During a recent coaching session, a successful CEO was watching himself on playback speaking to 2,000 people who came to hear his big ideas. While there was a lot of listening, laughing and interaction, one bad habit stood out: he repeatedly undermined his performance by looking at and directing remarks to the screen.

When asked why didn’t he take advantage of the confidence monitors placed strategically for him to track slides, he said, “I have no idea. And what’s worse, this is the exact advice I gave to the students at Harvard.”

Did this behavior undermine his success? Not necessarily, but it kept him from making the strongest connection with his audience. So let me state loud and clear: the most important visual in your presentation is you. Full Stop. When you turn your attention to the screen you risk losing…

  • Your Audience: Whether you turn your whole body or just your head, you break the powerful physical connection.
  • Your Authority: You are essentially saying, “Stop looking at me and look up here, because this is more interesting.” (It’s not)
  • Your Focus: Caught up in the magic of your own deck, you miss the critical sensory “listening” that great speakers can respond to on stage.

Now you might be thinking, “I can never look at my slides?” We never say never. Hans Rosling does a fabulous job of interacting with his slides. Not as a crutch, but as an equal partner in his mission to emphasize the power of statistics and data.

Here’s an action item for anyone planning to present on a main stage Practice with a confidence monitor. Learn to use it with discretion and poise. It will help you stay forward facing and focused on your audience.

And, to be very bold, start designing presentations without a deck. That’s right, not a single image. We start with short 3 – 4 minute narrative arcs, which are easily remembered.  Without a deck you will naturally use the space and your body to bring your vision and stories to life. If this is too far from your comfort zone, try using only images. No bullets, words, video clips or GIFs.

The most important visual in a presentation? You.