5 Signs You Are Fooling Yourself
There’s a good chance you have already read or worked on a deck, or PowerPoint, today. It’s the accepted communications currency for business people everywhere. You want funding for your project? Create a deck. Share your recommendations with a client? A PowerPoint will be needed. Planning for a productive team meeting? Yes, you’ll need a presentation for that too. In some organizations, any conversation more than 30 minutes needs a PowerPoint or you were “unprepared.”
We had lunch with a client recently and groaned about this topic. But beyond the fatigue with decks, are they fooling us? Our client said, “We need to look at the psychology of PowerPoint. This idea is taking hold that the presentation is the ultimate product – not the actual work. And, that once the “deck” is completed then so are we.”
Yes, I have fatigue with ‘decks’, but there is a larger point for leaders. PowerPoints can hide many sins – from incorrect information, no input or validation from the right people or a recommendation that can never work. The “deck” is just the communication channel of choice, not the end game. Are you being fooled?
The “deck” is just the communication channel of choice, not the end game.
The next time you review a beautiful deck and are spellbound by the amazing graphics and embedded excel charts, beware.
Here are signs that you are allowing PowerPoints to unwittingly undermine important business decisions:
1. You confuse the deck with the actual work or project.
You believe that if the deck is flawless, then the recommendation or the project must be too. You can be artfully briefed, but the project may have major issues lurking underneath. Separate the presentation and the presenter from actual facts, information and results.
2. You let lengthy presentations hide essential information.
One of my clients had a common habit of asking, ‘Before we open your materials, please just share in 3-4 minutes your main point here. What is your core message or purpose?’ It was his way of looking for clarity and a simple purpose and message. If he didn’t hear it, often the ‘deck’ was never opened. Lengthy presentations can hide many sins and clarity is one of them.
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3. You forget that PowerPoints can be created by just one person.
Presentations can look great due to the talents of one person and one person alone. Don’t confuse a well done PowerPoint with involvement of the right people or needed collaboration. And, a great presentation can be pulled together at the last minute. Ask the right questions to understand who has been involved and given input.
4. A beautiful deck influences your decisions.
Some people are better at packaging information than others. Focus more on the content and information than how it is presented. In fact, look past the packaging to the real information to ensure that the wow factor of a deck isn’t given too much weight.
5. You ignore the need to trust but verify (the Emperor has no clothes).
Executive teams numbed by hundreds of presentations can forget to validate information from multiple sources. It’s a little bit like when I asked a relative why she wasn’t sure that we landed on the moon, she answered “because it was on the internet.” You can have the best presentation in front of you, but verify through other sources that this recommendation or summary lines up.
In my book, Make Waves: Be the One to Start Change at Work and in Life, I share my research on how individuals start real changes and most relied not on formal presentations but real conversations. The small group discussions, the idea partners that help you build out your idea to the next level and the ‘just in time’ chats were most effective and based on real information.
PowerPoints can be helpful to package information for easy consumption, but we’ve swung the pendulum too far.
One of the most impressive presentations I have ever seen was given by Colleen Barrett, the former President of Southwest Airlines. She walked to the stage and sat down in her chair. She had no notes and no presentation. She opened by saying, “Let’s just talk today. I’ll share some of my experiences and stories and I’d like to hear from you too.” She then spoke for an hour and it was one of the most memorable and riveting presentations I have ever heard. And, she did it without a deck.
PowerPoints can be helpful to package information for easy consumption, but we’ve swung the pendulum too far. The next time you set off to create a “deck” or review one– remember that it’s simply a way to package information. Is it needed? Are you influenced by beautiful slideware? Go retro and remember that a presentation isn’t the end game.
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