What is it about overhead projectors that causes us to become lousy
communicators? Why do our speeches or presentations lose much of their
steam when we use overheads?
Well, for starters, we often give more attention to the overheads than the
audience. It can’t be helped. After all, we have to pick up the right
overhead, separate it from the next one, get it on the projector properly,
check it out on the screen, and so on.
While doing those things, we’re taking our eyes off the audience. At the
same time, the audience spends a lot of time looking at the screen, rather
than at us. And, nothing detracts from good communication like loss of eye
contact with the audience.
We’re also taking our mind off the audience. Instead, we’re focusing our
thoughts on the technical issues involved in showing the overhead,
including our explanations of the visuals.
Then there’s the amount of material. Almost every time I see a speech with
overheads, I see way too much content. One of the best lessons I’ve learned
in several years at Toastmasters is that less is more. Don’t try to explain
everything to your audience, just pick one small sliver of an issue and
explain it well – a speech is not a book or a written article!
And, then there’s the simple fact that the projector gets between you and
the audience. There’s noise and the size of the projector, which mean a
projector can be a more powerful presence at the front of the room than you.
Perhaps there should be a 12-step program for getting over overhead
projectors. While they’re unlikely be an addiction, they can be a crutch,
one that allows us to make presentations without adequate thought or
Personally, I like the idea of giving up overheads and projectors
altogether. A colleague recently asked if we should use overheads when we
do some upcoming presentations together. I expressed my opinion firmly.
Need I say what that was?
If you’re not ready to give them up, use your overheads in a supporting
role. Don’t ask them to carry a substantial part of the message; you should
deliver the message, and the overheads should reinforce what you say.
For example, if your presentation involves numerical information, a simple
bar or line graph might help the audience get the point. Or, if you’re
talking about a sequence of events and their order is critical, a numbered
list might help.
But the best bet may be to go without. Before the presentation, think hard
about the message or messages you want to convey. Boil them down into no
more than three points, and then look for stories, analogies, metaphors,
and anything else that will illustrate and reinforce each point. Try to
create mental images with words, like good radio ads.
In summary, overhead projectors put serious communication barriers between
speakers and audiences. Get rid of them. You’ll be glad you did – and your
audience will, too.
Robert F. Abbott is an online writer and publisher specializing in consumer
information sites, including a QuickList on Cuisinart PowerPrep Plus (TM)
[http://www.cuisinartpowerprepplus1.com], and business communication,
including articles that help you increase your communication skills
[http://www.communication-newsletter.com] and knowledge.
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