"What'd he say?" whispered one member of an audience to a colleague next to her. "I didn't get that."
"Don't know," replied the colleague. "He's talking to the slide."
Talking to the slide? Oh, yes. Presenters often talk to the slide. When they do, their words, even amplified by a microphone, ricochet from the screen back toward the audience, projecting far less power and emphasis than the speaker intended.
Always, you are the most important visual in your presentation. Thus using slides, no matter how compelling they are, requires additional expertise so that you facilitate listeners' comprehension and direct their attention. And while every presentation requires enough rehearsal to put you at ease with content and delivery, integrating a slide deck may demand just a little more.
First of all, know your equipment and how to work it. Know its functions and how to use them. Copy your slides to several forms of media so you are prepared for electronic malfunctions or surprises.
As you deliver, position yourself directly facing the room, slightly stage right, with the screen to your left at an angle of roughly 25 degrees. This position preserves the left-to-right orientation of an English-speaking audience and will enable its members to read quickly and to shift from speaker to screen easily.
When you introduce a slide, direct audience attention to the screen by providing a smooth transition. One way to do this is to make the point that the slide supports. You might say, for instance, "We've devised a strategy that doubles our market exposure" before showing a slide that maps the strategy. Or summarize your last point and preview the next: "We will not only double our market exposure but reduce advertising costs by 30%" before leaving the strategy slide and bringing up the slide on advertising costs.
Word each transition so that it links to what you have just said but drives forward to the next point. This approach avoids phrases such as "moving on to" or "as you can see" because such phrases do not specifically advance a point. Instead, try something like, "The migration will be complete on June 30. We've outlined five steps each employee will need to take in order to move easily to the new system on that date."
After you make a transition and bring up a slide, stop speaking. Turn to look at the slide. Your listeners will look, too. Give them enough time to comprehend the slide before you turn toward them and begin speaking again.
Sometimes you may want to lead an audience through a slide. Rather than using a laser pointer with a quivering dot, try verbal descriptions that supplement the design elements in a slide. Saying that "Each gold star on this map marks a proposed regional distribution center that will ensure delivery within 24 hours" will focus audience attention on one of the key features of the proposed plan.
You can also use the geography of the slide itself to direct listeners' attention. Refer to "the third row" or to "the molecule in the upper left corner." Or use gestures, perhaps a raised arm, palm up, to indicate a particular portion of the slide.
Most importantly, don't rely on text slides to provide the structure of your presentation or use lots of bullet points as a script for it. As you rehearse, take care not to read from the slides or to use them to echo your words. Slides should support, prove, and exemplify your message, not deliver it.
These techniques help ensure that your listeners' attention is on you when you speak. That's right where you want it to be, for it establishes you as your presentation's best authority as well as its best visual.