Whenever I speak in public about PowerPoint, I usually have several people come up afterward and say that one tip I gave was worth the price of admission. Maybe that's not necessarily saying much, since sometimes the admission price is free. But in other cases it's not, so I think there really is important value people are responding to. The valuable tip?
Use the "B" key. When you're using PowerPoint in Slide Show mode, hit the "B" key and the screen will go black. (Or, hit the "W" key and the screen goes white, which is handy if you want the room to be lit.)
The feature has been around awhile, but it seems to resonate with people because it's actually doing something deeper than it (dis)appears. Among its benefits:
It breaks the media trance. Part of the power of media is that it quickly commands attention. But if it keeps it, we can become hypnotized by the visual stimulus, and maybe even fall asleep mentally and/or physically. At least once during your presentation, shift your media modes and turn off your PowerPoint.
It shifts focus from technology to people. When I hit the "B" key the other day, people kept looking at the screen, expecting something to be there, until they lost interest in the screen and started looking at me, and each other, which was the point.
It shows you're in control. Are you in control of your media, or is your media in control of you? When you black out the screen, people find it refreshing that you would do something so different, and take it as a sign of respect for them that you're not letting your PowerPoint control you.
The next time you present, try out this tip worth the price of admission. And if it works, you only have to pay me back by dropping me a line to let me know how it went!