A common visual aid used in many meetings and presentations in offices around the country is the Whiteboard. Like most visual aids, when used skilfully it can be a valuable asset to help you communicate your message or reinforce a point, but too often; it is used like a blunt instrument that does more harm than good.
Last week I had the pleasure of attending a conference organised by a very large IT services company. In one of the sessions the speaker (we’ll call him Jim) used the Whiteboard to help him with his presentation. Now, Jim’s reasoning for utilising the whiteboard was spot on… It allowed him to get the audience involved in his presentation (a great way to get the audience to “buy in” to your message!!). But, Jim hadn’t considered the dynamics of the room he was speaking in when he decided to utilise the Whiteboard.
The first thing to consider with a Whiteboard (or flip chart) is; can everyone in the room see what I am writing? In Jim’s case the room was large and the audience was spread out – the result was that only those in the front three rows could adequately see and understand what Jim had written on the whiteboard.
Secondly, Jim spent half of his presentation standing in front of the whiteboard which was in the middle of the speaking area. Nothing wrong there except for the fact that Jim was referencing things he had written on the board which. This resulted in the audience craning their necks to try to read what Jim had written a couple of minutes beforehand. When using a whiteboard or any other visual aids (such as PowerPoint) consider where it will be placed. In Jim’s case, if the Whiteboard was off to one side of the speaking area, he could have eliminated the issue of people having to look “through” him to see what was on the Whiteboard. The audience would have been able to glance to one side to see the main points on the Whiteboard before returning their attention back to Jim.
Unfortunately for Jim he “lost” half the room. The result was a lot of bored and confused faces by the end of his presentation. Having seen Jim deliver the same presentation at other conferences using a Whiteboard I know he can be more effective…
What is the difference…?
Simply Jim didn’t consider how he could make the Whiteboard work for him. In other conferences, he had a smaller room that allowed everyone to see what he was writing on the board, and fortuitously, it was placed to side so everyone could see the board all of the time. Next time you give a presentation where you’ll be using a Whiteboard check the room where you’ll be speaking so you can confirm that everyone in the audience will be able to see the Whiteboard (and what you’ll be writing on the board…); when you speak, ensure the whiteboard is placed so that the audience doesn’t have to “look through you”.
Remember, if a visual aid isn’t aiding your speech it’s hurting it! Use them carefully….
P.S. Always carry a spare set of whiteboard markers… They have a bad habit of running out at the most inopportune moments.