Discard your crutches and run!

If you’re in the corporate workforce, you’re familiar with Powerpoint, and probably familiar with various controversies around it.  People spend a lot of time debating how much or how little to put on slides, they design cool systems for maximizing impact, and they worry endlessly about how to word something on a slide in case it somehow bites them later.

There’s a radical solution here which I like to apply once in a while.  Don’t show any slides.  Just call your meeting and meet.

You should see people squirm when there’s nothing being projected.  You’ve forced them out of their comfort zone, and set the stage for things to get exciting.

Your projector, your screen, your slides … these are crutches.  Many times they are doing more harm than good.  Why?

Many times, if you’re leading a meeting, you’ll spend all your looking at your slides and not your colleagues.  You will miss countless nonverbal cues, but it’s worse than that.  You are attaching yourself to your slides, to their wording.  You are unable to truly converse, you are instead presenting.  You will get uncomfortable as the conversation goes in a way you didn’t predict, and exert subtle (or not-so-subtle!) pressure to drag things back to your nicely prepared bullet points.

And you aren’t the only one staring up at that screen, are you?  Your audience is looking at your slides instead of at you.  They are reading ahead, and mentally checking out once they’ve read all the bullet points.  “Nothing important here, let me go back to my blackberry.”

It gets even better.  The projected slides give your audience permission to check out of the conversation.  Tell me you haven’t seen this before: ten people in a room, eight of them barely involved, two doing most of the talking.  A third person’s name is mentioned, and he or she snaps to attention, not at the people talking but at the projected slide.  They’re doing two things here.  They are setting their context, “Wait, what are they talking about?” but they are also buying time.  “Nobody will ask me a direct question while I’m so obviously involved in reading the slides….”

Clearly this doesn’t apply 100% of the time.  Presenting is a valuable mechanism for lots of interactions.  But we’ve somehow become so enamored with our hammer that we forget not everything out there is a nail.  The true meeting is becoming a lost art form.

Try it sometime.  Take the power back — resist the urge to power up that projector.  See if you don’t come out feeling more engaged with your co-workers … and with decisions reached in less time!