• Paul McGovern

Better presenting – do it with the lights on

Turning the lights off is routine before starting a PowerPoint presentation. It’s virtually always pointless and usually makes your presentation worse.

Lecturer, silhouetted. Image (c) 2015 Paul McGovern

Modern projectors are bright enough that you can keep the lights on in the room and still show clear images to your audience. Don’t even dim them unless it’s absolutely necessary.

A dark room stops you seeing your audience, making it harder for you to make eye contact. This makes you less engaging, and more boring.


The lack of eye contact between speaker and audience almost guarantees the session won’t be interactive. Lights-off also elicits a biological response from your audience , giving their brains the clear message that it’s time to go to sleep. Excellent if you’re very shy or think what you have to say should be ignored; not so good if you want people to listen to you.

Some people will complain when you leave the lights on. This is because they are used to things being how they’ve always been, are resistant to change, and had scheduled your talk for a nap.


However, it’s worth checking you’ve got your lighting set-up just right. If you’re using a very old or very cheap screen/projector, it may be so dim that only a truly inky blackout will let you pick out details on the screen through the gloom.


Test for this rare event before your presentation. Put a slide up before anyone else gets in the room, and stand at the front, middle and back of the room. Keep the lights on, and if you can read your slides, don’t make any changes when you get going.

You can make your presentation much more pleasant to look at by always using a light text on dark background. Most people use dark text on a light background. This is because it’s the default in PowerPoint. It’s been set up like that because we’re used to dark text / light backgrounds from printed pages.

You’re not looking at a printed page though. You’re looking at a light bulb. Looking at a bright light in a dark room causes eyestrain and headaches. However much some may insist otherwise, no-one likes having their retinas seared with the light of a thousand suns.

PowerPoint presentations are bad enough most of the time. Make yours better, and at least keep your audience comfortable and awake enough to listen to you. Simply put, you’ll perform better – do it with the lights on.


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