A projector clicker is so like a TV remote -- and we all know that little piece of kit so well, of course -- that as soon as we get one in our hand, there’s an almost uncontrollable urge to raise your arm and start pointing at the screen and zapping. But there are good reasons to try and train yourself out of the habit.
For a start, there’s no need to do this, of course. Unlike a TV remote, which usually works by firing a burst of infrared, your presentation clicker is a USB receiver, which works in a much wider circular field.
More importantly, though, if you’re constantly pointing the clicker at the screen, you’re not facing the audience. You’re effectively telling your listeners that your slides merit more attention than they do. If you keep feeling you have to turn and face the screen, you’re constantly directing attention away from the messenger - you.
And you could end up creating a kind of repetitive rhythm - point and click, point and click - which can lull your listeners into a kind of trance and cause them to switch off from what you’re saying. For the same reason, it’s a good idea not to allot a similar amount of time on each slide. Some slides you’ll rattle through, some you’ll want to linger on. This rhythmical asymmetry will hold your audience’s attention far better than a mechanically regular cycling through your slides, which could quickly become monotonous.
In most rooms, you can very happily carry on talking to your audience, making eye contact and moving around the room as you do so, and changing slides when you need to, without having to turn and face the screen and point. If you've ever watched a highly polished presenter like the late Steve Jobs - and TV weather presenters are another very skilled example - the slide-switching is so seamless that you’re not even aware of anything being clicked at all. The transitions seem to just flow with smooth, inexorable logic from the points the speaker is making.
So always face your audience. When you click, you can quickly check the slide is what you were expecting, and then return to facing your listeners. Remember slides should work by glance technology - as listeners, we should glance at the slide, find our interest piqued, and then want to return to our speaker for more context and explanation and illumination. Don’t be dictated by the information on the slides - there’s nothing worse than a speaker who crams their whole script into their deck, and then proceeds to read out the whole content of each slide, one after the other. You should always be more expert than your slides.
Most devices will also have a button to ‘blank’ your screen. This can be an incredibly powerful tactic when presenting - having your screen go dark means all the attention is back with you. You may have just shown a strong image or some important data and now you need to make a bold statement. Now, with the screen off, the audience will have all eyes on you.
I also recommend avoiding use of the little laser dot (except when you have a cat to entertain). The dot is very small, and when pointed at a screen it will often be seen to tremble quite violently, because of the speaker’s nervous or excited energy. If you’re not careful, this trembling becomes all that the audience focuses on. It can quickly become annoying without being very helpful. If you need to zoom in on a specific area of a slide, it’s often better to cover this off in your slide design - show the overall screenshot, for example, and then create a magnified view of the key area that you can zoom in on your next transition.
If you do want to point to something on screen, use your body instead. Move your arm or hand to direct the audience’s focus. Even better, touch the screen and take physical ownership of it. The laser dot puts a distance between you and the information, whereas your own physical presence breaks down the barrier between messenger and message.
There have been huge advances in remote control technology too. The device I favour, a Logitech Spotlight, is very tactile in the hand, not bulky and wide but more ergonomic in shape and feel. It has a lot of great features - I can use it to highlight an area of the screen or zoom in on something without having to use a shaky little dot. It has a massive range and it plays video. Also, because it’s long and baton-like in shape, I can use it as a physical extension of my arm, or slap it into my other hand when I want to emphasise a point or three.
A final point: Don’t forget your clicker. I am notorious for leaving mine behind everywhere...