Should PowerPoint be banned from meetings?

If you’ve suffered through meetings where colleagues use PowerPoint decks as their autocues for droning ‘presentations,’ you’ll love this development at two leading companies that could be a model for others to emulate.

Author and communicator Eric Bergman reports that two CEOs – Jeff Bezos at Amazon and Jeff Weiner at LinkedIn – have eliminated slide-driven presentations from their meetings.

In the case of Amazon, the ban on PowerPoint presentations includes a ban on printed decks as well, as Bezos said in an interview with Charlie Rose, a US talk show host and journalist.

[…] “All of our meetings are structured around six-page memos,” Bezos says, pointing out that this also eliminates bullet points. “When you have to write your ideas out in complete sentences and complete paragraphs, it forces a deeper clarity of thinking.”

Bezos believes that PowerPoint is easy for the presenter but difficult for the audience. Meetings may start with up to 30 minutes of silence while everyone reads the documents.

The result of separating the written word from the spoken word? “It saves a lot of time,” he points out.

Bergman quotes from a blog post by LinkedIn CEO Weiner, who says that information about a meeting is sent 24 hours in advance to give the participants an opportunity to review that content before the meeting.

[…] However, not everyone can find the time, so five to 10 minutes is set aside at the start of the meeting to give everyone time to review the written document.

“Once folks have completed the reading, it’s time to open it up for discussion,” Weiner writes. “There is no presentation.”

The benefit? “You may be pleasantly surprised to see a meeting that had been scheduled for an hour is actually over after 20-30 minutes.”

Are these behaviours workable in other organizations? Are they effective ways to conduct meetings?

Eric Bergman thinks so:

[…] Cognitive science tells us that humans cannot read and listen at the same time. In fact, trying to do both is absolutely the least effective option and a virtual waste of time – terrible news for the “average” PowerPoint presentation delivered in boardrooms, meeting rooms, training rooms and conference halls.

While I agree with Eric about the ineffective way in which the “average” PowerPoint deck is used by people in so many meetings, I’m not sure that outright banning the presentation software as Amazon and LinkedIn have done is right as a general rule.

When a PowerPoint presentation is used well – in my view, primarily as a visual aid to what the speaker is saying, not the script for each slide to read out verbatim – it is a powerful tool that can aid effective communication.

Indeed, that’s a general point Eric highlights in his book 5 Steps to Conquer Death By PowerPoint, published last year (and which we discussed in an FIR Interview in London in July 2012).

It’s not so much about not using PowerPoint at all – it’s more about how to use it effectively.

So before you jump with glee at the very idea of “no more PowerPoint!” think first about how a visual tool like that can help you connect and engage with the people you’re trying to persuade to a point of view or whatever is the topic of your story-telling, if you use it well.

Think of events you’ve been in, either as a speaker or presenter or as an audience participant, where someone used a PowerPoint deck in such a way that he or she wowed you with their memorable story-telling that concentrated on the telling.

During the past twelve months, I can think of one person who did just that for me – Microsoft’s Dave Coplin speaking at The B2B Huddle in September 2012. With a PowerPoint deck.

As for LinkedIn’s rule – information about a meeting is sent 24 hours in advance to give the participants an opportunity to review that content before the meeting – I think this is great whether there are decks or not, although my podcasting partner Shel Holtz wasn’t so positive about it when we discussed this in FIR 715 last week.

Still, there’s something here for everyone, depending on the particular circumstances in your organisation or situation.

On a final note, the Dilbert cartoon by Scott Adams that I included at the top of this page is the strip first published on August 16, 2000. That’s thirteen years ago.

The PowerPoint dilemma isn’t new!

Related posts:

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

  1. alan beesley

    A previous CEO of mine was ruthless in his enforcement of papers 24 hrs before meetings; no papers, no meeting. This combined with the requirement of a one page summary worked well. It required thought and brevity but ultimately more preparation time. However, it increased the number of decisions and reduced the number of meetings. I’m a big advocate of this approach now, although at the time walking into a meeting without a Powerpoint deck was disconcerting.

  2. Steven J Fromm

    Power Point is like any other tool; it is all in how you use it. If the speaker is boring no Power Point presentation will save the speaker. I think having people read the memo before a meeting is really the most efficient way to conduct meetings.

    • Shel Holtz (@shelholtz)

      I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again. Blaming PowerPoint for bad presentations is like blaming canvas for bad art. If companies want to avoid death by PowerPoint, they need to train their employees on how to craft good speaker support.

  3. Should PowerPoint be banned from meetings? | Stuart Henshall

    […] Yes in many cases should be banned! It’s also used inappropriately. The real issue is too many meetings are ineffective. “If you’ve suffered through meetings where colleagues use PowerPoint decks as their autocues for droning ‘presentations,’ you’ll love this development at two leading companies that could be a model … Read Original Post.“ […]

  4. Al Clarke

    Neville, another great post – and by the level of comment and discussion you’ve hit a corporate nerve!
    The joy of being a guru (Bezos etc) at the top of the organisation is that when you say ‘jump’ everyone asks how high you’d like that jump to be.. because you’re the boss. It doesn’t mean that you should jump, or that jumping is the best way of getting from A to B, in fact jumping may be the most stupid idea the guru ever had, but because they pay the bills, they get to decide and everyone looks up ‘jumping’ on Google to make sure they know what to do..
    So, when I read about PowerPoint being banned etc – it makes me a) glad that I’m no longer in corporate life, obliged to jump without question and b) lose respect for the people who do it because management of people is about leadership not dictatorship. When these ‘leaders’ need to present an idea to others or communicate at a meeting – they’re (usually) able to get people to write/create the presentation for them, or they are able to just sit at the top seat (or stand or walk about) and pontificate whilst others sit and absorb their thoughts – which they had had time to do (refine and reflect) whilst the rest of the team runs about writing their presentations on the train/bus/way to the meeting…
    Andall papers sent 24 hours before a meeting! Get a life… in the real world that is just NOT possible for every meeting – or your company is overstaffed and exists mainly to provide meeting reports :-)
    Guys! Wake-up! You leaders at the top need to lead – you’re winners because you made stuff happen, broke the rules, worked really hard, got lucky and made a success out of an idea… Don’t stifle the poor guys coming behind you with stupid ‘blanket cover’ ideas.. What next? Limit the number of minutes per phone call to optimise management time?
    Of course I exaggerate to make the point, and PowerPoint can be tedious – but why not motivate and train, rather than close down a creative tool?

    Anyway… where were we with today’s management presentation… ah, yes..
    Slide 2 – Mission Statement. (with sparkly animation and inappropriate, juvenile ClipArt which the presenter thinks is funny)
    Slide 3 – Org Structure (font size 10 point – impossible to read at the back of the room, spelling mistakes, read out line by line by the presenter)
    Slide 4 – Random Shakespeare quotation (read out by the presenter who thinks it makes him/her look clever – but misses the point)
    etc for next 30 mins…

    Maybe Bezos has a (power) point?…..

    My summary – get some training for the team on presentations, have some guidelines for meeting formats, praise and use best examples of PowerPoint (or whatever format the people use) to motivate and encourage people.

  5. Tac Anderson (@tacanderson)

    Banned is a pretty strong word. You will see PPT used at Amazon when there is an actual presentation to be given. But if you have data rich, information to convey and discuss with a group (and if it’s not data rich information you wouldn’t be presenting it at Amazon) then the 6 page Word doc is probably the best way to do that. It does force a deeper level of thinking on both the deliver and receivers part.

    Also not mentioned, but former Microsoft CMO, Mich Matthews, also required any reports, ideas or information sent to her be in a Word doc, not in PPT.

    • Neville Hobson

      Thanks for your inside-Amazon insight, Tac.It’s a good point you’ve made that highlights something important regarding an actual presentation. PowerPoint might be an appropriate tool (and possibly an effective one) when you make an actual presentation. What I often see in corporate meetings is use of PowerPoint where a discussion would be far more the thing to do. I guess that’s the situation your CEO and LinkedIn’s are after.

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