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?' 





Like it or not, online video meetings are a new reality. And, of course, we've all noticed that many people have no idea how to appear on the screen. We've all been subjected to the nostril view, the head-in-the-bottom-left view, and the mafia-silhouette view and other visual horrors.

Instead, let's pay attention to our screen presence, so that everyone else at our video meetings see us as fully present and engaged. Here are the basics of screen presence. (These basics assume that we're sitting.)blog pic 1

1. Orientation to the light

Put the main light source in front of you.

If your face still looks unevenly lit, add light from a table lamp to even it out. If you're next to a wall, you might bounce light off the wall onto the side of your face.  Experiment until it looks right.   

blog pic 2


2. Web-cam height 

Prop up your laptop until the built in web-cam is at the same height as your eyes.

You might have to measure both heights from the floor.  


 3.  Eye and body placement on your screenBlog pic 3

Tilt your screen until your image eyes are 1/3 of the way down the screen.

Now move forward or backward until only the upper half of your body shows on the screen. 


 4.  Your body language

Mostly sit upright, or lean very slightly forward.  The point is to show that you're paying attention to everyone else in the meeting. 


5. Background

Glance at back at what's behind you.  Is there anything so visually demanding that it would draw attention away from you? A minute's silence please for the on-line trainer whose partner wandered naked through the background looking for a towel.


6.  Where do I look when I'm speaking? 

Ignore the advice that says look at the web-cam - it's wrong.  Instead put your gaze about 1/3 of the way down the screen. The technical setup means that each person in your meeting will feel that you're talking to them. (Incidentally, if it's a small group Zoom meeting in gallery view, you'll find that you're centering your gaze on an image of yourself. But don't worry, no one else will see that.)

And now, relax. When you're listening to the others, avoid major distracting movements, but small body movements are fine. When you're speaking, do use normal body, arms, hands and head movements to emphasize the point you're making.


One more point:

Enjoy your screen time. Who knows? There may be 15 minutes of fame in it.