Glossophobia, the fear of public speaking, strikes three quarters of Americans, according to the US National Institute of Mental Health. The queasy cocktail of stage fright and butterflies in the stomach is so common that the 2014 “Survey of American Fears” ranked public speaking as the country’s No. 1 social phobia, outranking the fear of heights, snakes, and zombies.
There are known strategies to allay frayed nerves—preparation, practice, hypnosis among them—but even when you think you’ve perfected that important presentation, one small gadget can foil you: the slide clicker. Often a daunting-looking remote control, covered in cryptically named buttons, a confounding slide clicker can ruin the most polished of presentations. As any public speaker knows, there’s nothing more anxiety-producing than dealing with technical problems at the podium in front of an impatient audience.
To avoid this misery, Steve Jobs had a specially-engineered “blue brick clicker” made to guarantee seamless keynote presentations. Now Logitech, the Swiss company best known for computer mice, wants to bring Job’s level of clicker-confidence and customization to every presenter. At the TED conference last month, Logitech’s chief design officer, Alastair Curtis, paraded the powers of “Spotlight,” a sleek, aluminum-finish clicker that retails for $130 and wouldn’t look out of place in the Apple product line-up. Released in February, Spotlight is a major redesign of a gadget that Logitech has sold for 20 years, explained Curtis.
As Apple has done in its design, the company started by simplifying the clicker interface. Instead of confusing four-way arrows or side buttons, Spotlight has one big slide advance button, with the back button as a smaller circle below it. The goal, explains Curtis, is to make the clicker so intuitive that the presenter won’t ever have to look down mid-presentation.
And behind Spotlight’s stripped down interface are some new features.
“One of our design principles is ‘magical,'” said Curtis, explaining that the designers were inspired by Harry Potter’s magic wand: By holding down a button, the Bluetooth-enabled clicker becomes a laser pointer. It beams a spotlight that can be seen even by remote viewers during a video conference. Users can also magnify a specific bit of text on the slide and control a video’s sound volume simply by moving their arm up or down. “It’s all about giving the speaker extra powers,” explained Curtis. To keep long-winded presenters on track, the gadget also has a built-in timer and will vibrate in your hand to remind you to wrap up your talk.
Logitech designed these customizable features to encourage users to own and personalize their “magic wands.” Logitech hopes to reposition the standard shared office gadget as a personal device, imagining a future when speakers bring their own clickers, pre-set with their preferences, to presentations. And yes, Logitech also offers engraving services, like Apple.
Spotlight is Logitech’s first clicker redesign in almost a decade. Instead of simple style updates, Curtis explained, the design team took on the fear of public speaking as the creative challenge. Logitech has also partnered with TED’s speaker coaches and initiated a “Spotlight Presentation Academy,” a one-day bootcamp to help speakers deliver their decks with panache. The company is currently seeking 15 individuals who will receive free speaker training from TED’s coaches in New York City.