6 tips for handling a remote when presenting

If you use slides in your presentations, whether PowerPoint, Keynote or some other software, you must become comfortable using a remote to advance those slides. The alternatives are not great:

1.  Standing by the computer the entire presentation and advancing the slides using the keyboard.

2.  Walking back and forth between the computer and the rest of the speaking area whenever you want to advance the slides.

3. Having someone advance the slides for you. This is the most annoying for the audience because your presentation will inevitably be punctuated by you saying, “Next slide … next slide … next slide.” It’s like driving down a country road and hitting a bump every 100 metres.

Using a remote will unchain you from your computer, allow you to move about the stage and interact with the audience, and add an air of professionalism to your presentations. But if you’re going to use a remote, you have to handle it properly.

Too often, I see speakers who have not had much practice with a remote. It’s obvious. The following are telltale signs:

  • squeezing the remote tightly;
  • fumbling with the buttons;
  • clicking the wrong button;
  • looking at the remote before every click;
  • accidentally closing the presentation;
  • using the pointer / laser awkwardly;
  • clicking dramatically at the computer as if the remote were a sword. 

(The last one is my favourite. It always reminds me of this classic scene from the movie The Princess Bride.)

It’s completely understandable that if you don’t know how to use a piece of equipment, there’s a good chance that you will use it incorrectly. So what can we do to remedy the situation? Here are five tips:

1.  Practice! Get familiar with your remote before the presentation. Try out all of the buttons to see what they do.

2.  Determine which buttons you will need for the presentation. Usually, a speaker does not need all of them. In fact, in most cases, the speaker will only use the button to advance the slides. Practice finding the needed buttons with your thumb without having to look for them. One of the features that I like about my Logitech Spotlight remote is that the Advance button is larger than the other two buttons and slightly recessed so it is easy to find it by touch.

3.  Don’t squeeze the remote as if you were hanging onto the edge of a cliff. Hold it comfortably. With practice, you will find that you can even gesture with the hand that is holding the remote. The images below (from Logitech’s Spotlight website) are good examples of how to hold the remote.

4.  Use the pointer / laser sparingly, if at all, and never use it on text. If you have to use a laser on text, you have too much text! When using the laser, there is no need to extend your arm fully as you point. It will reach the screen just fine. And try to keep the laser as steady as possible. If you move it across the screen, try to do so smoothly.

5.  When advancing the slides, do not point at the computer. Remotes these days have an incredible range. My Logitech Spotlight works at a distance of 50 metres from the computer. I have tested it. I have also gone outside the room, closed the door and it still works. So when advancing your slides, don’t make any gesture at all. You can leave your hand by your side and discreetly push the button while you continue to speak. The less obvious the remote, the better.

6.  If you are going to spend an extended amount of time talking about a slide, or if you turn the screen black, you can put the remote in your pocket or on a nearby table for a while to allow you to use both hands. Just remember where you put it!

So there you have it. Six tips to help you master the remote during your next presentation.

If you are thinking of purchasing a remote, be sure to choose one that feels right for you. As mentioned above, I use the Logitech Spotlight, but there are other excellent options. If you head over to Presentation Guru and check out this excellent article, you will find a great summary of the features to look for and three great recommendations.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 295) – Byron Reese

Byron Reese – American Entrepreneur, Futurist and Technologist

“Stories are central to humanity, for they gave form to human imagination, which is the first requisite for progress.”

— Byron Reese

Photo courtesy of byronreese.com
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The Camera and Brett Kavanaugh

The fight over the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh was the ugliest confirmation process for an American Supreme Court Justice that I have seen. I’m not American, but I am a lawyer, and I thought it was a sad indictment on how politicized the American legal system has become. A thoughtful, independent judiciary is a cornerstone of any healthy democracy.

If you followed the hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee, you are undoubtedly aware of the allegations of sexual assault that were brought against Kavanaugh by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and others. In response to those allegations, the FBI was ordered to carry out an investigation that was extremely limited in scope and time. When, predictably, it found no evidence to corroborate the allegations, Kavanaugh was confirmed as the newest Supreme Court Justice by a narrow 51-49 majority in the Senate.

I watched the testimony of both Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford and in my opinion, the latter was the more credible of the two. Quite simply, I believed her. Having said that, I also acknowledge that, from a legal standpoint, there was not enough evidence before the Senate Judiciary Committee to prove, to the requisite standard, that Kavanaugh was guilty of the crime he was alleged to have committed.

Embed from Getty Images

Nonetheless, I believe that his demeanour during the hearings was sufficient to disqualify him from a seat on the Supreme Court. I found many of his answers to questions from the Senators to be evasive, disrespectful or both. Further, his opening statement was full of vitriol that included outright attacks on certain members of the government. Yes, Kavanaugh was under tremendous pressure, but that is when you see a person’s true character. And when it comes to character, a country has to hold its judges to the highest standards.

Now, although this blog does venture into politics from time to time, that is not its purpose. The focus is on public speaking. So how does the Kavanaugh nomination fit? It has to do with the vote against his nomination by North Dakota Democratic Senator, Heidi Heitkamp.

Heitkamp was one of only three Democratic Senators who voted to confirm Donald Trump’s previous Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch. And she was initially inclined to vote the same way on Kavanaugh. Even when Blasey Ford brought forth her allegations, Heitkamp was concerned but still inclined to give Kavanaugh the benefit of the doubt.

Nevertheless, she watched the special hearing during which both Kavanaugh and Blasey Ford testified. After the hearing ended, Heitkamp changed her mind and decided to vote against Kavanaugh. Here is an excerpt from a CNN article that provides part of the rationale for Heitcamp’s decision:

Senator Heidi Heitkamp

She watched Ford’s testimony. And then she watched Kavanaugh’s. And then she watched Kavanaugh’s again, but this time, with the sound off.

“It’s something I do,” she said, “We communicate not only with words, but with our body language and demeanor.”

“I saw somebody who was very angry, who was very nervous, and I saw rage that a lot of people said, ‘Well of course you’re going to see rage; he’s being falsely accused,’ but it is at all times you’re to acquit yourself with a demeanor that’s becoming of the court,” Heitkamp said.

I found it interesting that after watching and listening to Kavanaugh’s testimony, Heitkamp watched it again but without the sound. 

When you watch a video without sound, you have no choice but to focus on the visual. If you watch the video of a speech or presentation without the sound, you have to focus on things like the speaker’s facial expressions, gestures and movements.

Clients often ask me whether they should practice their speeches in front of a mirror. I tell them no, because you end up trying to watch yourself when you should be focused on your message and the audience, and it feels unnatural. It’s much better to film yourself and then watch the video.

If you want to get the maximum benefit from video, you should use it three ways:

1. Play the video but don’t watch it. Just listen. You will have to focus on your voice and things such as pace, rhythm, pauses, clarity, emphasis, intonation and articulation.

2.  Play the video and turn the volume off. Just watch. You will have to focus on your body language. Where are you looking? How are you standing and moving? What are you doing with your hands?

3.  Watch the video with sound to get the complete picture.

It’s not easy to watch yourself on video—I still cringe whenever I watch myself—but it is a great way to get unvarnished feedback.

Clearly, when deciding whether to appoint someone to the Supreme Court, you have to do a lot more than watch a video without the sound. There are a myriad of complex considerations that one has to take into account, including the candidate’s judicial record. But temperament and personality are also considerations and those qualities are transmitted through voice and body language.

In the same way, your audience will form an impression about you and your message based on content and structure, but also by how you hold yourself on stage. Your facial expressions, your gestures and your movements all communicate something to the audience. To see what they saw, have a look at the video.

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Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 294) – Benjamin Franklin

Benjamin Franklin (1706 – 1790) American Author, Politician, Scientist, Inventor

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

— Benjamin Franklin

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Don’t make the same mistake as Donald Trump

You’d be forgiven if, after reading the title of this post, you asked, “Which one?”

Don’t worry, we’re going to leave politics and policies aside, so that narrows it down, at least somewhat.

Instead, I want to discuss a mistake that the President made during his address to the United Nations on 25 September 2018. This might come as a surprise, but many speakers make the same mistake, particularly when they are making a sales pitch.

Only 40 seconds into his speech, Trump said, “In less than two years, my administration has accomplished more than almost any administration in the history of our country. America’s … [laughter from audience] … so true … [more laughter].”

As the laughter spread throughout the General Assembly Chamber, he paused a moment and then admitted, “Didn’t expect that reaction, but that’s OK.”

Readers of my blog and social media platforms know that I am no fan of the President and that I disagree with the majority of his policies and positions. Nevertheless, I have also acknowledged the potent simplicity of his speaking style, particularly when it comes to connecting with his base.

And, as my stand-up comedian friend Mel Kelly noted in a recent conversation I had with him, Trump did respond well to the unexpected reaction by “calling the room”, a technique used by comedians to acknowledge when a joke doesn’t work. So he did win the audience back, at least for a few moments.

But all that aside, Trump made a gaffe when he started his speech by boasting of his accomplishments. Not only did he come across (yet again) as self-centred, many in the room would not consider his accomplishments to be worthy of praise.

So what is the connection with sales pitches? Fortunately, most people are not nearly as self-centred as Trump. However, when they pitch to potential clients, many of them make the same mistake that Trump made at the UN:

They begin by talking about themselves and their companies.

This is putting the cart before the horse. I’m not saying that you or your company or your successes or your ideas aren’t important. They are. But the people in the audience, and the problems with which they are struggling, are more important.

So if you are pitching a product or service to a potential client, start with them. Show them that you understand their problems and then work your way to how you can help. And if you want to talk about your company’s reputation and successes as a way to boost your ethos, you can do so towards the end of the presentation.

In their seminal book, Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath write:

The most basic way to make people care is to form an association between something they don’t yet care about and something they do care about.

It will come as no surprise that one reliable way of making people care is by invoking self-interest.

So whenever you are pitching a product or service, start with the audience and their problems. Make sure that they understand that you understand them. Then they will care. And when they care, the chances are greater that your sales pitch will be a success and that you’ll leave smiling.

Like Donald Trump.

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