The Focus of PowerPoint

Yesterday I was in a three hour lecture where the speaker used a ppt presentation as the basis of her message.  As I watched her speak, I noticed that her attention was constantly being diverted between three places. The result of this was that she found it hard to concentrate on what she was saying.

Where was she focusing?

She was trying to focus on three places at once. She was focusing on the screen where the audience was looking. She was focusing on her computer to control her presentation. And finally she was focusing on us – the audience. The trouble is that when you divert your conscious attention to so many places all at once, you are unable to pay adequate attention to any of them.

As a result of her constantly changing her focus, she constantly had to change her thought patterns. Even though the changes were only slight, it was enough to distupt the flow.

Why does this happen? It is because of the way the brain is structured. Whilst all visual information is processed in the visual cortex, there are different parts of the visual cortex that process different types of visual information. By constantly changing visual inputs in such a disjointed and random matter, she had to re-establish her thought patterns after each change. This caused he to lose her place for an instant with annoying consequences.

What was the result? In 5 minutes I counted 64 ‘filler words’. These included the traditional ‘ums’ and ‘ahs’, but also she said, ‘I guess’ a lot. Now when you are a speaker – and speaking as an expert – telling your audience that you are ‘guessing’ is not good for your credibility.

At 64 filler words in 5 minutes, she spoke an extra 2304 words for the three hour presentation. That is about 15 minutes of speaking! That’s huge!

If she was able to place her attention on the audience and forget about looking at her computer and screen, she would have made a much stronger connection with her audience, reduced the number of filler words used, and been able to remember her presentation more clearly and concisely.

Til next time.


Darren Fleming


Posted in nervousness, PowerPoint, public speaking, public speaking tips

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  • Simon Raybould

    Heaven help anyone who has to sit through a three hour PPT! :)

    I have to say, I’m not very impressed with the sound of your speaker. As you’ll know, there’s no need to look at the screen if you’ve prepared enough – besides the image should be on the computer in front of you anyway.

    As for controlling the computer – hell, that should be such second nature that it needs no conscious thought. Not being on top of your technology is simply disrispectful to your audience.

    I take it you offered the speaker your business card? :)


  • terrygaultthg

    A three hour power-point presentation is pretty brutal, you are right there.

    This post has reminded me of a point I would like to bring up here about verbal fillers: not only are they distracting, but they can seriously undermine the power of a presentation as you mentioned here. I can’t even remember how many times I’ve been listening to a presentation and then get distracted by the presenting annoying use of ‘ah,’ or the dreaded ‘like.’

    Thus, one things I tell my clients is that one of the best ways to improve upon presentations is to shed verbal filler, such as uh, um, so, like, you know, basically, etc. These sorts of fillers make the presenter seem less articulate and less sure of themselves and their message.

    Here are some techniques that you can use to shed the use of verbal filler.
    1. Record yourself practicing a presentation, watch it, and count your verbal fillers. It’s painful but can fuel your determination to shed the fillers.
    2. Enlist the help of those around you – your partner / spouse, friends, co-workers, family, etc. Empower them to repeat your fillers whenever they hear you using it. That can also be painful and embarrassing – even more fuel for your determination.
    3. Listen for your use of verbal filler at ALL times – presenting, in conversation, on the phone, with friends, etc.
    4. Don’t beat yourself up about it. Just make a mental note and remind yourself that you want to change your speech pattern.
    5. Use pause instead. Focus on the behavior you want. Grow comfortable with silence. Learn to enjoy it.
    6. Be willing to pause even in the middle of sentences as you struggle to think of the word that you want.
    7. It’s said that you can change any behavior if you focus on it for 21 days. Put “I will use pause not filler” on your to-do list for 21 consecutive days.
    8. Don’t give up! As American writer and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “Once you make a decision, the universe conspires to make it happen.”

    Thanks for reminding me of this!

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