powerpoint slides

In a recent post, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner shared that his company has made meetings more productive by eliminating presentations. He’s not alone: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos is well-known for his practice of banning PowerPoint from the board room. But here’s the thing: bad presentations aren’t the problem.

PowerPoint is the most pervasive visual layout tool in business, and it works beautifully for arranging words and associating them with pictures that support a topic. Unfortunately, it becomes a barrier to effective communication when used improperly. Because people prepare their brilliant work in presentation software, they feel obligated to verbally present these “documents.” The result is a meeting that becomes a read-along instead of time spent in productive conversation.

LinkedIn and Amazon want to eliminate presentations from their meetings, and with good reason. But they aren’t saying eliminate slides: they’re actually calling for the PRESENTER to be eliminated. Instead, they require a document to be sent in advance, and then set aside the first few minutes of each meeting to allow participants to review it. To quote Jeff:

If the material has been well thought out and simply and intuitively articulated, chances are the need for clarifying questions will be kept to a minimum. In these situations, you may be pleasantly surprised to see a meeting that had been scheduled for an hour is actually over after 20-30 minutes.

Jeff said “well thought out” material. One of the best thinking tools around is…wait for it…PowerPoint. Some of the most brilliant thinking in the world is articulated in PowerPoint. Users can easily associate words with pictures as they build reports, strategies, and execution plans. So don’t be afraid to use PowerPoint to create your documents, visual briefs, and other dense content–it’s a great tool for all those tasks. Just don’t make the mistake of thinking that because you’ve used presentation software to organize your thoughts, it requires you to present them. For your next meeting, try distributing dense slides ahead of time for people to read on their own instead of having you read it to them. They will love you for it.

We had a series of highly collaborative internal innovation meetings recently. It was interesting to watch as my “presentation company” chose not to project slides. One of my VPs did all her thinking in PowerPoint, but chose to craft a compelling case at the whiteboard instead. When done, she passed out printouts of her slides for us to read, and then we chatted through the crazy blue sky ideas and productive fun was had by all.

Increasing the effectiveness of meetings is about removing barriers to conversation, collaboration, and decision-making in an increasingly time-pressured world. Banning PowerPoint from meetings isn’t going to make your meetings more collaborative, but turning off the projector just might.

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