During a period of more than fifteen years, I have asked more than twenty thousand people at workshops, seminars and presentations to raise their hands to each of the following statements in turn:

  • Raise your hand if most of the business presentations you’ve attended in the past few years have made extensive use of visual aids.
  • Raise your hand again if you can say that 51 per or more of the presentations you attended in that period were a good use of your time.

Virtually every hand has gone up to the first statement. I think the only people who didn’t put up their hands are too tired, too skeptical or too independent.

Everyone knows that modern presentations are accompanied by slides—either projected, printed or both. We’ve been visual-ed to death since acetates first met laser printers, and overhead projectors began popping up in meeting rooms, training rooms and boardrooms the world over.

Response to the second statement has been interesting. At the workshops, presentations and seminars I’ve facilitated, about six to eight per cent of people put their hands up. With twenty thousand-plus people asked, there is no question that less than 10 per cent say that more than half the presentations they had attended were a good use of their time.

So what does this tell us?

The vast majority of people use visual aids when attempting to communicate with their fellow human beings. We know that. But the vast majority of those visuals are ultimately wasting people’s time.

The promise of technology is to improve productivity, not kill it. And that much time wasted is anything but an improvement.

The best alternative? Structured conversations that are two-way and receiver-driven, and that adhere to the fundamental principle of “less is more.”

It can be done, folks. And, in the name of better productivity, perhaps it’s time we did it.