Five steps to weaning your organization from soul-sucking slide games

One of the biggest complaints about meetings is that they have become rituals where people are forced to sit in front of boring and ineffective slide show presentations. It seems to be a modern fact of life. This is true in large companies and small businesses, as well as in tiny rooms and on giant conference screens. This is true with in-person meetings and remote video conferencing. There is apparently no escape.

These presentations typically use PowerPoint, but there are a number of related programs including Slides, Keynote, and Prezi. Some offer a sexier look, but they all essentially suffer from similar presentation pitfalls that come from user error, not the technology itself. And they all tend to take the energy out of a meeting, no matter how hard it is to create dynamic slide transitions. This is the proverbial death by PowerPoint.

Like any tool, presentation software has its place and can add value. But, like any tool, it can be misused. As anyone who has been to a meeting will know, these programs are misused more as a rule than as an exception. And while people confidently say, “I only use PowerPoints as a visual aid,” the reality is that they usually fill slide after slide with text that they then tell an unlucky audience.

One way to resolve this problem is to improve slide show presentations. There is a lot of great advice on how to do this. A good place to start is Guy Kawasaki’s simple 10/20/30 PowerPoint rule. He says that “a PowerPoint presentation should be 10 slides, no longer than 20 minutes, and no font smaller than 30 points.”

However, what if you don’t just want to improve the way you and your organization use slides? What if you wanted to stop using slide sets altogether?

How not to use PowerPoint and slides

  1. Ban slide games. It sounds extreme, but the nuclear option might be the fastest way to change your meeting culture for the better. Certainly, a significant challenge is what then fills the void left by the slides? This is where it would help to have some organizational understanding of other formats and styles of presentation.
  2. Set an example yourself. If the CEO still uses slides, it follows that the rest of the organization will do the same and vice versa. But, even if you don’t wield supreme executive power in your organization, you can still lead by example in your team or department. Often times people do what they do in meetings, even if it is painful and ineffective, because they are only doing what they have seen done before. If his manager does not present a deck, it opens the possibility of deviating from it.
  3. Change format. The first format change here is that the slide deck presentation could be better served by email; maybe it really isn’t necessary to basically stand in front of a room and read a memo to an audience. It is not uncommon for employees to get a written brief and read it together as in a study room rather than being presented with this information. The second part of the format change, especially with lectures, is to look for other ways to present the information. For example, a great alternative to having an expert prepare a slideshow and narrate it is to simply conduct an interview with a moderator and that expert.
  4. Put up guardrails. Another less drastic step than a total ban on cold turkey is to restrict the use of slide decks and the way they are constructed. Instead of saying “No slide shows at all,” maybe start by disallowing presentations longer than 20 minutes or 20 slides. A good model to follow that also forces speakers to be more concise is the PechaKucha framework (of 20 slides that advance every 20 seconds). While this refined style might stick and you continue to use slides, you might also find that going from 30-minute presentations to seven minutes makes deeper cuts more enjoyable.
  5. Make separate documents. A big downside to slide shows is that they are full of facts and figures, which leads people to read them aloud; they are too dense to really present well. This is often because the presentation you make to an audience is expected to duplicate archived reference material. There is no reason why presenters should not create useful documents. But there is also no reason why they need to divide these documents into slides with bullets and read them aloud.

Of course, slide games have become an entrenched reality and ripping off what appears to be an undisputed mainstay of the workday is no easy task. But they’re so universally hated that maybe the time has come, at least within your organization, to step away from them. Would they be missed?

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