The Graphic Design Industry – Where Does a Presentation Designer Fit?

In the last decade, the emergence of Presentation/PowerPoint Designer roles has skyrocketed from the darkened corner of Desktop Publishing (DTP) to the heights of keynote speeches and world-viewed presentations as well as touched on practically every design discipline in-between. The niche lovechild of DTP and Graphic Design, Presentation Design, now sits on the precipice of becoming the newest specialization in Graphic Design.

A Phenakistoscope

The history of graphic design has seen the development of three major disciplines each of which have various levels of overlap. Of the three key disciplines, the print-based design was the first and oldest. The next development was motion design with the earliest examples being the Phenakistoscope and then the animated flipbook in the early-to-mid 1800s. As the century ended, there was an explosion of interest in motion and animation design which then thrived for the next 100 years and now every time you turn on a TV, you are bombarded with motion design, everything from the intro reel of your favorite news channel to the credits at the end of a movie. The third discipline, Interactive Design, evolved broadly with the advent of computing. The user not only watched motion or looked at print, but could also interact with it by giving commands or prompts. The first broad use of interactive design was in the mid-to-late 1900s with early computer systems. As computers became more sophisticated and operating systems were designed and improved upon, the visual design became more and more important. This was the first boom in interactive design, with early operating systems leading the way. As the World Wide Web developed, this form of design branched out and exploded across the world, every website is an interactive design, every program on your computer (including PowerPoint) is an example of this design discipline. In fact, anyone reading this article either on a phone or on a computer is engaging in at least 3 levels of interactive design.

The development and emergence of these disciplines of design have been largely chronological, however, the big question that is most relevant to us today is: where does Presentation Design sit? After discussions with many people from these disciplines, there is a feeling that Presentation Design sits outside the scope of Graphic Design altogether. I’ve met many professional and highly skilled Graphic Designers across all these disciplines who will simply not touch Presentations. Why? Because there is a significant stigma associated with working within the programs available to create presentations (PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, etc.). Some blame lack of features, some blame inexperience, some blame operability, but ultimately it stems from the elitism of specialist Graphic Design software and the ‘commonness’ of Presentation Design software.

I see PowerPoint a little differently. I see it as a tool that can encompass all of these design aspects. Admittedly, there are pros and cons of using PowerPoint as a tool to produce each of these designs, however, show me a program that allows you to display on one screen your design, which encompasses the principles of print design, then seamlessly integrates animation into the design all the while allowing the end user to navigate them, or allowing a pilot to navigate an audience through a non-linear presentation based on the needs of the audience, all whilst being a program that is included in the world’s most famous productivity suite of applications and on over 500 million computers worldwide. Nearly everyone with a computer has PowerPoint. Anyone can open the program, create some slides, some bullet points and press ‘Start Slideshow’. This does not make them a Presentation Designer. The hurdle we need to overcome is not introducing Presentation Design to the world, the hurdle is to show the world what Presentation Design SHOULD be.

The good news is that a Presentation Designer is always in relatively high demand. Industry demand will only ever grow for this service as pitches and inter-business presentations become so competitive many companies are moving from ‘getting whoever knows how to use PowerPoint in the office’ to ‘getting a professional with knowledge of audience communication and best practice in designing for these circumstances’.

The big question is, will the Graphic Design industry eventually accept Presentation Design (and by extension, PowerPoint) as a new specialization? What do you think? Let’s get the conversation started.

Email me and with your thoughts.

About Tom Howell:
Tom Howell is a PowerPoint designer and the founder of Synapsis Creative, a boutique presentation design agency. Tom started his career as a designer for multiple disciplines and specialized in PowerPoint 10 years ago, and has never looked back. With a talent for animation and interactivity, his work has been featured on Microsoft’s webinar series on PowerPoint and in multiple online magazines and articles. He regularly speaks at conferences and seminars and is a key figure for presentation design in the industry. His clients come from an array of different industries. Tom loves the challenges and successes that are achievable in PowerPoint and lives to make presentations stand out for all the right reasons.


Don’t miss my “Dishing on Presentations” conversation with Tom Howell. It is engaging and packed full of presentation wisdom from “down under”. Click  here to watch


[Video] “Dishing on Presentations” with Tom Howell

In this month’s “Dishing with Presentations” interview, we went “down under” to speak with Professional Presentation Evangelist, Tom Howell in his Synapsis Creative office in Sydney, Australia. What comes across in the conversation with our editor, Sharyn Fitzpatrick, is how much Tom is passionate about PowerPoint and all it can do for his clients and our industry. He is enthralled with what you can achieve with presentations using skills and creativity and how it continues to evolve as a creative tool for graphic designers and presentation designers. His global client list includes Microsoft, Universal Pictures, Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, Goldman Sachs Investment Banking, Proctor & Gamble, Nestle, and the United Nations. All of which add credibility to his successes and his wealth of knowledge and experience. He shares his insights into how to become and grow as a presentation designer. Enjoy!

Sharyn Fitzpatrick
Editor, PresentationXpert

P.S. I use Zoom to record the interview and Power Director to brand it.

[Video] Dishing on Presentations with Bethany Auck, Slide Rabbit

Did you watch Bethany deliver her webinar, “Slide Diets: Before & After Design Tricks to Slim Down your Content!:? It was lively and interactive, thanks to her great content and an engaged audience.  We had so many great questions and not enough time to get to them all. In this “dishing” interview, Bethany answered many of your webinar questions and she also provided written answers for others.



bethany_square_300dpi (1)
More Q&A with Bethany Auck, Slide Rabbit
Do you have a lot of walls come up when asking a client to reduce content?garr-reynolds-library

Convincing an unwilling client to reduce content and wordiness can be one of the most difficult challenges. Sometimes, it just can’t be done. Generally, success comes by sharing some of the thought behind the directive. There are a lot of great thinkers on the subject and their ideas are widely available in books and in quick videos on the internet. I particularly recommend the books by Garr Reynolds and Dr. Carmen Simon, but there are also great videos on YouTube. Of course, our blog Visual Sugar may have some ideas worth sharing.

Some of the slides have sections of ALL CAPS vs. proper case or lower case. When do you suggest to use ALL CAPS?

all-capsMany brands will have established guidelines on when and where you can use various text treatments. If you have a little more freedom, I suggest creating a text style hierarchy for your own reference as you begin to design. If “all caps” will be part of your hierarchy but isn’t a large part of the brand identity, make sure to use it sparingly only on the most important information. There aren’t many hard and fast rules in design, so use your judgment to create balance and visual order for your audience.

Any suggestions for when we are developing slides that need to have “screenshots”? An Example would be as we teach a new software program for clinical documentation.

Screenshots are a necessary evil for presentation developers. My first request to the client is usually to get me access to what will be screenshot. That way I can get in there and take hi-res or zoomed shots so they will be legible in presentations. I also mentioned the Mac tool, Paparazzi! on the webinar, which creates vector images of full pages that won’t deteriorate as you blow them up. As for how to use them in a presentation, go full screen and annotate on top for the easiest legibility. Frame into a laptop image (available on stock sites), if the content of the ’shot is less critical. If training on the software, consider launching a live, full-screen demo.

BEFORE SLIDE - Dense and busy

BEFORE SLIDE – Dense and busy


What would you suggest for densely detailed slides for decks that are printed vs. presented live?

Often slides have to do double duty. For detailed handout types slides, many of the same Slide Diets still principles apply, even if you

aren’t looking to remove content. Use visual hierarchy to guide the reader on what are main takeaways vs. detailed or granular supporting information. Consider separating information to separate slides so that the reader will be less visually overwhelmed. Hunt slide19

After Slide - Divide into 2 slides

After Slide – Divide into 2 slides

for places to reduce redundancy – titles subtitles and body text can often be tightened. Remember, the less content on your slide, the greater percentage the audience will be able to remember.



Have another question?  Email Sharyn or Bethany.

[Webinar Recording] Slide Diets: Before & After Design Tricks to Slim Down your Content

Are you slides “over-stuffed” with too much content? Are they readable? Or, is the type so small, you need to include a magnifying glass to read it? If you answered yes to any of these questions, then watch this recorded webinar from PresentationXpert with designer Bethany Auck. It is the perfect chance to learn how to slim down your slide content.

Learn how to take those over-stuffed slides and transform them into bite-size snacks – easier for your audience to digest and enjoy. Bethany uses real-life before & after examples to explain how to reduce content without losing data and meaning. The focus is on producing clearer visual communication to be a better and more effective presenter. Discover how to produce better slides, how to reduce content to the essentials, and how to streamline your presentation design, better communicating the important content.

Handouts:   Slide Diets Webinar Handout

About our Presenter, Bethany Auck:

Bethany has been working in the presentation design industry for nine years. She cut her teeth at small litigation consultancy where she consulted on major trials helping her clients build persuasive narratives and poignant demonstratives. Bethany founded SlideRabbit in 2012 to bring high-quality design to all industries at low-cost levels.  Her email is

Bringing the Skills and Spirit of Live Events to B2B Presentations

This month, our featured presentation expert, Damjan Haylor, Managing Director of POPcomms, a B2B Damjan_Haylor_POPcommspresentation design agency, hails from Bristol in the United Kingdom. His background and that of his co-founder, Holly Worthington is rich in managing live events and shows for companies such as for Renault, Ford, Lexus, Microsoft, Sony and the UK Government. According to Damjan, “working on live events teaches you the importance of creating an experience for customers and wowing them. I soon discovered that the presentation itself, even though central to the whole creative, was still only a very small part of the wider experience and didn’t always get the attention it needed.” He continued, POPComms logo“Although there are quite a few dedicated presentation agencies out there I really felt there was a gap for a dedicated presentation agency that brought some of the skills and spirit of the live events business to the B2B presentation world. That is why we started POPcomms in 2010.”

What is the focus and mission of POPcomms?

POP xmasOur focus is very much on the B2B sector and we have a large proportion of technology clients. As a sector they are an ideal fit for us – they have complex businesses and propositions, they are ambitious, dynamic and innovative, operating in a highly competitive market. Through our expertise we’re able to bring their ideas, solutions and brands to life visually, creating experiences for their customers that ultimately help them to win business.

As a team, we give our all but we have fun at same time. Here is a picture of our whole team from last Christmas – it really sums up our whole team and how we come alive when we work together.

One of your specialties is how to make a presentation come alive by using visual storytelling. Why visual storytelling? Why does it make a difference?

eXpd8-POPcommsBusinesses spend vast amounts of time, money and resources developing products and services, they’re also creating expensive marketing campaigns to get customers in a room – yet quite often, when it comes to the critical moment of presenting to a customer, what they see and hear doesn’t reflect that huge amount of effort or any real understanding of their needs.

We see visual storytelling as a way to address this issue. By building a story around the customer we are providing a tangible visual narrative that they can actually relate to and that tells the story in a concise, persuasive and memorable way.

Ideally, you want to spend less time explaining a solution through slides and more time having valuable conversations based around the value you bring to a customer and visual storytelling does just that.

Can you share a client experience and how that process worked? Results?

itaska picsAs an example Isotrak, who provide fleet telematic solutions to major retailers, logistics and distribution companies wanted us to help move their presentations away from being product-focused and more customer-centric, focusing on their customers’ needs and the real value that their solutions could provide.

With Isotrak we looked at their customers, working out their personas, and the daily challenges they faced as businesses, ultimately identifying what the opportunities would be for them by working with Isotrak.

We decided that the best way to tell this story would be through ‘A Day in the Life’ visual, showing how a typical user would interact with the Isotrak system during their average working day.

The beauty of this approach was that it demonstrated in a simple way, how the complex system helps the end user – the drivers and therefore the wider business as a whole. We built a clear interactive ‘Value Dashboard’ allowing the customer to see how the business as a whole benefits on a daily basis. The interactive cityscape we developed brought the whole experience to life for the customer.

Let’s talk about the growing trend for interactive presentations. Do they belong in a business presentation? Why? Or Why not?

The key to an effective presentation is to make it personal and relevant to the customer, to make them feel you understand their challenges and needs and that you can solve their problems and add value to their business. interctivyt 2Interactivity is critical to this process as it allows you to seamlessly steer a presentation in the direction that a customer wants to go.

The problem with a linear slide deck is that it needs to be generic enough to appeal to a wider audience. An interactive presentation enables the customer to steer the conversation, to drill down to that content that resonates most with them. It allows you to have a single presentation that covers all possible scenarios and when the customer has a question it’ll only take a couple of clicks to get to the relevant information.

It’s all about personalization, making that customer feel as though the presentation is solely about them and for them.

How are your clients sharing or displaying that interactivity?

Touchscreens are becoming a big area for us as our clients invest in touchscreen systems, and they are the perfect device for our interactive presentations. In addition to this, we are starting to look closely at virtual and augmented reality as the technologies present some interesting possibilities for presentations. Every day there is something new happening and we’re learning all the time which makes for a fun and exciting work day, and that is the key to a successful business.

Looking at your portfolio, you seem to use Prezi quite a bit. What do you think of the new Morph feature in PowerPoint 2016? Will this replace Prezi? Compliment it?

Prezi has been great when customers need to tell a linear story, and we tend to use it for events where there is limited audience interaction. However, as already mentioned, interaction is key for us, and this is where Prezi has its limitations.

The new Morph tool, when combined with interactive features, will enable us to tell an even more compelling story. Even on its own Morph can provide far more possibilities than Prezi in terms of animation allowing us to show the big picture and then drilling down into the smallest of detail. We don’t think it will replace Prezi but for our B2B customers, there will be less appetite to use Prezi in the future.Citrix-POPcomms

In the past we’ve used motion graphics for looping video presentations for our clients at events, now the new Morph tool will allow us to get the same effect faster and more cost effectively. We are also having a lot of discussions with clients about interactive touchscreen presentations and exploring how Morph’s fluid movement of content can be applied to other applications.

If we’re honest, we feel that we’ve only just explored the tip of the iceberg on this one. We’re excited.

EDITOR’S NOTE:  POPcomms just released a great video about Morph – check it out:

Tell me about your company culture and how you “live the talk”. And why do you have a pool table in your office?

POPcommsWhen we receive a client brief we all get stuck in and discuss it, we come from a real mixture of backgrounds and experience, so everyone’s input and ideas are valuable.

The pool table is a great way for us to let off steam and discuss ideas rather than being stuck behind a computer hoping the problem will be magically solved – the only issue is one of our designers, Johnny, keeps winning almost every game, I’m still trying to solve that problem.

The photo of us by the pool table shows 4 of our six-member team, and two are away today. From left, Stuart Janicki aka Slippery Slope; Johnny Henderson aka Deathstar; Holly Worthington aka Wannabehotshot, and Damjan Haylor, aka Six Ball Wizard.

You can reach Damjan via their website or email.

Presentation Storytelling: Meet Microsoft Sway

Microsoft’s new online program called Office Sway is another presentation program, but it is not PowerPoint. In fact, it is not even remotely similar to PowerPoint, and that’s great because this difference provides Sway with a new platform and no comparisons are needed!

So what exactly is Sway? Sway has been designed from the ground up to be more of a storytelling presentation program rather than something you will use for slides in your next boardroom meeting where every slide has a chart. Well, if you wanted you could still use Sway for those typical presentations, but PowerPoint probably would work better!

Sway 1Sway is easy to use, does not require any download or installation since it is a program that runs within your browser – and it lets you create and share interactive reports, presentations, personal stories, and more by combining text and media to create an online presentation. Make note though that a downloadable version of Sway is available for mobile devices such as iPads and Windows tablets.

You can view and edit Sways from almost any modern web browser. You can also share Sways directly from within the browser via so that others can discover and share them. Clearly, there’s so much to learn about!

There are several tutorials on the Sway site at that will help you get started.sway 3

The first step though is for you to sign into your Sway account. If you have a Microsoft account, then you already have a Sway account! A Microsoft account contains credentials you use to sign into any of Microsoft’s services such as Hotmail, Outlook, XBox, Live, Zune, etc. Once you sign into Sway for the first time, you will see content uploaded by others. Why? That’s because you still need to create your own Sway!

Are you a little confused about how we are using the term “Sway” in this article? Yes, we do refer to both the program itself and the presentations created as Sways. You will understand what we mean via the context in which the term has been used in a sentence.

sway2To create a new Sway, you will click on the prominent Create New option, highlighted in red in two places within the screenshot on the right.

You can also create a new Sway by importing a Word, PowerPoint or PDF file. To do so, click the Import button shown highlighted in blue within the screenshot. You can sign out of Sway by clicking on the three dots shown highlighted in green. This will bring up the menu shown in the screenshot below where you can choose the Sign out option.

You can learn more about how Sway evolved in an interview with Chris Pratley, who is General Manager for Microsoft Sway.


 Geetesh Bajaj iGeetesh2s an awarded Microsoft PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional) for over a decade now. He has been designing and training with PowerPoint for 15 years and heads Indezine, a presentation design studio and content development organization based out of Hyderabad, India. Geetesh believes that any PowerPoint presentation is a sum of its elements–these elements include abstract elements like concept, color, interactivity, and navigation–and also slide elements like shapes, graphics, charts, text, sound, video, and animation. He has authored six books on PowerPoint and trains corporate clients on how to plan, create, and deliver presentations.  For more information on Indezine and Geetesh, click here.


Tips and Tricks for Creating “Persuasive” Presentations with Microsoft PowerPoint MVP Ellen Finkelstein

“Do you create persuasive presentations, webinars, or videos?”

No doubt you’ve attended presentations or webinars where the presenter read the text from slide after slide — and you started high-persuasion-wave-slide-300x222checking your email. Was it persuasive? No, IT WAS BORING! But this happens all the time. Do YOU know how to create a presentation or video that entrances and persuades?

Let Microsoft PowerPoint MVP, Ellen Finkelstein show you how to be persuasive! Discover simple techniques based on solid research that everyone can learn! See great before-and-after examples that you can use as models. You’ll hear how one marketer used these techniques to increase his conversion rate from 50% to 70%.

Here’s what you’ll learn:

**Why you shouldn’t put what you say on your slides – contrary to what you see all the time!
**Why images are much more persuasive than text
** The three PowerPoint problems that almost all marketers make and how to fix them
**How to tap into your audience’s emotions so they will make the decision to buy


Ellen_smallEllen Finkelstein is a recognized expert, speaker, trainer, and best-selling author on PowerPoint, presentation skills, and AutoCAD. Her articles have appeared in numerous magazines, newsletters, and blogs. She is a PowerPoint MVP (Most Valuable Professional).There are only 37 PowerPoint MVPs in the world, and only 9 in the United States. Her Web site, offers a hug assortment of tips, techniques, tutorials, and articles on these topics.

In Presentations, Normal Isn’t the Same as Effective

New normal is a frequently heard phrase these days, describing everything from the tough economy to instability in the Middle East to the make-up of the modern family. I’m thinking maybe it’s time for a new normal in presentations because the old normal isn’t working very well.

Too many times I hear my clients say, “…but that’s the norm…that’s what’s expected…” when explaining why they continue to follow bad presentation practices.

But when did the norm become synonymous with effective?

Let’s look at some of the worst “normal” practices and consider what might make for a new normal.

The Norm: Using copious bullet points, filling up each slide until there’s almost no white space left.

The New Normal: Using only key words and phrases, not sentences, on slides. Drastically reducing word slides in favor of visuals (charts, graphs, illustrations, pictures) and more dialogue with the audience.

The Norm: Reading from the slides. Continually turning to the screen to read so one’s back or side is to the audience.

The New Normal: Being well enough prepared that reading the slides isn’t necessary. Making continual eye contact with the audience to engage them and read their reactions.

The Norm: Using filler words — ums, ahs, you knows — to the extreme both in the middle of and between sentences.

The New Normal: Replacing filler words with a pause to gather thoughts and let the audience absorb what’s been said. Practicing enough before the presentation so the delivery flows smoothly without the crutch of filler words.

The Norm: Handing out the PowerPoint deck as a take-away.

The New Normal: Recognizing that the slides and handouts serve two different purposes. In keeping with having less detailed slides, providing a more detailed handout that includes information/resources that will be useful to the audience after the presentation.

Moving from the norm to a new normal doesn’t happen overnight. If a major change isn’t feasible or comfortable, gradually may be the best way to implement improvements in your presentation practices.

Then step by step the norm will become so much more effective.

About the Author:

Kathy Reiffenstein is the founder and president of And…Now Presenting!, a Washington D.C.-area business communications training firm, which offers a suite of public speaking and presentation skills programs geared to creating confident, persuasive speakers. Visit Kathy’s website at to subscribe to her bi-weekly presentation tips or her blog where you’ll find fresh insights on public speaking that are engaging, sometimes irreverent and always practical.

Tabs Provide Roadmap for Long PowerPoint Presentations

When you deliver a long presentation with lots of topics, you can help your audience understand and remember more by explicitly displaying the presentation’s organization.  A training session comes to mind as an example. People also like to know where they are in a presentation. A visual list of topics helps them relate each topic to the totality of the presentation.

One way to do this is with a tabbed presentation. It looks somewhat like links at the top of a website. Here’s a simple example of a first slide.


I prefer to keep the tabs simple so that they don’t distract from the main content, but you can format them any way you want.

Here’s how I created the tabs:

  1. Go to View, Slide Master.
  2. In the left-hand pane, scroll up to the top, larger thumbnail. Whatever you place on this master will appear on every slide, no matter which layout it uses.
  3. Draw the tabs. You could put them at the bottom instead. I used the Round Same Side Corner shape in the Rectangles section. You can drag the yellow square or diamond to adjust the size of the rounded corner. You’ll have to fiddle with the size and placement to fit the desired number of tabs across the slide. You can see that I made the Home tab smaller than the others; I did this because I needed more space for the topic names — and wanted to emphasize them as well. You’ll probably also have to adjust the placement of some of the text placeholders to make room for the tabs.
  4. Click the Normal View icon at the bottom of the screen to return to Normal view and create all of your slides. You can create a “topic” slide at the beginning of each topic, but it isn’t necessary.  The Section layout is good for this, but you can also use the Title Slide layout or any other layout that works for you.
  5. Return to the Slide Master. You can now add hyperlinks to each of the sections and they will work on
    every slide.
  6. Select the first tab, being sure to click the tab’s outline (border), not the text inside it. You want the hyperlink to work if you click anywhere on the tab and you probably don’t want the text to be underlined and change to the hyperlink theme color.powerpoint-tips-tabbed-presentation-with-topics-2
  7. Press Ctrl + K or go to the Insert tab and click Hyperlink in the Links group.  (You’ll do this in the Slide Master.)
  8. In the Link To pane of the Insert Hyperlink dialog box, choose Place in This Document.
  9. In the larger pane, choose the desired slide. For the Home tab, you would choose the first slide of the presentation. For subsequent tabs, you would choose the first slide of the corresponding topic.
  10. Click OK to create the hyperlink and close the dialog box.
  11. Add hyperlinks to the rest of the tabs.
  12. Exit the Slide Master to return to Normal view.
  13. Test all of your hyperlinks!

It’s possible to create the tabs on your slides in Normal view. You can create one set, add the hyperlinks, and copy them to the rest of the slides. The hyperlinks will follow. This method has 2 problems that I can think of:

  • It makes the presentation file larger (but probably not by too much)
  • If you want to reformat the look of the tabs, you have to do so on every slide, instead of once on the Slide Master.

This method has one advantage. If you want, you can format the current tab differently. For example, during Topic 2, the Topic 2 tab can have a darker fill and white text. But you’ll need to individually change the formatting on every slide of the presentation.

It’s possible to create a separate master for each section and format your tabs differently in each master. Then you would apply a different master to each topic.

Delivering a Tabbed Presentation

You can go through the presentation as usual, if you want. You don’t even have to use the tabs! But if someone asks a question about an earlier topic, you can easily go back to it by clicking the topic’s tab. In some situations, you might also let your audience choose the topics they want to hear and in which order. I called this a menu-based presentation.

Download the presentation!

I have a page of free PowerPoint backgrounds. Click here to go to the page and download the tabbed presentation.

About the Author:

Ellen Finkelstein is a noted presentation design consultant and trainer, a Microsoft PowerPoint MVP and author of a number of top-selling books in the presentations field. For more information, visit

The One Presentation Skill That Anchors Them All

I remember my first big speaking engagement with the International Association of Business Communicators.  It took place over a decade ago in Vancouver, British Columbia, and like any trip across the border, it involved a brief chat with a uniformed agent in the customs booth.

What would happen next would remind me once again about one of the most important presentation skills we can master.

As I stood patiently in line behind a hundred foreign exchange students, my mind began to wander through my opening comments in a few short hours.  My goal with this large group: be intentional about making a very personal connection.  This can seem like a daunting task at times.

But suddenly I was shaken out of my thoughts by a rather foreboding customs official giving me her well-practiced “come now” gesture. I slid my documents through the window and then it happened.  The same thing that has happened dozens of times before…but somehow my awareness level had been elevated in that moment.

Her eyes came up, met mine and then she began to ask me some questions (A few seconds felt like an eternity).  And in those moments I came face-to-face with one of her most practiced and job-essential skill sets – discerning truthfulness.  She was a trained professional in the art.  She didn’t look at my hands.  She didn’t see if my feet were shuffling.

She looked me straight in the eyes.

We may not be professionally trained at this lie-detector skill, but we’ve come by it quite naturally – every one of us.  And over the thousands of times we’ve asked our workshop attendees how they discern trust and believability in someone they’re seeing for the first time, the #1 most consistent answer is through the presenter’s eyes.

(A great case study…. observe Lance Armstrong’s eyes during his Oprah interview.  Watch at 5:38… “And I am sorry for that.”  Really?)

And why should you care if from time to time your eyes seem to bounce around the room?  Because at the heart of every important communication opportunity is this very simple truth:

If someone cannot trust you, why should they trust what you have to say?

In my 20 years of personal skills coaching, there are typically 4 reasons people struggle with this very important foundational skill:

  1. We’re creatures of habit and it takes less mental (and personal) energy to simply scan a room. It also helps us stay in our own heads to get the message right.
  2. Sometimes a bad experience or a result of unhealthy human interactions greatly impact someone’s personal comfort level.
  3. Simple brain mechanics are in play as a presenter’s eyes disengage (drop to the floor) as their brain buys time to think what’s coming next (usually accompanied by a series of umms or ahhs).
  4. Cultural issues can cause eyes to drop as a sign of respect – but carry a very different perception in North America.

Although these are all very real issues, the people on the other end of your presentations only know what they perceive in that moment.  Your personal history, bad experiences or even cultural upbringing really don’t matter. All they know is something doesn’t feel right.

And at the heart of most of these habits is a ‘presentation mode’ we’ve forged over decades. Well-entrenched. Deeply ingrained. And over time they feel like a comfortable pair of shoes.

Gone  is the warm, engaging eye contact we may have exhibited with others in our offices (or Starbucks) minutes earlier.  We become instantly detached in front of a group.  Mechanical.  And our evasive eyes send messages our audience must now struggle to reconcile.

Here’s one simple piece of advice….

Turn every presentation opportunity into a series of 1-on-1 conversations no matter what the group size; communicating to one set of eyes for 3-4 seconds, then another… then another.

For a great example of this skill, check out a TED Talks video of Jane McGonigal. Although she’s presenting to an audience of hundreds, her great eye communication makes it a personal and engaging experience for her audience… and we trust her and what she has to say to us.

You see, without trust you have no influence. Without trust there is no relationship. Without trust you have no chance to persuade or inspire.  And trust is built first and foremost through our eyes.

Now you know why it’s the one critical presentation skill that anchors them all.

About the Author:

Jim Endicott is president of Distinction Communication Inc, a Newberg, OR consulting firm specializing in message development, presentation design and delivery skills coaching. For more information about the company, visit

Pin It on Pinterest