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!

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