Great Slides, Bad Decision
Amazon’s Jeff Bezos became so frustrated by the ineffectiveness of PowerPoint presentations that he banned them for all major decisions. So does Tesla’s Elon Musk and Twitter’s Jack Dorsey. Given the popularity and efficiency of PowerPoint slide decks, why would this be?
Slide decks are an efficient way to organize and communicate a vast amount of information. They are ideal for updates and to explain the plan forward. Those who have mastered them can produce a deck that is both compelling and slick.
But when it comes to making a decision, PowerPoint-style presentations actually get in the way.
Slide deck presentations too often prevent a robust discussion of the facts and choices. Presenting bullet points and incomplete thoughts in a slide deck arranged in a linear fashion overwhelms people with information, discourages interruption, and stymies discussion until after the presentation is completed.
Listeners have no idea where the presentation is headed, so they wait until the end to begin any debate over the facts or positions proposed. By that time, issues of importance are diluted by the myriad of facts and bullet points offered. Instead of a deep conversation focused on the issues, PowerPoint presentations make the critical issues harder to identify and engage.
For Bezos, Musk, and Dorsey, a briefing document that lays out the facts and issues in a narrative form creates a better context for a healthy debate. By asking everyone to read the memo just prior to the discussion, team members are ready to ask questions and explore the interconnectedness between issues of importance. This sets the stage for quality decision-making.
Slide deck presentations have their use and place. Facilitating great decisions isn’t one of them. When making major decisions, the best leaders turn toward narrative documents to encourage the kind of intense discussions necessary for quality decision-making. When it comes to decision-making, they avoid depending on bullet-driven slideshows.
In the words of Secretary and General James Mattis, when it comes to making sound decisions, “PowerPoint makes us stupid.”