During the event, I saw a presentation trick that I had not previously come across in a smaller venue. The stage was set up with two screens displaying visuals from two different slide decks. To control the two sets of slides, speakers were given two wireless presenters – one for their left hand and one for their right.
My first reaction was “Wow, that is really cool!” The first speaker had practiced thoroughly in advance to master the technique. He changed slides effortlessly as he spoke – right, left, right, left. Another presenter showed questions on the left screen then revealed answers on the right.
Before launching into criticism, I want to share how clever this idea is. I kept thinking of dueling pianos as I was watching. Moreover, I deeply appreciate that growth comes from risk taking and I praise the organizers for taking a chance.
As the event progressed, I began to see three significant challenges with the approach:
Challenge #1: Eye Contact
One of the fundamental rules of public speaking is to maximize eye contact with your audience. Dueling projectors turn the stage into a tennis match with the audience’s eyes darting back and forth to the screens leaving the speaker as a lonely net in the middle. Less experienced speakers kept turning back and forth when referencing the visuals. Though I was bathed in great visuals, I felt the presenters lost their connection with me as a listener. It became about the technology and not about the audience.
Challenge #2: Hand Gestures
Another fundamental rule of public speaking is making natural, albeit magnified, hand gestures. Even one wireless presenter device is inhibiting. Two is downright distracting since the speaker looks like they are waving their fists around. I especially appreciated a tip that Rory Vaden shared with me when I met him at a Toastmasters conference. Rory keeps a super low-tech wireless presenter in his pocket so his hands are totally free. To advance the slide, he very subtly clicks the button by pushing on the outside of his pocket. That is a great trick when you do not have a well-rehearsed production team to change the slides for you.
Challenge #3: Coordination
As the conference wore on, several presenters struggled with the dual screen, dual deck format. One speaker made the mistake of putting both wireless slide changers in the same hand and needed assistance recovering. Others struggled with remembering which display the desired slide was being shown on.
The Bottom Line
Using two screens with two different slide decks is a clever presentation innovation. If all the stars are aligned with expertly crafted material, a well practiced speaker, and slide control from the production team in the back of the room, then the technique can be effective. I think this would be a reasonable approach in a very large keynote where most of the audience is relying on jumbo screens the entire time. In my opinion, the trade off of eye contact for entertainment is not worth it in a smaller venue.