“Meetings are frequently the antithesis of the compelling, productive and fun activities that they need to be and should be.”

That’s one of the key insights Patrick Lencioni shares through a business fable in his book Death by Meeting. He further contends, Bad meetings start with the attitudes and approaches of the people who lead and take part in them. Bad meetings, and what they indicate and provoke in an organization, generate real human suffering in the form of anger, lethargy and cynicism.

Lencioni cites that the reason for this real problem with most meetings is twofold: they are boring and they are ineffective.

As an account person, I believe that one of the biggest factors contributing to the boring and ineffective meeting is the ever-present PowerPoint presentation. Think about your past week at the office. I can almost guarantee you presented or sat through a meeting that involved a PowerPoint—and probably a few too many slides. If not, you may have been on vacation, but likely sat through a PowerPoint pitch to sell you a time-share vacation home!

A few facts:

  • In 1987, Bill Gates acquired the rights to PowerPoint, and today Microsoft’s PowerPoint dominates 95% of the presentation software market.
  • Ian Parker of The New Yorker estimates that around 30 million PowerPoint presentations are shown worldwide per day, translating into literally several hundred billion slides per month.
  • Building a PowerPoint is a very labor-intensive process—from the lead author drafting and redrafting to up to two dozen others contributing content for a single PowerPoint deck. If I had to guess, an average of 20 or more hours must be spent each time a deck is built.

You’ve undoubtedly spent many hours yourself working on PowerPoint decks. And you’ve likely shown up at a meeting, sat down and seen everyone looking at a screen as boredom ensued and energy quickly left the room. The exchange of energy between the speaker and the audience is blocked most by PowerPoint. Like bricks, each slide is building a blockade, in dividing the audience’s attention instead of focusing it.

As you can surmise, I strongly believe there is an inverse relationship between PowerPoint slides and a successful meeting. The more PowerPoint slides you have, the higher the probability for an unproductive, or even deathly, meeting.

So what can you do? Well, the only real cure is to simply step away from the standard PowerPoint deck and try some other approaches:

  • Build a PowerPoint deck (as many pages as you want) and print it, but don’t present it. Simply use the deck as a speaking guide, so YOU see the content and your audience sees and hears YOU.
  • Create a PowerPoint deck that uses only one exciting picture with one word per slide. Of course, you can have bullet points for content and of course you already know what you want to say. First, this saves huge amounts of time building a complex deck made of too many charts and words. Second, the participants will look forward to the next fun picture. Most important, this makes them look at you and NOT all the words on the screen. This may lead to an actual conversation, which is what you are looking for in meetings in the first place.
  • Instead of spending time building a PowerPoint, spend the time with your client, your staff or another colleague. Outline thoughts on a whiteboard or flip chart and see what you really need to take into the meeting. Even better, use the whiteboard or flip chart content at the actual presentation. It’ll be much more interactive and interesting than going through a deck.

Try one or all of these simple steps when planning your next meeting or presentation:

  1. Have your audience and meeting mission in mind.
  2. Do some homework on the meeting topic and have your POV ready.
  3. Read Death by Meeting and follow some of its basics for how to host engaging and effective meetings.
  4. For Inspiration, Watch this TED talk using dance instead of PowerPoint. (BTW, out of all of the TED talks I’ve seen, I can’t remember a single PowerPoint slide!)
  5. Go to a Toastmasters meeting. It can help you put the PowerPoint crutches away. http://www.toastmasters.org/

In closing, I knew I was on the right track when I told my 15-year-old daughter what I was working on. She didn’t miss a beat and empathetically nodded, “PowerPoint is SO lame, Dad.”