To turn a host into a ghost, just add the letter G. And to turn the presenter host into a presenter ghost, just add a computer and PowerPoint. When you invite other scientists to come and listen to you via the proxy of conference programs, you become a host, and the scientists who turn up for your talk are your guests. Yet, unbeknownst to you, you are sharing the limelight with a formidable co-host whose dream is to turn you into a ghost, a shadow of your own self. This co-host is the computer connected to the towering bright screen overhanging your lilliputian silhouette, a screen that plunges your face into semi darkness as effectively as the sun creates a moon shadow.
As host, you have to keep your giant co-host in its proper place: that of a servant, discreet and supportive. And for that, you have to be seen.
1) Keep the room lights full on, turning them down ONLY when a slide requires darkness for readability (fluorescent marker in protein tags for example). But for that, you will need to lose the dark slide background and go for the classic white background on which black letters stand out better even when the stage is lit. Keeping the lights on reduces the contrast between the screen and you, thus enabling you to stand out more.
2) Everything that moves on the screen attracts attention away from you. Therefore, remove these gratuitous animated gif files that constantly move on the screen, or the loop in looping video clips that mesmerize the audience and remove you from the apple of their eyes.
3) Everything that moves on the stage attracts attention away from the screen. Therefore, do not turn into a pillar of salt. Move, use gestures.
4) Disable your co-host out for at least twenty seconds, with a black slide or a B-Key; and enjoy the renewed eye-contact with the audience while your co-host is blindfolded and muted.
5) Keep constant eye-contact with the audience, but for that you will need to be so well prepared that you know without looking at the screen what appears on it as you click the advance button on your presentation remote. The people in the audience do not look at a host who does not look at them.
6) Vary your voice intonation and volume, they act as audio gestures, re-centering on you the attention of the audience.
7) Reduce the amount of information on each slide. When people have read a slide, having nothing else to read, they have no choice but lay their eyes back on you!
8 ) And for Pete’s sake, do not let the computer thank the audience and announce the Q&A. You are the host, aren’t you!!!
9) Do not stand behind the lectern. You want your whole body to be seen, not just a truncated version of you. Wear a wireless mike and use a presentation remote to be able to move away from your computer.
10) Be pleasant to look at :), not an disheveled eye sore.
By Jean-luc Lebrun
Image source: Flickr. R Motti. XXVII