You’ve Got Questions … About Presentations

Readers regularly send in questions about specific presentation issues or challenges and I respond privately and promptly. Some responses are general enough that I run them here in the Quickie section of ‘Communicate Confidently’.

Going forward, I’ll be highlighting three of those answers each month on different specific topics to reinforce what you already know or even add some new skills to your Workplace Presenter Tool Kits. And, if you send in a question now, you might find the answer helping other readers in a future issue.

1. What are big mistakes speakers make?

As a veteran presentation skill consultant, trainer and coach, I see a lot of mistakes that speakers typically make. Here are three big ones:

  • Weak Content – not delivering focused, audience-centric and results-driven messages that provide the kind of information the audience needs and wants in the amount and form they need and want to accomplish the outcomes that brought them into the room.
  • Weak Visual Aids – creating ineffective ‘Death by PowerPoint’ slide shows and using speaker note screen prints as handouts. Both practices suggest the speakers are too incompetent, lazy or inconsiderate to create better tools to reinforce their messages and add value to their audiences.
  • Weak Delivery – not projecting confidence, style and enthusiasm: speaking too fast with not enough pauses, volume and inflection combined with weak eye contact.

So, turn weak content, visual aids or delivery strong by using some of the Best Practices found in the articles archive of my site.


2.  Should I use a laser pointer for my slides?

This answer usually starts with Don’t let the technology tail wag the presenter dog’:

  • One major downside of the pointer is the need to look at the screen when using it. I regularly rant about not turning your back on the audience to read a slide to them. Using the laser pointer has the same effect – loss of eye contact and audience connection.
  • Another less serious and more amusing result is the likelihood that a jittery hand would make the red dot jump around like a buzzing bee. Talk about magnifying your nervousness so everyone can see it more clearly!
  • If a slide with a chart or graph is so complicated that you really need the pointer to help the audience understand it … then it really must be a terrible slide. And needing to use the pointer … points that out. Better to create more effective slides and animate or zoom in for emphasis or clarity.
  • That said, if you must use a laser pointer, use it wisely. Practice with it so when you point things out on the screen, you look at it in silence as much as possible. This will minimize loss of eye contact.
  • Leave the pointer on the podium or table when not in use so it doesn’t otherwise limit gestures and become something to play with.

So, I hope you get my point about avoiding this evil little device as much as possible. It only weakens your image and reduces your credibility.


3.  Can I use 3 x 5 cards for my speaker notes?

Short answer – NO! Very high on my list of Workplace Presenter ‘Worst Practices’ is using the simple seemingly innocent little 3×5 note cards. They’re way too small to be of much value. Good idea for high school debaters or for storing recipes maybe, but not for workplace presenter notes. And, if you do use a large-enough type that’s easy to read quickly, you’ll need a lot of the cards and will spend way too much time changing them … or picking them up when you drop them.

Your best bet is to use 8.5 x 5.5 inch (half page) card stock for your notes. They’re larger, hold more and are easier to handle. That’s probably why most of the TV talk show hosts use them. Think Letterman’s classic nightly ‘Top 10 List’.

So, make your delivery noteworthy by using the right kind of speaker notes in the right way and not letting them get between you and your audience. The best workplace presenters you’ve seen either practice their message enough that they don’t need notes or use notes so subtly and naturally that you may not even notice. You can too!


So, check in next month for three more concise answers to your presentation questions.