Using Black Slides or the B Key

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A useful feature in slideware that many presenters are not aware of is the B key. If you don't know what I'm talking about, try it out now: Start a presentation, then press the B key. What happens is that the screen will turn black - hence 'B'. Press the key again and the slide will be displayed again.

This innocuous feature can come in handy in many situations. When your slides disappear, the audience will automatically look at you, the presenter. You can then make use of having their full attention to drive home a point or tell a story. It's also a good idea to hide your current slide when you get a question that doesn't have anything to do with that slide. So whenever a slide would be a distraction or you want to make sure you have the audience's full attention, hit the B key to switch off your slides.

The B key works in PowerPoint and Keynote, but also in many other slideware applications. Also, many remote controls (aka "clicker" or "presenter") have a dedicated key for this feature. If it isn't supported by your app or remote, you can simply insert a black slide to create the same effect. Which brings up the question:

When do you use the B key and when do you insert a black slide?

Obviously, the B key is more flexible; you can hit it at any time during your presentation whereas inserting a black slide requires you to plan ahead. The downside of the B key is that you have to press it again, making the slide reappear, before you can move forward with your presentation. Which means that you have to press two keys to get to the next slide; and you have to remember to press the B key first. In the case of a high-profile talk, when you're under pressure, that additional key press can be enough to throw you off. So for a TEDx talk, we recommend that our speakers insert a black slide instead. You also have to keep in mind that the previous slide will reappear briefly before you can move on. That may interfere with the flow of your presentation.

As you can see, both approaches have their pros and cons:

  • The B key makes you more flexible. Remember to use it in a more interactive presentation.
  • Using black slides requires planning ahead but is less error-prone.

And of course you can always use a combination of both.

(B letter by blickpixel, from, CC0)

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Creative Commons Licence "Using Black Slides or the B Key" by Dirk Haun is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International Licence.