Imagine a World Without PowerPoint Decks That Instead Fosters Ideating and Insights

Moving away from arduous presentations to productive back-and-forth

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As we reimagine the future of work without an office as its center of gravity, we may also want to question why we spend so much time developing and presenting decks.

A case can be made that most presentation decks are:

  • Unnecessary.
  • Too long.
  • A celebration of process versus product.
  • A mechanism of management control.
  • A waste of talent, time and treasure.
  • A placebo pill for what can be cured with a conversation.

Here are some learnings from over the years gleaned from the best storytellers, salespeople and communicators reduced to a simple exercise. (Again, it may be time to rethink presentation decks.)

Time spent in the office attending meetings

We were not really in meetings but stare-athons where we all gathered around a table and stared at a projected image on a central screen where the slides—accompanied by the drone of a series of presenters—slowly crawled forward. The deck we were subjected to had probably gone through many revisions because of different interested parties fine-tuning the words, calibrating tone and working on nuance to create a hollow collection of buzzwords without substance and paths without a destination.

Amazon doesn’t use PowerPoint at meetings

Instead, the ecommerce giant distributes a well-written Word document. Then a real meeting that involves discussion and interrogation of the material takes place. Everybody has the same information, and reading the information is far more time effective than being paraded through a few words or charts flashed in sequence slowly.

Next time we ask for a deck or are asked to write a deck, maybe we should start by asking:

  • What are we trying to achieve or communicate?
  • Is a deck the best way of doing so, or can we have a conversation and have a meeting without a deck?
  • Can we send an email instead?
  • How can we distill it down to key points and minimize the time spent putting it together?

Write the deck but don’t present or share it

Think of all the presentations you have sat through or produced. How many slides stood out or made a difference? If we need more than nine slides to tell our story, sell our point of view or close a deal, we may not have anything truly convincing, differentiated or interesting.

Try beginning with a letter-sized sheet of paper and a pen or pencil. Place the sheet so it is in landscape mode. Pretend you are playing tic-tac-toe and draw two vertical and two horizontal lines. You now are looking at a slide view of nine slides on a single piece of paper.

Below is an outline of what your outline should look like:

  1. Slide 8 is the Desired Action slide, which highlights what you want to get from the meeting or have the person you are presenting to act on. This is the first slide that you fill in since this is what the point of the meeting is.
  2. Slides 4, 5 and 6 are the focus of your work, which you may want to label Insights, Ideas and Imagination. What insights about customer and marketplace competition will you be sharing that get your audience to think differently? What one two or three big ideas are you delivering that will make their consumers see them differently? What provocations or points of view are you communicating that will get your audience to feel differently about their business, their future or your brand? The goal of Slides 4, 5 and 6 is to make sure you get the action you are looking for on Slide 8.
  3. Slide 7 is the Proof, which is where you share the cool results you have driven for other people.
  4. Opening Slides 1, 2 and 3 are key. Slide 1 should be a title that will make your audience come to attention; Slide 2 should have a promise or outcome you will drive (e.g., your firm will generate 20% improvement); Slide 3, which is the Agenda or Navigation slide, notes that you will be sharing ideas, insights, imagination and supporting material. However, Slide 3 is also ready to jump into any section based on what your audience is interested in or how you’ve read the room.
  5. Slide 9, which is the last one, is the appendix of all the supporting material that the first eight slides are built on and can include data, cases and more.

A drawing of the nine slides outline tactic.
Rishad Tobaccowala

Once you write this out, you will find that you can make the entire presentation often without the presentation and, at minimum, you no longer have a long, ponderous deck. Instead, we have perspectives, provocations, points of view, insights, ideas, imagination, promises of delivery and a warehouse of stuff they can rummage through—assuming they are interested.

Try this approach. It work, but more importantly, it’s a way of getting points across, telling stories, making a sale and differentiating from others.