Skillset New Zealand Blog

Ideas to help your team develop personally and professionally.

It's subtle. Your audiences will find your presentations unusually interesting - they just won't know why.

Wait. What's mindfulness?

It's a state of being fully present and engaged in the moment. In practice, in your presentation, that means you want your audience undistracted, focused on nothing but your message. Well of course you do. It's a no-brainer. 

The bad news is that for at least 20 years, presenters have been keeping slides on the screen after the topic has moved on. Often long after.

I don't get it. What's so wrong with that?

Plenty. Eighty percent of us are more drawn to visual stimulus than audio (or kinesthetic). So our eyes keep returning to the irrelevant material on the screen, while our ears are taking in a different message. Even a slight split between your words and the screen visuals splits the audience thoughts. That's mind-fragmentation. Little wonder that most of us cope by going into a semi-coma in PowerPoint presentations. Fully absorbing the message is next to impossible.

But it's an easy fix.

Only show a slide when it is directly and immediately relevant to what you're saying. 

When the audience looks at the screen with you, hearing directly relevant words, they come a step closer to mindfulness on your message. You can make that happen. You don't have to send your audience to mindfulness classes.  

But what if I don't have another slide to replace it for the next thing I say?

When you can't visually support your words, blank the screen. Prepare for it by making a slide that is completely black.

What? But everyone will stop looking at the screen! They'll turn their eyes and look at me!

You're onto it. Now your audience will get just one undistracted message, focused by your voice, your lips, your eyes, and your body language. Now your message is even closer to getting full impact. 

Are you saying we should get rid of PowerPoint altogether?

No. PowerPoint is a wonderful visual aid when used well - superb for visuals such as graphs and charts. I'm saying use it only when it hooks up with your lips. In my presentation skills workshops, I have seen, again and again, how effective it is to show a slide when it's relevant, then to turn it off when it isn't. I have also seen the audience relief at getting breaks from tiring, irrelevant slides. Why are they tiring? Precisely because they're irrelevant - the fragmentation of focus brings on stupour. 

But no one in my company/organisation breaks up the PowerPoint like that.

Unfortunately, you may be right. A whole generation of presenters has learned to weaken their impact by misusing visual aids.

Why? How did that happen?

When PowerPoint arrived, most presenters fell to their knees in gratitude because the audience didn't have to look at them. Visual aids were always supposed to give a message maximum impact, but that's only true when your voice and visuals don't interfere with each other.

Don't mistake me. You can and should expand on what the slide shows, adding spoken value. But don't keep the slide up too long, and the moment you start departing from the slide topic, get rid of it. Take back the room.

Yes, it takes courage to make the audience look at you now and then, but it's very good for your credibility and personal authority. The audience sees that you're putting yourself on the line for your message.

This black slide thing. Is it difficult?

No. Here's a hint to make it simple.  Make your black slide your number one slide. I call it the 'sleep slide' (it's the projector that takes a power nap, not the audience.) Everytime you want to go to it, press 1 Enter on your keyboard.  The next time you need a slide - say number 7 - press 7 Enter and it will jump there directly. Forwards or backwards, by-passing all the slides in between. For a fuller explanation, go PowerPoint Tip 10 - another blog on this website.

Give your message full impact. Show visuals only when directly relevant. And enjoy yourself when individuals say, afterwards, 'Interesting presentation. Your PowerPoint didn't put me to sleep. How did you do that?' 





Of course it's not about the blank screen itself, but what you're doing at the time.

First, you need to know how utterly simple it is to go to blank screen. EITHER... on the clicker, press the blank screen button (most presenters don't know it's there).  OR... on the keyboard, press the 'B' button.  Either way, just press the same button again to return your slide to the screen. The button-pushing is not a problem.

Now, picture this:

  1. As your presentation starts, you're standing directly in front of your audience, with nothing on the screen.  You're directly connected to the people in front of you. When it's time for the first slide, you move to the side to talk about it.
  2. From now on, when a slide is no longer directly and immediately relevant to what you're saying, you blank the screen again, moving back in front of the audience to re-establish your full connection with them.

Audiences want that. They want you in charge and they want you directly tuned into them.

So why aren't all presenters doing it already?

Because it takes courage - especially when you've been used to using PowerPoint as a crutch. When we face our audience directly, we feel vulnerable. That's why so many presenters step to one side, turning themselves into voice-only robots, us into comatose zombies, and the message into dust. 

How to get a dose of that courage? See the rest of my blogs on this website.

Wait! You think your entire presentation has to be on the screen?  That's rarely true, not even in full-on conferences. Please take another look at all your slides and ask yourself, Which way will this content have more impact? By adding my voice to what is on the screen? Or by delivering it while looking the audience in the eye?  Be especially ruthless with word-only slides, which have near zero impact.

For now, if you like that picture of yourself in 1. and 2. above, here's a final tip. Get hold of a projector in advance and practise the movements. Better still, get a friend to watch and give you feedback. Get your body and brain used to it.  Then, for the real thing, look forward to audiences impressed by your increased personal authority.

Try it. Then consider this - there's an even better way to use the blank screen to your advantage. Go to PowerPoint Tip 10: insert a 'sleep slide'