How to hide visual clutter on your screen before your next web demo

When giving a demo, make sure you keep the focus on your software, site, and message—not your apps, bookmarks, and extensions.

GIF shows hiding of bookmarks, system taskbar, extensions, then going full-screen
Image: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

Over the past month, I watched more than 10 vendors demonstrate software during web meetings.

In addition to showing me their software, every vendor also showed me screen junk: Stuff on the screen that took up space, cluttered up the screen, and competed with their software for my attention. Like Edward Tufte's chartjunk—a term he used to refer to parts of a chart that were not necessary—I think of screen junk as anything other than the software you're trying to show.

It can be hard to notice screen junk, especially on your own computer. After all, you're so accustomed to how things look that you may not even see the clutter.

But, when you want to show software or a website in the best light, hide the following items before you do a demo.

1. Hide the bookmarks bar

My bookmarks bar contains about 40 items of clutter: 20 icons and 20 titles. That's a lot of distraction in a small space. And, it can cause people to consider the reasons I have a site bookmarked, instead of paying attention to my content.

The bookmarks bar also takes up vertical space. That's a problem. When people view a screen over a web meeting tool, they may see it at a smaller-than-actual size. So, hide your bookmarks bar to regain a bit of vertical display space. In Chrome, try Ctrl-Shift-B to toggle the bookmark bar (on a Mac, use Command-Shift-B).

2. Auto-hide the taskbar, dock, or shelf

On my Chromebook, the shelf adds another 11 items of clutter. In my case, it shows links to five apps, along with system information such as the time, Wi-Fi signal strength, and battery status. Like the bookmarks bar, this area also takes up valuable vertical space.

Set the area to auto-hide to remain out of sight until you return the cursor to the edge of the screen. To change the setting on a Chromebook, right-click in an unused space on the shelf, then check the setting next to Autohide Shelf. Similar adjustments are possible for the Windows taskbar, and macOS dock.

3. Hide extensions

Chrome shows the icons of some extensions in the upper right corner of your browser, but you can hide these. Again, like bookmarks, there's no need for these to be visible during a demo. To hide them, put your cursor over the right-side boundary of your URL box. When a horizontal right-and-left arrow icon appears, select, then drag the boundary of the box all the way to the right. The extensions are all still active, but they're no longer visible.

4. Go full screen

When you're showing a web app, consider going full screen. Full-screen mode maximizes the browser's use of the screen: It hides both the browser tabs and the URL box, and keeps the focus on your site or app.

On a Chromebook, going full screen is easy: Tap the full-screen key. In Chrome on Windows or a Mac, choose menu, then the screen icon that shows four corner angles, to the right of zoom options. When you're done, select the key, or menu icon, again to exit out of full-screen mode.

The four adjustments above clear the junk—the system info, bookmarks, and extensions—from your screen. They remove visual clutter that can distract from your app.

With screen junk gone, you still have to deliver a coherent, compelling demo. Remember to show features slowly, especially if this is the first time that people have viewed your product. Think tell-and-show: Say what you're going to select, then do it. The act of saying what you're about to do will slow you down a bit. And, if there are multiple ways to do a task, you don't need to cover every option. Instead, say "Most people would..." as you walk through the most common way to complete a task.

What do you think?

Do you notice screen junk during web meetings or demos? What steps do you take to keep the focus on your content? Let us know in the comments.

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About Andy Wolber

Andy Wolber helps people understand and leverage technology for social impact. He resides in Ann Arbor, MI with his wife, Liz, and daughter, Katie.

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