Dump that Overhead Projector!

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 preparation.

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 writes and publishes Abbott's Communication Letter. Learn how you can use communication to help achieve your goals, by reading articles or subscribing to this ad-supported newsletter. An excellent resource for leaders and managers, at: http://www.communication-newsletter.com

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