Is Your Organization Addicted to PowerPoint?

5 Symptoms and 6 Proven Remedies

Do you remember the key ideas from the last PowerPoint presentation you sat through? Probably not. PowerPoint was intended to facilitate the communication of ideas. Ironically, it often does just the opposite. It creates a barrier between us. It causes the presenter to talk at his or her colleagues, rather than with them. The very presence of slides puts meeting participants into zombie mode. At its worst, PowerPoint can contribute to disastrous decisions.

Yet, for all that it has been mocked, PowerPoint is still the dominant tool for communicating within organizations. While it is extremely effective in specific situations, most organizations have developed an unhealthy dependency on it. Is your organization addicted to PowerPoint? Symptoms include:

1. You spend more time lining up the boxes then thinking through the ideas inside of them

2. People reuse a deck developed for one purpose in a completely different context (e.g., “You asked me to share a product update so I thought I’d just run you through the slides from last month’s Sales Summit.”)

3. The number of slides regularly exceeds the minutes allotted to the discussion

4. When asked a question, people are more likely to say, “I have a slide on that” rather than simply answer the question

5. Group wordsmithing is a thing

Sound familiar? If one or more of these statements rings true, chances are PowerPoint is undermining the quality of thinking and dialogue within your organization. Here are some of the implications:

  • Relying on form more than content leads to superficial thinking and the “selling” of ideas, rather than critical thinking and exploration
  • Bulleted lists don’t show inter-relationships or the relative importance of ideas
  • The inherent linearity of a presentation inhibits the natural flow of conversation and stifles active engagement (Consider how often you’ve asked a question only to be told “that’s coming up in a few slides.”)
  • Visuals often don’t represent complex information accurately and can take more time to create than they are worth (Perhaps the most famous example is the slide depicting a US military strategy, on which General McChrystal commented, “When we understand that slide, we’ll have won the war.”
  • Participants get distracted by the way information is presented, rather than focusing on the information itself
  • Slide preparation takes away from valuable thinking and reflecting time

More importantly, people are wired to absorb and retain information when it is shared through narrative. Most PowerPoint presentations block the very narrative they are intended to bolster, thus slowing progress and undermining our collective wisdom.

Happily, there are some simple remedies. Next time you’re preparing for a meeting or need to engage with a group, first think about the purpose and the content, then choose from these cures:

  1. For nuanced or complex content like a business case or decision recommendation, ditch the PowerPoint and use a word processing application instead. The narrative format forces deeper thinking by the writer and is the most effective and efficient way for the reader to get up to speed
  2. When you’re doing group ideation or planning, turn off the projector and hand out the post-its. If the meeting is virtual, consider mind mapping software
  3. To mobilize a group around a big idea, tell a great story
  4. To exchange relatively simple information such as project status, have a conversation and / or use a project website where anyone can access the information anytime
  5. If you’re problem solving, start with a well-defined problem statement and supporting root cause analysis, then gather the subject matter experts around the whiteboard to get solutions flowing
  6. Put meeting agendas and background information directly into the meeting invite

Amazon, LinkedIn, and the US Military have banned PowerPoint from meetings. Is it time for your organization to break the dependency as well?

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