How Many Librarians Does It Take To Change a Light Bulb?

Depending on the punch line, the answer is anywhere from one to one hundred librarians.  This article isn’t going to discuss changing light bulbs, but rather controlling the light switch in the room of your next presentation.

There is an on-going debate whether you should leave the lights on or turn them off during a presentation.

Lights on or lights off?   Based on my years of presentation experience and the preponderance of opinions in both online and offline publications/websites, you should keep the lights on during a presentation.

The main reason is pretty simple and straight forward.    If you’re going to sell your audience on your idea/recommendation, you need to make a connection with your audience.   To make a connection with your audience they need to be able to see you; and eye contact is critical in selling your idea.   If you’re standing in the front of a dark room, your audience can’t see you as well as your passion and commitment.

Two other benefits of leaving the lights on during your presentation include:

  • It allows for easy note-taking by your audience
  • It allows your audience to stay more alert and attentive.  This is especially true if you’re presenting after lunch.  A dark room on a full stomach is sure to encourage someone napping during your presentation.

Another reason you can leave the lights on is because today’s projectors have much more powerful bulbs so the screen resolution is significantly better than ten years ago (“The Dark Ages”) and your audience will be able to see your slides even with some “spill” lighting.

You’ll also want to keep the lights on in your presentation room because you should close all the curtains and blinds in the room.   Yes, this cuts down on ambient light coming in to the room, but it also eliminates any outside distractions and keeps your audience focused on you.

However, after presenting to clients including McDonald’s, Kellogg, Allstate, Procter & Gamble, Miller Brewing, and True Value over the past 20 years, I can tell you that the odds are stacked against you.   I can’t tell you how many conference rooms in corporate offices and hotels that have lights immediately in front of the presentation screen.   So, your audience can see you, but they can’t see your slides!

The solution is pretty simple.   First, you need to check out the room before your presentation.  The building janitor, handyman, or IT guy may become your best friend.  If the room has the notorious lights in front of or above the presentation screen, check if there are separate controls that can turn off these lights while leaving the rest of the lights in the room.  If not, be prepared to stand on the table or chair and unscrew these light bulbs.  This small effort can make a big effect in your presentation and help you sell your idea.

Second, another thing that you can do to insure that your audience can see both you and your slides is to make sure that you have maximum contrast on your slides (black text on a white background or white text on a black background).  If you’re a big fan of light pink, mauve, sea foam, or lilac, save it for your presentation outfit.   If the lights are going to be on in the presentation room (except for the row immediately in front of the presentation screen), the lights will still bleed/spill on to the screen, so it’s important to maximize the contrast of your slides.

Want to learn more about perfecting your presentation skills?   I’ll be presenting “The Secrets of Powerful Presentations” on Tuesday afternoon of the Ignite conference.   Hope to see you there.   And yes, the lights will be on in the room.

Dan Albert is the president and founder of Powerful Presentations, a business that provides advice, counsel, and consulting on creating more engaging, visually stimulating, and powerful presentations.  Dan is a former advertising executive with 30+ years of experience overseeing media and new business.   Dan is a card-carrying member of the Frankfort, IL public library with no outstanding fines.

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