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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California

The Overhead Projector: Not Yet Obsolete

That old standby, the overhead projector, is still a helpful tool for many presentations. I use it because I do not use words on my visuals—only drawings. Many of my clients who are very involved in delivering teaching presentations have joined the ranks of companies that prefer overhead projectors. Here's why:

  • You can produce transparencies easily and inexpensively.

  • Transparencies are easy for the audience to read and can be used with large groups. You can project images from a few feet to more than 15 feet away.

  • You can "interact" with this visual by marking on the transparency during your presentation.

  • The projector is easy to carry, at least the portable ones.

  • Duplication is easy and inexpensive.

  • You don't have to turn off the lights to use an overhead projector, which lets you maintain eye contact with your audience. This is a major advantage.

  • You can use a white wall instead of a screen if necessary.

  • You never have to turn away from your audience.

Keys to good transparencies include limiting yourself to six words per line and using display-size print that is large enough to ensure good visibility. You can also use clip art, preprinted borders, and attention-getting designs. Overlays can provide color for even more interesting visuals. Number your transparencies so that if they are somehow shuffled, you can sort them out easily.

Enhance Your Delivery

When you add the extra element of an overhead projector, you need to adjust your delivery accordingly. Here are some tips for a smooth presentation:

  • Stay in control. If you leave an image on the screen, you're inviting competition, because audience attention is then divided between you and the screen. But you can control attention by turning the projector's switch on and off. For each transparency, you can keep your audience from getting ahead of you by covering specific points with a sheet of paper, and then exposing each point when you're ready to discuss it.

  • Don't annoy the audience by turning the machine on without a transparency on the light table. Learn to transfer smoothly from one transparency to the next, or turn the machine off if you need to pause between transparencies.

  • Don't look at the screen and don't keep pointing at it; when you do either, you lose eye contact with the audience. To emphasize something, point to the transparency with a pointer or pen, and leave it on the transparency. If you are nervous and worried about the pointer shaking, rest it on the projector until you are ready to use it.

  • Decide how you are going to use the projector and place it accordingly. Usually the best place for it is catercorner, stage right for a right-handed person and stage left for a left-handed person. If you will be writing on the transparencies, you might want the projector directly behind you.

  • Don't weaken your conclusion by starting to pack up your transparencies while you're still speaking. Turn off the machine and leave the transparencies alone. Then move forward slightly to deliver your closing remarks.

  • Use borders around your transparencies (you can buy them at any office supply store). You can write notes on them (which the audience can't see) and you will appear well prepared. The borders also make it easy for changing transparencies. You can then eliminate the annoying and time consuming paper separators. I have seen more speakers loose an audience while they take off the paper separator, put it down, put down the transparency, pick up the separator, etc.

Plan for the Unexpected

You can avoid most common problems with overhead projectors through careful preparation and by assuming responsibility for the logistical details:

  • Arrive early to oversee setup procedures.

  • Verify for yourself that everything is ready; don't rely on someone else's word.

  • Locate the on/off switch, because each projector is different, and many have switches in hard-to-find locations. For example, some machines use a bar instead of a switch.

  • Bring an extra light bulb for the projector.

  • Be sure you order an overhead projector on a proper stand that has room on each side of the projector for your transparencies. You need space for your visuals before you use them and a place to put the already viewed slides. Even though I request this on my audiovisual list, 75 percent of the time I have to come up with an alternate plan.

  • Carry an extension cord, just in case. Also carry a kit of other supplies—an extra roll of acetates, tape, scissors, and so on.

  • Set up and test equipment.

  • Test the lighting with a transparency on the light table.

  • Have a contingency plan.

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