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.



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It is no longer being updated.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

Comment of the Week: Careful, you’ll put your eye out!

It seems to be a really hot topic. One of my first posts from way back in April, Jedi Knights With Frickin’ Laser Pointers, is still generating new comments. Just about everyone agreed that laser pointer use should be kept to a minimum, but I really like the way Jeff Bailey of MostToast summed up his remarks:

“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.”

The Weekly Might Have Missed List (6/01/08)

Dr Simon Raybould anticipates that the architecture of the room he is presenting in might present some challenges — Tiers to tears. Accurate Pronunciation How Do I Say…? A List of the Most Mispronounced Words.

iDoctor: Happy Birthday USB Flash Drive! — I guess sometimes good things can come from bad presentations.

Speak Schmeak: A great idea for getting the laptop show ready.

Seth Godin: Sorry to talk so long… — You don’t need to say you’re sorry.

Speak Fearlessly: Stage Fright.

Speak Schmeak: Lost your place?

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Gathering: honey, i’m [sending a bunch of stuff] home! — “Here are some quick and easy things you can do to ensure your return shipment doesn’t cause you headaches!”

Connexion! Communication Central: Power Failure – How Not to Use Your Body….

Corporate Presenter: Presenting Under Pressure — “These American presenters really know how to lose it!”

Corpreform: Laser pointer too complicated for partner at Skadden.

Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!

When you’re the slide guy, once all the presentations have been thoroughly PowerPointed and the meeting has started, they need to find something for you to do so you’re not just hanging around enjoying yourself. At least that was the case at an earlier point in my career. These days I’m also the AV guy and I get to show the slides as well as make them. I’m also the roadie, but that’s a different story.

I’m not even sure what you would have called what they had me doing back then. Production assistant maybe? I was wearing headphones, hanging at the front of the room herding speakers. The technical director and the rest of the crew communicated with the speakers through me once the meeting started. I was also responsible for giving each of them a quick visual check before they took the stage.

Ostensibly, I was making sure they took off their name badges and turned on their lavalier microphones. The badges needed to come off because the spotlights lighting the stage reflected off their badges and the flashing could be distracting for the audience. I was also told to discretely check for a couple other things — making sure flys were up, for instance (I kid you not).

Having someone to do this sort of stuff made things a lot easier for the speakers and let them focus on speaking, not on the necessary last-second minutiae. Unfortunately, not every event can provide this level of luxury. That means if your a presenter, you usually need to fill that role yourself.

Develop and memorize a very brief pre-presentation checklist, something you can quickly rattle off to yourself while you’re waiting to be introduced that captures all those little things that can make presenting difficult if overlooked or forgotten: zipper zipped, badge removed, water bottle, laser pointer, speaking notes, glasses, etc. Remind yourself to smile and make eye contact. Ritualize it. Make it a habit.

You may also want to think about a post-presentation checklist. Two quick suggestions to start the list off: put your badge back on and don’t forget to leave the remote control at the podium for the next speaker.

Related resources:

12 Tips For How to Relax Just Minutes Before You Speak — You might want to add a couple of these to you pre-presentations checklist.

Your turn:

In a comment to this post, let us know what other items would you put on your pre-presentation checklist.

Friday’s List of What You Might Have Missed – 4/25/08 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.

Businesss Presentations: Unhitch the Technical Glitch — A teleseminar goes wrong. Five suggestions for dealing.

PittWatch:Video Clip of Brad Pitt on Idol Gives Back — Skip to about 0:50 to catch the stage manager’s amazing grace under pressure as she deals with Brad’s microphone malfunction.

Six Minutes: Stop Rehearsing! 3 Critical Things to Do Before Your Speech — Activity 1, “Study the Venue Logistics”, covers some especially important stuff.

..ALex’s Site: Award presentation Mistake — Whoops. (video)

gathering: stuck at registration? — “What do you do as a meeting planner when you’re the only staff member onsite and you get stuck at the registration desk?”

The Sisyphus Chronicles: The Room that Eats Speakers — Looks at ways that a room’s layout can inhibit the speaker’s ability to connect with an audience.

The Projector Blog: 3 Projector Rental Tips — “There are a few things to keep in mind when renting a projector.”

World of Chig: The Show Must Go On — “…if that had happened in an office, you wouldn’t expect the employee to carry on working.” I’m thinking it might have been best to call it a night.

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.”


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