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Most speakers don't have a clue what to do with the pointer. However it is an essential tool in an effective presentation.

A presentation is a visual and oral communication synergy. Slides should not stand on their own, or why are you up there talking? Your words are intended to amplify what is on the slide. A presentation is an attempt to achieve more powerful communication by combining the oral and visual.

The audience needs help relating the spoken words to the part of the slide that the words are explaining. If you are explaining the two axes of a graph, point to each axis as you explain it. If you are explaining 4 text bullet points, point to each item as you amplify its contents with your words. You need to help the audience connect the audio with the visual.

In general, a physical pointer is preferable to a laser pointer. The extension of your arm and the length of the pointer makes a physical line between your words and the part of the slide you want to discuss. A physical pointer is also easier to control and the speaker is unlikely to wave it around in a mindless set of circles.

Those presentations in a huge room with two widely separated screens can be a problem because a laser pointer only allows you to point at one screen at a time. Ask the tech people to close off one of the screens or at least tell the audience which screen they should look at.

Use the pointer with discipline! It is the key to connecting the audio and the visual.

On last week's tip I suggested that the first slide in a presentation could be the "set up" slide that establishes the overarching question. It is often useful to proceed the "set up" slide with a "visual motivation" slide. This is a simple and dramatic slide that dramatizes a problem and gets the audience ready for the "set up" slide. Below is a "visual motivation" slide I used a few years back when giving a presentation to a group of U.S. Army generals. The topic was the impact of Endangered Species Act restrictions on Army training lands. The graphic shows the training restricted zones at Fort Bragg, North Carolina caused by the need to protect endangered plants (green) and the red cockaded woodpecker (red).

This slide immediately let the audience know there was a big problem and got them interested in the overarching question which was presented on the next "set up" slide. That question was, "Can the Army responsibly manage endangered species with fewer restrictions?"

Audiences need to know right up front why they are going to sit and listen to you. Define the overarching question of the talk very early. You will have a chance to redefine the question in more detail as the talk proceeds, but get it out in a simple way early in the talk.

One technique I use is the "set up" slide. This may be the first slide in a presentation that established the problem and sets up a tension that will be resolved in the talk.

One example is shown below. Herceptin is an effective therapeutic for breast tumors that overexpress the Her2 protein. However most Her2 positive tumors are quite heterogeneous, with the criteria for using Herceptin being as low as 10% of the cells over-expressing the protein. Core A and B below are from the same tumor but illustrate that different parts of the tumor have radically different Her2 expression profiles. This leads to a bit of a paradox as to why Herceptin is effective in these tumors.

This can be the first slide in a presentation. It sets up the overarching question. People know why they are sitting there and what they will learn. The speaker will have a chance later in the talk to define the issue more precisely.

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