Are laser pointers a good visual aid tool to support and enhance your presentation?

That’s a fairly common question I receive in my Successful Presentation course, when we start talking about using visual aids (mainly slides). These pointers are normally embedded in the remote we use to advance to the next slide, so laser has to be good!

Laser indeed is good, for example to cut diamonds and in fibre optics (but sorry, you need a different one for those applications). I am not so sure it is as effective when public speaking. There is more than one reason why I advocate not to use it.

Don’t push that button (laser pointer)!

First of all, it is almost impossible to point steadily at something on the screen. The ray is so thin, our hands have a natural tremor, that is amplified by the distance. The result is a wiggling red dot, which is slightly annoying. To mystify this some speakers enhance it by moving the pointer back and forth under the word (or sentence, or graphics) without really solving the issue.

Second in order to point it correctly you have to turn and face the screen, with the high risk of speaking to the wall, rather than to your audience. The correct way, when pointing in general, is to be silent, turn, point, turn back and then start to speak. With a laser point it’s impossible to keep the right spot when you turn back, so you end up talking without looking at the public. Only workaround is to point, switch off the laser, turn towards the audience and resume your talk.

Third point, some speakers forget it on and start pointing around the room, or on peoples face. It’s not a life risking situation but surely not nice and distracting.

What instead of a laser pointer?

Fine, if you don’t use a laser pointer what else can you do to point at the screen?

In many cases you can use an even more technological tool that the FMA classifies as 24878: your arm! Indeed it looks more natural, human I would dare to say, it’s more sturdy and it allows you to point, face back the public and talk without loosing the mark. It not viable always but a lot of times where we see laser in place (as in the cover image of this post).

If the screen is distant or too high, you can still use a telescopic stick or even a bamboo stick as the great Hans Rosling does! They are all more recommendable than laser.

Solve the problem the right way!

The real solution is probably somewhere else though. If you have to point at something specific in your slide, it may likely be that you have too much content on a single slide. Slides should be auto-pointing (made up word) the audience towards their information. If not consider redesign them rather than using a pointer. Yes there are cases where you want to show the a whole thing and highlight something in it, still you can use to slides and on the second use contrast or overlays to bring attention to the detail.

So please restrain yourself from overusing the laser point, or better from using it at all. The only time I press the button and beam the red spot if to show why not using it!

If you would like more tips on visual aids, and public speaking in general head to present better, or if you are curious about the public speaking course this is the page.

Happy presentations!