As covid continues to sentence teams to mandatory work from home, I sense a creeping dread. The unspoken question ahead of each virtual meeting, “will we be subjected to another slide deck?”
While we as leaders cannot commute the judgment covid has passed, we can make the time served less tortuous. Slides decks in a remote environment are at best tedious, and at worst, malignant. We can do better.
Why Slides are Bad
Slides fail in a distributed environment primarily across two categories, information density, and audience connection.
From an information density lens, slides have two major failings. First, they are an inferior long-term artifact. Slides have small amounts of content when “used correctly.” Their purpose is to anchor what a speaker is saying, minute-to-minute, for the audience. We cannot expect our audience to refer back to these slides and remember the full detail of what was shared. Likewise, the slide provides almost no information to those who did not witness its unveiling. Second, slides are no more than outlines of a document or a presentation. Yet, they often have no supporting material. If your process involves creating an overview first, start with a document. Beginning with the slides has us focus too much on presenting the outline and not the content itself.
From an audience connection perspective, slides fail across three dimensions. When a leader presents a slide deck, the audience assumes these slides come from a solid foundation of truth. It is not on our audience to know or understand the authority of the slides. It is on us as leaders to share information across a medium that conveys the proper authority. We should not be using slides to share work-in-progress or any other form of draft thinking. Employees often are conditioned to understand presentations are the final output of deep work. Second, when presenting slides in a virtual meeting, your audience is disconnected from you. Instead of looking at your face and gauging your implicit social queues, they look at your slides and either read them or space out. Stop sharing your screen, distribute material twenty-four hours in advance, and let everyone connect. By not sharing your screen, you also can combat the final audience connection issue, yourself disconnecting from the audience. No matter how good a presenter you are, you will inevitably look at your slides when sharing your screen. Likewise, technology gets in the way and only allows you to see a small percentage of your audience when screen sharing. Stop sharing your screen. Allow yourself to connect with your audience.
So, how do we fill the gap when eliminating slide decks?
- As stated above, create documents and share those. Label them as a draft; let them be messy. Allow others to align with the intention of your work.
- Automatically generate a table of contents or outline and share that, along with the full document, twenty-four hours ahead of any meeting. It will allow employees time to digest and prepare. It will also force you to lock-in your thoughts ahead of time, which will let your subconscious prepare for the presentation, resulting in greater audience connection.
- Do not share your screen during any presentation. Connect with your audience, and allow the audience the chance to connect with you. If you can, cast your screen to your large format TV to better see your audience. Then, stand up and deliver your presentation.
I hope more leaders try taking this path. It is no doubt harder for us. However, I truly believe it pays off for those who follow us. As leaders, we should care about most right, the audience, not the presenter.
My next stop; eliminating spreadsheets for anything but presenting information in a table or chart. 🤘