Tuesday, November 15, 2011

What to use instead of a pointer when you speak

When I train scientists or academic instructors, I get plenty of groans when I answer the question "What do you recommend about pointers?" -- mainly because my advice is "Don't use them."

Whether you favor the laser pointer or its wooden-stick ancestor, pointers tell me there's a problem: Too much data on a slide, type that's too small to see easily, or just a disconnect with the audience. But it's not fair to take away popular tool without alternatives, so here are a few ways to go pointerless in your next presentation, lecture or talk:
  • Emphasize a point on a slide close-up:  That might mean making a special slide that focuses on an enlarged image or part of a table, or using large type to highlight one word on a slide, by itself.
  • The audience's eyes and mental acuity: If you have a complex photo and want to point to a particular feature, ask the audience to find it--giving them a clear description of what they're looking for. You'll be engaging the audience and involving them, rather than just showing them. Want to test whether they can find it? Give the audience mini laser pointers and ask them to point to the spot (but make sure to avert your eyes from all those lasers).
  • Gesture: Don't underestimate the visual impact that's conveyed when you move your arm and reach to point toward the item in question. One downside to pointers is that they reduce your natural gestures, and give us a dot to watch instead of you--so be the pointer.
  • Get creative: You don't need to ride up the side of a slide as Al Gore did in a cherry-picker in An Inconvenient Truth, but you might be able to incorporate one dramatic, funny or creative method of pointing toward a particularly important slide. Just do it once, for emphasis.
Share your points on going pointerless in the comments...

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