How getting in the beam makes you a better presenter

Public speaking and presenting are full of silly rules. One such silly rule is that you shouldn’t walk into into the beam of the projector. I disagree – it can be incredibly effective to get in the beam.

Hans Rosling gets in the beam

Hans Rosling gets in the beam

Why you should get in the beam

1. You show your energy and passion

One of the classic TED videos is Hans Rosling’s 2006 presentation. If you’ve never seen it before, do take the time to watch this amazing presentation:

Can you imagine if Hans Rosling had stood passively by the side of the screen as he explained his statistics? Lifeless! By getting in the beam and physically showing us the statistics, Hans Rosling demonstrated his energy and his passion for his topic and the audience loved it!

Interacting physically with your slides like Hans Rosling gives you a way of demonstrating your passion – and your audiences will love  it too.

2. You can dance with your slides

Dance with your slides

The slides should not be the wallpaper of your presentation. See your slides as your co-presenter, as your dancing partner – and dance with them. That means you’ll be interacting with them, explaining them, pointing out the key parts to your audience. And yes, you’ll get in the beam. But that’s a much better alternative to standing beside your screen like a lifeless doll.

3. It’s better than using a laser pointer

cat and laser pointer with writing

Some people recommend using a laser pointer. But just because remote mouse manufacturers put laser pointers into their remotes doesn’t mean you should use it. You have to make silly little circles around what you’re pointing to so that people can see it. This is wimpy compared to getting in there and showing people physically. Even when you have a big screen you can do this, as Hans Rosling shows. Mike Pulsifer has written an indepth post on the ineffectiveness of using a  laser pointer.

Tips on getting in the beam

1. Don’t inadvertently get into the beam

There’s one situation when you shouldn’t get in the beam. That’s when you don’t know you’re doing it. It can be very distracting to the audience. Being human beings we start focusing on the silly shadows instead of your wise words.

So be aware of the position of the beam. The closer you are to the projector the more central you can be without getting in the beam:

Screen interaction diagram

2. Be aware of blocking the screen from members of the audience

You also have to be aware that depending on where you stand, you may block part of the screen from people in your audience. This has a lot of people become projectionists instead of presenters. They spend all their time to frozen by the side of the screen. But, if your slides are primarily visual (as opposed to text) you don’t have to do this.

When you first show a slide, make sure you stand in a spot where all of the audience can see it. But once the audience has seen your visual, it doesn’t matter if you block part of the slide. The energy and passion you’ll show from interacting with your slides is far more important than not being able to see all of the slide all of the time.

3. Don’t explain your slide to the slide

As you get into explaining the slide, it can be incredibly easy to forget about your audience and direct all your focus to the slide. Look at the slide so that you can point to the right place then as you start your explanation turn back to the audience and talk to them.

So get into that beam, show your passion, explain your slides – your audience will love it.

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  1. Again, Olivia, I totally agree with your refusal to follow silly rules!
    This one is silly indeed and you’re making your point very clearly in your post.
    I like the idea of “dancing with the slides”. You can even dance with the light of the beam, dance with the audience!
    We are story tellers who used to gather around camp fires. Sometimes, the flames could reflect on our faces and show we were alive and driven by our inner fire: Passion to tell stories.
    Just like anything we do when we present, if it’s done with a purpose and we are clear about it, then it’s fine.
    Thank you Olivia for this rebellion against silly rules.

    • Hi Marion
      I love the analogy with camp fires. We can think of getting in the beam as a contemporary camp fire!

  2. Helpful info. I think the key in the post is the amount of time provided to the audience before getting into the beam. If the slide has text and charts, make sure they can absorb it first before trying to point, touch, interact with the slide. As stated, just a picture slide makes it easier to get into the light quicker.

    I don’t agree that a laser pointer should never be used. It is a tool that has its place. But it need not be overused either.

    • Hi Brian
      Good point to emphasise allowing the audience to see the whole slide before you go into the beam to interact with it.

      I don’t want to be an absolutist about laser pointers, and say they never, never work. Bit I struggle to think of situations where there isn’t a better alternative eg: previously designed animated highlights to show what you’re talking about. Possibly the only situation where you might need a laser pointer is where the screen is too big or too far away from you to physically point out things – and you didn’t know this and so weren’t able to put in animated highlights in the slides.

      What other situations do you have in mind where the laser pointer would be more effective than anything else?

  3. Excellent post! Once again.

    I don’t want to ban laser beam, but I have never used it myself. I have one that I received as a gift. I don’t find it useful. It is ugly and it bounce everywhere on the screen.

    When I want to emphasis an element, I do it while designing the slide. So I don’t have to use a laser beam. The final result is much more better.

    • Hi Denis
      Thank you for your comment on the post. I think your point of designing the emphasis into the slide is really well-made. Thank you.

  4. Good that you brought this point up.

    Presenters should never get in the way of the projector and the slides because it blocks line of sight. But when they want to point out something what should they do?

    I feel pointing your laser works absolutely fine if there is just 1 thing u want to point out and it is easy to focus with the laser beam. But if there are multiple things to highlight or the stakes are high, moving closer to the slides imparts a huge amount of seriousness to the point.

    Imaging you are talking from a few meters away all the time and suddenly you are at the slide, almost touching the screen. It also gets audience to pay more attention.

    As far as point about silly rules is concerned, I believe in one maxim. “Where there are rules, there are exceptions.”

    • Hi Vivek
      I particularly like your last line. Which means there are exceptions to your first line!

      • True.

        I firmly believe there can be no hard and fast rules in presenting. It is not a science but an art. It is creative and presenters have to decide what is suitable to them. They are not kids who need rules.

  5. I recommend the use of geographic language in those cases when the powerpoint screen is too far away and high up in the air for the speaker to point to it physically, rather than using a laser pointer. By geographic language, I mean verbally telling the audience what you what part of the slide you want them to focus and what is there, as in “In the upper left hand corner, you can see…” and so forth. The advantage of this approach is that it does not require the speaker to turn away from the audience and break contact with them, but instead he or she can stay focused on the audience. My experience is that after you do this on one or two slides the audience gets trained to follow your direction. Instead of carrying on a physical dance between the screen and the audience, you carry on a kind of verbal dance in which you use directive language to guide the audience through the slide step by step the way you would use physical movement and physical pointing to guide the audience through the slide step by step. And, you avoid annoying that percentage of the audience who HATE watching the nervous squiggles of the every jittery laser beam.

    • Thanks for this idea John. Sounds much better than a laser pointer. Olivia

  6. Using a laser pointer as an asset during a presentation is a skill which must be practiced, just like all other parts of a presentation.

    The problem is using one looks so simple that few people think further on what problems the audience might have during a presentation when a laser pointer is used thoughtlessly.

    • Hi A.M. Li
      You make a good point that if you’re going to use a laser pointer, you should practice with. My personal preference is still to either use on-screen highlighting or to get in the beam and physically point to what I want to highlight.


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