PowerPoint – Where do you stand?

Let me be clear at the outset: I am not asking whether you are in favour of PowerPoint or against.  Given the number of excrutiatingly painful PowerPoint presentations to which we have all been subjected, I am sure that the answer would be a resounding “AGAINST!”

In fact, did you know that’s how the French Revolution began?  Most schools will try to pawn off the old story about the people rising up in response to the social and economic injustices which they suffered at the hands of a monarchy that only doled out feudal privileges to the fortunate few in the aristocracy.  Nonesense!  It was bad PowerPoint that was the catalyst for change.  The ensuing uproar brought about the advent of the Age of Enlightenment and the Declaration of the Rights of Man.

"We can take it anymore! That's the last boring PowerPoint we're going to watch! To the Bastille!"

“We can’t take it anymore! That’s the last boring PowerPoint we’re going to watch! To the Bastille!”

No, what I want to know is, where physically do you stand when you give a presentation using PowerPoint?  OK, not in front of the screen – that much is a given (although it is surprising the number of people who frequently think that their shirt would serve just as well).  But does the side on which you stand matter? In fact, it does.

When giving a PowerPoint presentation, you should stand, from the audience’s perspective, to the left of the screen.  Why?  We read from left to right.  Our eyes start at the left of the page, move across, and then jump back.  Similarly, it will feel natural for your audience to look at you, follow the (limited!) text or other information on the screen, and then jump back to you.

If you present from the right, your audience will have to look at you, jump to the far end of the screen, and then work their way back.  It might not seem like a big point, but it does make a difference.  Of course, if your slides are in Arabic, Hebrew, Urdu or other languages that read right to left, then you should stand on the right side of the screen.

There is one important caveat to this advice: it all depends on the layout of the room.  We usually have little or no say in terms of the room in which we are speaking.  Often, we have to make the best of subprime conditions.  (For those of us who speak, “subprime” is not all that new of a word.)

Depending on the layout, it might be better to speak from a certain position for reasons that trump the left-right PowerPoint consideration.  In such cases, you have to make do.  However, all things being equal, try to speak from the left of the screen to the extent you can.  It’s a little thing, but the little things add up.

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About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Delivery, Slide Presentation and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to PowerPoint – Where do you stand?

  1. Pingback: PowerPoints | bailedstews

  2. It’s a great discussion. If you don’t mind the outside link, there’s a good LinkedIn group called “Great Communicators! Effective Presenting & PowerPoint” that is discussing many of the same issues, so I thought people might be interested. If you have a LinkedIn account, you can find it at http://www.linkedin.com/groupRegistration?gid=3153646

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    • John Zimmer says:

      Ellen, thanks for the contribution. I’m always happy to have links to good material. That’s what the Internet should be about: sharing information and exchanging ideas. Thanks very much!

      John

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  3. Hi – nice point, but don’t forget also that sometimes (sometimes!!!!) it’s entirely appropriate for the audiences attention to stay off the presenter for some time. (For example, if you’re talking about something that’s visually complicated.)

    S

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  4. Ago says:

    John,

    First off: excellent blog, and great work. The enthousiasm with which you appear to tackle everything in life shows off here as well, with quality content and good suggestions.

    I appreciate your point about positioning when it comes to Powerpoint. As you rightly pointed out, I feel it depends on the layout of the room and the duration and type of presentation. Depending on the the level of interaction I am trying to get with the audience, I like to move around the room a little.

    That being said: good tip about staying on the left side – I’ll keep it in mind for future presentations!

    Ago

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  5. Alison Woo says:

    Terrific points in all of these articles! You have a fine blog here. Bravo!

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  6. Don Power says:

    Hey John! Nice blog – way to go!

    So, here is the quintessential statement I use whenever the topic of PowerPoint comes up, courtesy of Seth Godin:

    http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2007/01/really_bad_powe.html

    And, in a pique of shameless self promotion (although your blog is about public speaking) here is me public speaking at a RetailVision tradeshow in April – and not a PowerPoint presentation in sight!!

    http://www.crn.com/retail/217200741;jsessionid=QCUG10TJM2JK4QSNDLPSKHSCJUNN2JVN?pgno=6

    Cheers!

    http://www.twitter.com/donpower

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  7. I’ve been thinking about this lately, as I’ve heard it before. It’s the conventional wisdom. If I stand on the left of the screen, it’s easy for the audience to go from me to the left of the screen. They end up on the right side of the screen and have to jump all the way back to me. In other words, easy to go from me to the screen, hard to go from the screen to me.

    If I stand on the right of the screen, it is, as you said, harder (a longer distance) to go from me to reading the screen, but they end up on the right side of the screen and it’s easy to go back to me. Just a short distance back to me.

    So, 2 questions. If my slides aren’t full of text, it shouldn’t make much difference.

    And, which do I want to make easy? Going from me to the screen (if I’m on the screen’s left) or going from the screen to me (if I’m on its right)? Maybe I’d like to make it easier for the audience to put their attention back on me.

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    • John Zimmer says:

      It’s a fair point, Ellen. Of course it presupposes that (with you on the right) your audience will always look at you when it reaches the end of the line. In fact, I think it equally, if not more, likely that they will get to the end of the text and go back to the next line without getting to you!

      You do raise the very valid point of not putting too much text on the slides and it is something to which I allude in the post. I also think it helpful to add animations to your different points so that they come in one at a time when you click. That way, your audience reads the point quickly and then returns to you as you expand upon it. If all points appear at once, the audience’s natural inclination will be to read the whole slide. They can read quicker than you can speak, so they will have finished while you are still on the first or second point.

      Thanks for the comment.

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