There’s only one good reason to bring us together for a meeting on Zoom or in a room.
Walking us through PowerPoint decks isn’t it.
“The only reason for bringing people together, whether in person or remotely, is to listen to someone share something of value,” says Eric Bergman, presentation skills coach and author of One Bucket at a Time.
“The secret to success is simple,” says Bergman. “Bring meaningful content. Deliver that content in a memorable way. If you do, you significantly increase your chances of informing, educating, influencing or persuading anyone.”
PowerPoint makes it hard to share something of value in a memorable way for two reasons.
We can’t listen to you and read your slides at the same time. Ask us to both and we’ll do neither. During virtual meetings, we’ll mute our mics, turn off our cameras, minimize our Zoom screens and beg off because of conveniently unstable internet connections. When we finally return to meeting rooms, we’ll revert to our pre-pandemic habit of staring at our phones or off into space.
PowerPoint also makes it easy to bury audiences in ideas and information. But we can’t absorb more than one idea at a time. Run us through 60 bullet-ridden and chart-stuffed slides in 45 minutes and you’ll overload our short-term working memory. Nothing will transfer over and stick in our long-term memory. You’ll tell us everything but we’ll remember nothing.
So if you have something worth sharing, try saying it without PowerPoint. It’ll be a leap of faith but trust that we’ll love you for it, remember what you say and act on what you tell us.
“Without slides, there can be a presentation,” says Bergman. “Without a presenter, there is no presentation. Successful presenters understand this. They know that capitalizing on how people listen is the key to their success – to having their ideas understood, absorbed, remembered and acted upon.”
Successful companies also get it. At LinkedIn, a document formatted in PowerPoint’s landscape mode goes out at least 24 hours before a meeting. There’s no discussion until everyone’s read the document. “Slides are never presented to the group. Instead the focus in on discussion, a process that distinctly separates the written word from the spoken.”
Amazon’s eliminated slideware presentations altogether. Meetings start with everyone reading a six-page memos written with complete sentences and paragraphs rather than bullet points. “The six-page memo provides a deep context of what’s going to be discussed. When everyone is ready, discussion begins. Questions are asked and answered. A decision is made.” Ditching PowerPoint doesn’t seem to be holding Amazon back.
Converting presentations into structured conversations requires you to welcome questions from start to finish. Never force audiences to sit in silence until you’ve finished talking.
“The simplest way to breathe life into modern presentations is to create an equal, engaging partnership with the audience by encouraging and answering their questions,” says Bergman. “Give them a chance to probe your ideas. The simple exercise of them asking questions helps cement those ideas into part of who they are. When that happens, they’ll be applying those ideas long after you and they have left the room.”
Answering questions clearly and concisely is a skill that can be learned. “Whenever an answer extends for more than 10 words, you’re making assumptions about what’s important to whoever asked the question. If all answers extend beyond 20 seconds, don’t be surprised if they simply quit asking.”
Many of us are closing in on our first anniversary of working from home. One way to combat Zoom fatigue is to have a little less information and a little more conversation in 2021. Bergman can help make that happen.
Jay Robb serves as communications manager with McMaster University’s Faculty of Science, lives in Hamilton and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999.