Amazing isn’t it, the way your body faces the audience when you start a speech, but your head and neck are stretched towards the screen as a compromise between facing the facts and facing the audience. The audience is less confused. It always faces the screen because the chairs do. The audience is all eyes, even though it should be all ears, since it is after all… the audience. In some ways, presenters are auditioning for a place in the audience’s mind as soon as they speak. Yet many fail the audition, for many reasons.
The first reason is purely auditive. Every time you turn your head away from the mike, be it a podium mike or a clip-on mike, to face the screen, the distance required for your words to reach the mike is increased by a few meters: the forward journey of the sound wave from your mouth to the screen plus the return trip from the screen to the mike. The volume is now the same as if you were standing that far away from the mike, and the led bar on the audio mixer backstage testifies to the fact by losing a few green notches. If the sound engineer monitoring the audio were to compensate the loss by manually raising the volume level, the led bar would jump into the blasting reds as soon as you returned to the mike – so the engineer regularly foregoes any correction to spare the audience from an audio roller-coaster.
The second reason is purely relational. The way to relate to an audience is through your smile and eyes. Drop the anchor of your eyes onto the screen and there too will your audience moor its attention. It will understand that facing the facts is more important than facing people, the message more important than the messenger, the hot pizza slices more important than the pizza delivery guy. Strangely, you are present, and yet absent, a foreground the background swallowed, existing only as a voice-over for a set of slides.
The third reason is purely psychotic. Fear has conquered you. Fear is not your enemy, it is your judge. Your anxiety is the sum of all your fears and your fears are legion. They garrote your throat, attack your nerves, desiccate your mouth, liquefy your bowels, and send tremors throughout your limbs. You are not a host, you are the ghost of a host. Your guests sense your discomfort and discount you. You failed the audition.
Therefore, face the facts: face your audience. The screen is your co-host, part of the supporting cast. You are the main actor. Do not let your slides take over. And involve your audience from the word Go. Now, on your starting blocks!