The Successful Presenter
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Elon Musk suggests CEOs spend "less time on PowerPoint"

During this brief interview with Chip Cutter, editor of the Wall Street Journal, Tesla CEO Elon Musk suggests that leaders spend less time with PowerPoint in meetings and more time determining how to make their products and services better.

To get there, effective leaders might borrow a page from the playbooks of Amazon and LinkedIn. Both have eliminated marching through slides, saving time and achieving dramatic improvements in decision-making.

LinkedIn has eliminated PowerPoint presentations at meetings. The presentation, as a written document in a horizontal slide format (the ubiquitous slide or presentation “deck”), is sent at least twenty-four hours prior to the meeting. If participants haven’t read the document, the meeting is stopped and they are given time to catch up. Everyone who has read the document can do something else. When the group is ready, written information is set aside and discussion begins.

The slides are never presented to the group. The focus is on discussion, a process that distinctly separates the written word from the spoken. LinkedIn has been pleasantly surprised to discover that meetings scheduled for an hour are often completed in twenty to thirty minutes. Decisions are made much more quickly and the decisions themselves are more effective.

Amazon has taken this a step further. They not only separated the written word from the spoken by eliminating slideware presentations at meetings, they also eliminated the transfer of written information via the slide deck.

Meetings are structured around six-page memos written using a word processing program (like Microsoft Word or Pages) instead of a horizontal format. The company believes that writing ideas in complete sentences and paragraphs, rather than bullet points, forces a deeper clarity of thinking. Professor Edward Tufte, author of The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint, would undoubtedly agree. He believes that poor decision-making because of the overuse of bullet points contributed to the Columbia shuttle disaster in 2003.

At Amazon, meetings can start with significant silence while everyone reads the document. The six-page memo provides a deep context of what’s going to be discussed.

When everyone is ready, discussion begins. Questions are asked and answered. A decision is made.

In a blog post, an Amazon executive says that this approach creates an incredible competitive advantage. By separating the written word from the spoken, “Amazon absolutely runs better, makes better decisions, and scales better because of this particular innovation.”

If Mr. Musk's thoughts resonate ...

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