Want a great interactive meeting? Ban PowerPoint

A few months ago I read a Harvard Business Review article by Peter Bregman on how Powerpoint is the #1 killer of meetings.

At the time, I thought, this is all very interesting, but how would anyone be able to keep 30-40 minutes worth of content in his/her head without a slide deck as a framework? I filed the idea away in the back of my head and continued using PowerPoints in my all-hands team meetings.

Some time mid-year, my team and I realized that our team meetings were falling flat. So flat, indeed, that not only were people bored and disengaged, people in the front row were falling asleep on me. The Q&A part at the end was extra awkward, since no one ever had any questions and everybody was always in a hurry to get it over with so they could get out of there.

It certainly didn’t help that we were holding our meetings in a funky space. We are a startup in a relatively small space, and the largest conference room doesn’t comfortably hold the entire team. So we used to hold our meetings in an open area with very high ceilings. The acoustics was appalling – no one could hear anyone else. Once, in desperation, we tried using a microphone. All we achieved was make the whole experience even more surreal. (A microphone in a team meeting at a startup? Seriously?)

Since what we’ve been doing left much to be desired, we decided to try something new as an experiment:

  • We moved the meeting to the largest conference room. We pushed the tables out of the way and liberated chairs from another conference room to create extra seating. Then we packed everybody in. It was tight but we were able to fit everybody.
  • We banned PowerPoint presentations. Our functional leaders took turns providing a verbal update, with physical props where appropriate.

We had our first team meeting of the year with these changes. What a difference these changes made! Despite the overcrowding, the team was relaxed and engaged. Everybody paid attention to the status updates. There was a lively discussion at the end about a variety of topics of interest. This was the most interactive all-hands team meeting I’ve been in for a long time. I was blown away with the before-and-after comparison.

It’s amazing how these very simple changes completely changed the dynamics of the meeting and the level of engagement of the participants. Being in an actual conference room somehow helped people feel that they were IN the meeting instead of hovering around the perimeter of the meeting. Just that fact seemed to have drawn people into the content of the meeting instead of sending them off for a nap. Being able to hear people speak definitely helped – and this was particularly apparent during the Q&A when many team members spoke up. And most important of all, not having PowerPoint slides forced people to work on clarifying their message so it is concise and easy to digest and remember – something we often forget to do when we have a slide deck to fall back on. We are most definitely keeping these changes for our next all hands team meeting.

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