Weekly Wrap: Does Power Point Cause Bad Meetings? Not Bloody Likely

© pressmaster - Fotolia.com
© pressmaster - Fotolia.com

I can’t tell you how much of my life I have wasted sitting in mind-numbing, overlong, unproductive meetings.

My guess is that you probably have lost some of yours too, because a bad meeting, like death or cancer, doesn’t discriminate.

That’s why I perked up when I saw this article in the Harvard Business Review (also posted at BusinessWeek) titled, “The No. 1 Killer of Meetings — And what you can do about it.” This had to have some great insight for managers and HR professionals everywhere on how to help get rid of all those bad meetings, right?

Well, no – unless you think that PowerPoint is at the root of all evil, and bad meetings as well.

Here’s the thinking on this, from HBR blogger Peter Bregman:

Over time, I identified a single factor that makes the biggest difference between a great meeting and a poor one: PowerPoint. The best meetings don’t go near it.

PowerPoint presentations inevitably end up as monologues. They focus on answers, and everyone faces the screen. But meetings should be conversations. They should focus on questions, not answers, and people should face each other. I know it sounds crazy, but I’ve found that even the hum of the projector discourages dialogue…

Instead of having executives prepare clear, well-thought-out (and boring) PowerPoint presentations about their own businesses, try having them lead informal discussions about their colleagues’ businesses, using flip charts to collect important points, draw conclusions, and agree on action plans with owners and timelines.”

Well, I guess that is decent advice, as far as it goes, because I have certainly sat in on bad meetings where PowerPoint added to the dreadful situation.

But to label PowerPoint as the root of all bad meetings is like saying that people on cell phone are the reason there are bad drivers. It sort of misses the fairly obvious point that like so many of you, I was struggling to get through bad meetings long before PowerPoint came along, And even today, there are many, many horrible meetings that take place without any PowerPoint at all.

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Here’s what I wrote about this in October 2007, and I could have written a version of it in 1987 or just about any other year before or after:

I can’t begin to tell you how many brain cells I’ve lost over my career attending senseless, wasteful, mind-numbing meetings. When I left one employer after more than 11 years on the job, I calculated that I had attended in excess of 11,000 meetings during my time there – and those were just the regularly scheduled ones that I could easily count. Add in special or unscheduled meetings, and I easily was up around 13,000 meetings in less than 12 years. Some were necessary, but many were futile and wasteful. I’d be surprised if more than 10 percent of them were truly productive.

I have a million stories about all those meetings that I have given so many brain cells for, but the one that sticks out most is when this brutish tyrant of a boss I was working for told me that the daily afternoon scheduling meeting I ran was TOO efficient and made TOO many decisions TOO early in the day. He took over running the meeting, and of course, he failed to make any real decisions on anything, procrastinating long into the evening and driving everyone crazy. His sterling decision-making abilities drove the company to “encourage” him to take “early retirement” a few years later.”

Yes, bad meetings are a way of life, and I’m sure you have some great bad meeting stories, too. In fact, John Cleese did a very funny training video in his post-Monty Python years titled, of course, Meetings, Bloody Meetings. There’s a clip of it here, and please make note that there is nary a mention of PowerPoint anywhere.

Yes, there is PowerPoint and there are bad meetings. Sometimes, they come together, but PowerPoint alone isn’t really the issue, although maybe that’s the case up in Cambridge at the Harvard Business Review, even if the rest of America sees it a little differently.

But there’s a lot more in the news this week than the scourge of bad meetings. Here are some other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. Yes, I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Boomers say age isn’t an issue in the workplace. Although you hear lots of talk about age-related issues in the workplace, this new AP-LifeGoesStrong.com poll says it may not be exactly so. “Nearly half of those born between 1946 and 1964 now work for a younger boss, and most report that they are older than most colleagues. But 61 percent of the baby boomers surveyed said their age is not an issue at work, while 25 percent called it an asset,” the story says. “Only 14 percent classified getting older as a workplace liability.”
  • Do secretaries have a future? The New York Times had an interesting take this week on the future of secretaries in our modern age, and whether this is another job slowly going away. “While the secretary hasn’t joined the office boy and the iceman in the elephant’s graveyard of outmoded occupations, technological advancements haven’t panned out quite the way those midcentury futurists imagined. There are satisfactions to the job, to be sure, but for many secretaries, it remains often taxing, sometimes humiliating and increasingly precarious.”
  • Unions getting a boost from the NLRB. Unions are slowing making workplace organizing gains, according to Investors Business Daily. “The National Labor Relations Board is poised to amend organizing rules in a way that would boost unions by letting them target smaller groups of employees. By law, most organizing efforts must target all people in a workplace. Now the NLRB may let unions cherry-pick the groups easiest to sign up, bypassing other employees for the time being. That would give unions a toehold in workplaces that they’ve struggled to organize in the past and may encourage employers to accept full unionization as the least-bad option.

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.

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