I’ve recently pointed out that some top CEOs, include Jeff Bezos and Jack Dorsey, have banned PowerPoint (i.e. presentations) from internal meetings and instead start with a silent reading of a finished document, followed by a discussion. Such documents result, among other benefits, in shorter, more interactive meetings.
The most persistent pushback I’ve gotten from those columns is the problem isn’t with PowerPoint (or its clones) but that people misuse it. This “don’t blame the tool” critique ignores the proof that’s in the pudding. If PowerPoint were better designed, it wouldn’t result in so many presentations that are boring, vague or incomprehensible.
But just for the sake of argument, let’s suppose that in order to get better presentations, we either 1) train everybody to subvert PowerPoint’s bullet-point design center or 2) use some other software that defaults to something more ergonomic. The end result would still be a business presentation and it’s not clear to me that that is a good thing.
Here’s the thing. The business world got along just fine back when software like PowerPoint didn’t exist. Prior to that, business presentations (aka “slide decks”) were relatively uncommon because photographic slides were too expensive and inflexible for day-to-day us. Presentations were limited to large venues, like auditoriums.
Regular business meetings were conducted using hardcopy documents that were typically provided to participants beforehand and various forms of chalk-talk on white boards, easels, and overhead projectors. As the meeting proceeded, participants took notes for their own reference, as did an informal “secretary” (often a junior team member) who later issued meeting minutes to document what happened and what decisions were made.
These pre-PowerPoint meetings consisted mostly of conversations, which could take place because it was assumed either everyone would already be up-to-speed. After PCs became popular in the 1980s, however, presentations began appearing everywhere and soon replaced both background documents and meeting minutes.
Rather than conversations between informed participants, most meetings now became mostly information-dumping monologues. While this was less work for the presenter than writing a briefing document, it more than doubled the average time people spent in meetings, from 10 hours a week in the 1960s to today’s average of 23 hours a week, according to the Harvard Business Review.
By banning PowerPoint from meetings in favor of briefing documents, CEOs like Bezos and Dorsey hope to 1) reduce the average time they and their employees spend in meetings and 2) switch the focus of those meetings from information-dumping to issue-discussing. They clearly believe that the change of focus will result in faster and better decisions-making.
Published on: Feb 12, 2020
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