Peter Yang

@peteryang

Slides Are a Poor Form of Communication, Here’s Why

Source: Dilbert

I was a management consultant early in my career so I feel qualified to make this somewhat controversial statement:

Slides are a poor form of communication compared to written narratives for discussion and decision making.

Based on my experience, slides are inferior to narratives in meetings where you need to make a decision with a small group of people. They’re also an inadequate tool for people who missed the meeting and need to get caught up.

Slides are a great tool for telling a story or presenting a vision to a large group of people (it’s hard to make 50 people read a narrative on the spot).

Before you throw a PowerPoint deck at me, please hear me out on why I think narratives are superior:

1. Narratives encourage clarity of thinking instead of busywork

Writing full sentences that make sense encourages you to have clarity in your ideas and thinking.

In contrast, making slides often requires busywork such as formatting bullet points, creating harvey balls, and cleaning up charts.

2. Narratives encourage productive discussion instead of one-way communication with interruptions

When people spend the first 10 minutes of the meeting reading a narrative, you can guarantee that you’ll have at least 20 minutes for open discussion. More importantly, by reading the narrative first, people will have full context on what decisions need to be made before starting the discussion.

In contrast, when presenting slides, you’ll likely spend the majority of time either walking people through the deck with little discussion or getting interrupted by people’s questions on the first few slides when they have little context. How often have you been interrupted while giving a presentation only to answer: “We’ll cover that on slide 5"?

3. Narratives encourage everyone to participate instead of only the loudest voices in the room

When reading a narrative, everyone can make notes, even if they don’t feel comfortable speaking up immediately. Since there’s plenty of time for open discussion, you can also go around the room asking people to express their opinions after reading your narrative.

In contrast, when you’re walking people through slides, usually only the loudest voices (or the most senior people) in the room are willing to interrupt you to make a point. By the time you walk through your slides and address the interruptions, the meeting is usually over.

4. Narratives can be understood and iterated on without a meeting

If your narrative is written well, anybody should be able to understand what you’re trying to communicate just by reading it.

In contrast, bullet points are hard to understand without context and even the best slide decks are better understood with a voiceover from the author.

I’ve seen first hand how written narratives drive better alignment, discussion, and decision making compared to slides. More companies should choose to write instead of present.

Want to learn how to write a good narrative (or if you insist, make a useful slide)? I cover effective written communication in my book Principles of Product Management. Visit www.principles.pm to get a free chapter now.

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