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PowerPoint is Not a Collaboration Tool – Stop Making it Part of Every Meeting

Before I begin, I want to clearly state this is not another “death by PowerPoint” rant. There are plenty of those out there and I am not interested in joining that debate. My simple objective by writing this post is to try and help people collaborate better, have more effective meetings and stop wasting so much time creating and polishing presentations.

I have had the privilege of working with some of the best organizations in the world, full of extremely talented people. Which is why it pains me so much to see the time and effort that goes into building these elaborate decks used to facilitate meetings. It kills me to see brilliant people where far too much of their working life revolves around creating, refining and presenting slide decks. Great people still achieve great results despite the waste, but imagine what they could do if they found a better way.

If building a deck helped us collaborate better, perhaps the work would be worth the effort. But while presentations are a great way to demonstrate and share knowledge, PowerPoint is a lousy collaboration tool. Creating a deck is essentially building out a one-way communication. Sure, we often ask for feedback, but that feedback is often just how to improve the deck. Before we know it, the deck becomes the actual end instead of a means to an end. The worst part comes from the fact that most of these decks are used for a meeting or series of meetings and are sent to SharePoint to die.

There are alternatives out there that could change the world. They do not replace PowerPoint as a presentation tool, but as a collaboration tool that has a chance of being long lived and adding value beyond a single meeting. Starting with the simplest collaboration tool, the whiteboard. There is real power in a blank slate and the pictures and diagrams we create together on a board. Of course, this is harder now during the crisis, but incredible tools have made doing this remotely not only possible, but maybe even better.

Another tool that I use all the time is more of a simple one-page document that presents some possible objectives and builds out just enough context to support a conversation. I usually include some kind of a picture, diagram, flow chart or something similar. I leave space for the group to fill in the results of our collaboration. The final product is not only a good representation of the topic we needed to work on, but is useful documentation for others not present in the meeting or who subsequently need to quickly and easily absorb the key points.

My very informal one-pager is an easy approach to try, and perhaps it could start a more fundamental culture shift to more Lean ways of thinking. One powerful method and philosophy is embodied in the A3, a foundational Lean practice. The A3 is a one-pager, but with some proven structure to help solve problems and manage knowledge while developing people. I highly encourage people to learn more about not just the structure, but also the philosophy behind this approach. A Google search will get you there, but this article is a great starting point.

One final alternative was developed in response to Jeff Bezos banning the use of PowerPoint at Amazon. The alternative is based on a “narrative structure” where instead of a presentation; people create these 2-4 page memos and then read them together in a meeting before discussing. The part that is most compelling to me about this approach is the power of the story. People think in stories and are inherently able to understand and take and retain information from stories. It is the fundamental foundation of user stories and narrative-based approaches for sense-making, which are two other practices that are proven to help promote shared understanding and meaning-making.

I am quite certain I have only scratched the surface here of all the alternatives. Hopefully, you feel compelled to add your own methods in the comments section. My overall hope is that we can all open up our minds to try something new and that is fit for purpose rather than continuing to follow the PowerPoint construct that is not helping us get better.

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