The case against presentations

When we talk about high engagement meetings of any kind, we have to question whether front of the room slide decks increase or decrease engagement in groups. When I was trained in presentations by mentors in my youth, there was an explicit expectation that a good deck controls the perceptions and interactions of a group. A good presenter took and kept control from the group. Groups would sometimes get time for 1-1 Q&As with the presenter. In larger groups, even the space is structured to limit the amount of peer-peer engagement that would obviously distract from the presenter's sense of control.

Presenters more interested in what they have to say than what the group thinks would present with eye contact predominantly with their screen and vaguely with the group.

In one of my more complex culture changing workshops with mid-level leaders in a large corporation some years ago, I did the workshop sans deck, as I became accustomed to in favor of engagement over control. One whole table of people came up to me at the first break and announced they have determined that I "am not a motivational speaker."

When I asked for details, they said they were accustomed to presenters with slides who "talked at them." I was the first one to authentically "talk with them" and engage them in powerful new conversations together. They went on with more compliments and the session was very groundbreaking.

People want to be engaged. We need to invent ways to more naturally share information, hopefully all before meetings, so our interactions can be more dynamic and authentically engaging. When any presentation has a few key takeaways, why can't people just share them. If they're visually complicated, they can be on a handout that enables rather than disables genuine conversation.

When we become less presentation constrained we even discover that others in the group can equally bring great insights and information to the table, demonstrating again that we are smarter together.