Oliver Hankeln

4 minute read

In the last weeks I attended quite some presentations, both in my company as well as at conferences. And while I really enjoy good, thoughtful presentation I came to detest the laser pointer. Not once have I seen a presentation that got better because a laser pointer was employed.

Laser pointers are cool

Don’t get me wrong. Laser pointers have their applications. But you need to know when to use the pointer and when to use other tools and techniques.

You can use a laser pointer if you want tho chase your cat around or want to have some fun with your kids. Also they are great for building light barriers for high speed photography. But, despite their name: do not use them for pointing at stuff !

Laser pointers are not bright enough

Laser pointers may have worked when you tried to show some things on a printed poster or on that statue at the art museum. But your tiny speck of light just can’t compete with the bright projectors we now all use for our slides. Have you ever though about why these projectors are huge, have fans und real power connectors and do not run on a small battery? That’s right: because they generate ridiculous amounts of light.

Bigger audiences increase the problem in two ways. For one the projectors are still bigger, have more fans and are much brighter. If you don’t see the difference in brightness: don’t let your eyes fool you. Humans are not equipped to assess differences in brightness even remotely accurately. But when it comes to the visibility of your laser pointer difference in brightness is all that matters.
The second reason why bigger audiences are even worse places for laser pointers is that laser pointer generate a really small dot if light. Your audience just won’t be able to see that dot if they don’t sit in rows one or two. 

Laser pointers emphasize your nervousness

If you are anything like me, you will be at least a bit nervous before your presentation. If you now start to use your laser pointer the leverage of the light beam will act as a magnifying glass for even the slightest bit of trembling. You will see and realize this, which in turn will make you even more nervous. So if you want to get across as a confident and competent speaker: don’t let the laser pointer embarass you!  

If this were true, why do they sell presenters with integrated laser pointers?

******** Because features sell products. If you compare presenters you will soon realize that they all allow you to remotely switch between your slides. Now if one presenter has an added laser pointer, then that presenter is better than the rest, right?
No! Presenters with integrated laser pointers are an abomination from hell, an incarnated oxymoron. They are exactly as useful as a no-smoking-sign with built in ash-tray.
The situations where you use a presenter are exactly the situations where you should stay away from laser pointers.
Also the laser pointers tend to drain your presenter’s battery so that the presenter stops working in the middle of your important presentation.

So what should I do?

  1. Evolution equipped you with two great pointing devices: your arms (don’t use your fingers only, if you are on stage big gestures work best) – use them! 
  2. Put fewer content on your slides. If you have dozens of lines of text or big tables with tiny numbers on your slides it will start to get hard to point by hand. But these are exactly the slides that tend t confuse your audience.
    If you put fewer text on your slides this is good for your audience and for you.
  3. If you have lists, you should show one new item at a time. You then don’t have to start pointing, because the whole audience always knows about which point you are talking. 

If you don’t trust me, trust the experts

I have to admit: I have only given a few talks at conferences yet. But if you look at really great presentations for example at  ted.com or talks by Steve Jobs you won’t see them use laser pointers. Ever. Think about that for a moment!

I have to end this post – the next session is about to commence. I hope the speaker refrains from using laser pointers.

As always I am looking for your feedback and your ideas about presentations! Do you use laser pointers? Where do they help you? What problems do have with them? Did you start pointing at your slides with your left foot to show off your athletic abilities?
Let’s hear all that!




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