Doctor- Put Down That LASER Pointer and Walk Away from the Podium!

Doctor- Put Down That LASER Pointer and Walk Away from the Podium!

That LASER pointer might as well be a sleep-ray when it comes to engaging your audience.

Author:Robert A Felberg MD

Topic: Public Speaking. PowerPoint for Physicians

Keywords: Designing PowerPoint for Doctors, Medical Presentation Tips, Medical Presentation Style Guidelines.

Ever notice how some PowerPoint presentations just sizzle while others flop? Whether you love it or hate it, PowerPoint is one of the most important physician tools. As a matter of fact, there are few career investments that have more potential value return than mastering PowerPoint.

[Editor Note: There are lots of great doctors out there. But, some are more respected, well known, or successful than others. Chances are, that successful physician has excellent professional and medical business skills like negotiation, networking, or public speaking that they have leveraged to accelerate their careers. This post is one of a continuing series from Physician Advocates LLC discussing often overlooked skill sets that Healthcare professionals can utilize to grow their careers. Be sure to sign up for our newsletter to be kept up to date]

One of the most common mistakes made when using computer presentation software like PowerPoint is not understanding the important role of the interaction with the screen. The success of your presentation depends upon your public speaking skill set, the content design of your presentation, and comprehending how you and the audience interacts with the screen or monitor.


Think of your presentation as a play or media presentation like a live TV show.  You are telling a story, taking you and your audience through a transformative journey. You are the narrator or storyteller. The slides are your “stage props”.  The slides must not act as the central element of the presentation. The verbal and nonverbal content should represent 85% of the presentation. The slide content should be used only as a broad framework or “bullet-list” supporting the presentation, with the rare central role as a plot device.

Which gets to theme- PUT DOWN THE LASER POINTER! Think about how your brain interprets information. When the information is visual or verbal, you use different pathways than when you are reading. That’s why there is nothing worse than a presentation where someone drones on while reading word for word off a slide, all the time shakily pointing and circling each word on the screen.

Every time you shift to the screen, you stop the flow of the presentation sharply and suck the engagement and energy out of the audience.  Switching into reading mode requires energy. If you add a laser pointer into the mix, you force them to target, follow and then rapidly shift back and forth between reading and visual modes in a way that is highly fatiguing. It’s almost like when someone is reading you directions and showing you a map at the same time you are driving through a complex traffic pattern at night with heavy traffic. You mind is very good at focusing on one thing at a time. Add more and you can barely keep up. Forget about absorbing new material.

Adding a LASER pointer is a sure way to introduce mental fatigue and halt the learning process. The best speakers don’t use them at all.  Proper design and PowerPoint animations can replace the LASER pointer at least 90% of the time if used properly (Editor’s note: A future post will cover doctor use of animations for Powerpoint.   Please sign up for the newsletter and check into blog posts often).

Here’s a few tips to help kick your LASER Pointer addiction:

  • Design your slides to follow your lecture flow. Put your slide set together.  Then practice the presentation.   Any time you find yourself reaching for the LASER pointer, mark that slide.   Alter it until you no longer need the pointer to present effectively
  • Think about why you need the LASER to effectively move your presentation along
    • Is it to facilitate the flow? Use fly-in or fade animations
    • Is it to point out specific text? Use underline, bold, or circle animations
    • Is it to emphasize a small part of an image? Use zoom animations
    • Is it because you don’t know what to do with your hands while you are presenting? Take a public speaking class.
  • The LASER pointer will magnify every microscopic twitch and tremor exponentially. Nothing makes you look like an anxious mess more than a red dot tremoring nervously for the whole auditorium to see. Ironically, many try to hide behind the pointer to convey ease, while actually multiplying their appearance of awkwardness. Learn to use large arm gestures
  • A mouse or other pointing device is just as bad. Don’t substitute one habit for another.

Here’s a final Tip: Walk away from the podium.   Get a lapel mike and get out from behind your “wall.”  Remember, the presentation is about the audience- not you and certainly not your slides.  If you want to engage your audience, reduce any barriers that are getting in the way.  Be careful about approaching too closely to audience members, however. This can be viewed as aggressive.

Physicians with an engaging public speaking style who can develop engaging and entertaining PowerPoint presentations will always be in high demand Being recognized as an excellent public speaker grants you instant expert status and recognition. It can also help you present your brand to a wide audience of potential employers, patients, or referring doctors. The rewards can include travel, networking with the thought leaders of your field, and financial gain.  Put your LASER pointer down, walk away from the podium, and focus on the audience. If you can master public speaking and other profession and medical skills, you’ll be able to reach your dreams and succeed… really succeed.


What do you think? Do you hate the LASER pointer as much as I do? Are you addicted to it? Am I plain wrong? Share your thoughts in the comment section.

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