slide – walk over to it, into the beam if necessary and show us the axes as they’re explaining it. The presentation by Hans Rosling at TED is a great example – http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/view/id/92.

    The only reasons I can see for having one is if the screen is too far away from the presenter to walk into, or if the presenter has a physical disability and can’t walk to the screen.

    Olivias last blog post..Conversational Presenting

  • Lee Potts

    @Olivia: I agree with you that, in most cases, laser pointers don’t add much. Great example of an alternate strategy. I also like the way Rosling uses the arrow cursor as a pointer. He’s an amazing presenter.

    Unfortunately, most of the presentations I support now take place in a very formal, regulatory environment. There are no lapel microphones. There is a lectern and, during the main presentation, the presenter is expected to be standing behind it. During the Q&A period, if you’re not behind the lectern, you’re most likely at a microphone by the “bullpen” which is even further from the screen.

    Once again, it comes down to determining what tools and techniques best help the speakers make the points they need to make and tell the stories they need to tell.

  • […] Potts presents Jedi Knights With Frickin’ Laser Pointers posted at Breaking Murphy’s […]

  • Laser pointers can become dangerous. They are like every other dangerous weapon. They are not necessarily harmful on their own by they can be if used by morons.

    Joshs last blog post..Microphones and Voice Amplification

  • Laser pointers can become dangerous. They are like every other dangerous weapon. They are not necessarily harmful on their own by they can be if used by morons.

    Joshs last blog post..Microphones and Voice Amplification

  • This is seldom, if ever, mentioned in presentation specific blogs. In the world of computer-related training we often have to display screens of source code. Source code doesn't lend itself to nice, pretty, slides. In fact, many times it is better to use an editor to display it than it is to use PowerPoint.

    I have seen laser pointers used effectively while the speaker discussed source code. Laser pointers are sometime, not often, useful in allowing an audience member to point out something on screen that they would like clarification on (source code, again).

    My current presentation remote has a laser pointer built-in. I find it useful for checking to see if the batteries are dead but that is about all I use it for.

  • Thanks for stopping by and commenting Jeff. Just like any tool it has to be used the right way at the right time. That bit about using the laser pointer to check your batteries is the best line I've heard in a while. Think I'll make it comment of the week.

  • Anyone know where you can buy those flashlights that make a big (6″) arrow on the screen? We had them in graduate school before laser pointers, and they were wonderful. They were heavy enough to ensure that the pointer didn't jump around, and also heavy enough to discourage overuse (e.g., highlighting every word on the slide). I really miss them. Laser pointers, especially frickin' laser pointers, are only good for entertaining cats. Really good, I might add.

    I also agree strongly with Jeff about audience participation. I have a small fleet of them for that usage. And with Olivia about who should be allowed to use them. In almost all cases, it is far, far better to just walk over to the projected slide and interact with it, without silly props.

  • Hi Colin. I associate those big arrow flashlight with trips to the planetarium when I was in grade school but I can't remember ever actually seeing them for sale anywhere. Sounds like they would really do the trick, at least if you were standing at a decent angle in relationship to the screen. That's actually the same concern I have with walking over to the screen. When we do our FDA presentations, we're expected to present from the lectern which can sometimes be a good distance away from where the screen is and going back and forth would be pretty disruptive. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment.

  • When I attend conferences nobody uses a laser pointer anymore, it's so 80's. My wife, an elementary school teacher, recently had to do a presentation to parents on proper writing examples in preperation for a big state test. What we did for her presentation was to highlight each section of text she was going to discuss with what looked like yellow highlighter in Photoshop. She just pushed next slide on her remote and it automatically highlighted her next point.

    Their is no reason for laser pointers anymore. Just prepare your powerpoint in a way to do the highlighting for you. You can also have your powerpoint slide have a circle around part of the photo or anything else.

    Socal

  • Sorry Socal but I think you're overgeneralizing here. There are situations in which a laser pointer is very necessary. Situations where it's not practical to highlight particular parts of a slide in advance of the presentation. For example, say you're presenting the findings from several studies to a group of scientists as part of the process of getting a new drug approved for sale. Your main presentation will only contain a small percentage of the total number of slides you will be preparing. You may have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of backup slides — most of which will never be shown, but that need to be included in case they are needed to answer a question. Not only do you not know ahead of time which of these slides you're going to use, you have no idea which piece of data from which table or graph you will want to draw the audience's attention to. It will all depend on the question and how it's asked.

    I'm would also be concerned about using Photoshop to highlight the text on your slides. When you add the highlighting in Photoshop, aren't you turning the text into an image which you put into the slide? Doesn't this make the PowerPoint file really big?

  • OK, I've never been a doctor presenting on a new drug. Obviously their are times I have not thought of that a laser pointer still works. I was a little harsh when I said laser pointers are dead.

    In regards to the size of the image for Powerpoint, no, it doesn't make the file really big. Especially if it's just black and white text you can save it as a compressed 8 color gif file and it takes up about 18KB for a full size image of 1 page of text.

    In fact, in the marketing industry people load up video files on their thumbnail drive and include them in their Powerpoint presentation often now. So size seems to not be much of a problem like it used to be in the old days.

    On a good note, I did like the story you shared about blinding people in the eye. I always like the presenters that are trigger happy and seem to advance 3 slides every time instead of just 1. Your blog definitely made me laugh. :-) Keep up the good work.

  • Hi Socal,

    Don't get me wrong, I agree that in most typical situations, the laser pointer causes more problems than it solves. Especially when your slides adhere to the minimalistic aesthetic that's so fashionable these days.

    I think I'm more worried about increasing the size of the PowerPoint due to embedded graphics not just the size of the files you need to carry around. I've had stability problems with large PPT files containing a lot of graphics.

    Glad you like my blog and that the stories ring true to you. Hope you continue to enjoy it.

  • […] Link Update: Here are some more tips from Lee Potts: Jedi Knights With Frickin’ Laser Pointers […]

  • why

    That guy has good hands.

  • why

    That guy has good hands.

  • why

    That guy has good hands.

  • I laughed out loud as i read this but it is a serious point well made!

Leave a Reply

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>