Board Room Health: Ending Slide-Induced Comas

Best Practices : Article

In an earlier blog post, Andy Freed, Virtual’s President, encouraged association boards to avoid “Death by PowerPoint” in order to create more dynamic and productive meetings. Clearly not enough people read his entry. Case in point: Not so long ago I attended a full-day board meeting (which I did not facilitate) that featured 232 slides. (Yes, I counted them.) These 232 slides were distributed across 14 different slide decks. Only 10 of the slides had anything more than bulleted text on them; the 10 “special” slides had tables on them. There were zero graphics altogether. While the intention of this armament of slides was to inform the board about every slice of activity in the organization, in reality it created results that were utterly predictable, if not downright sad.

After the first hour more than half the board members were tending more to their laptops or smartphones than to the meeting. (This group unwittingly ignored another of Andy’s suggestions: “Put all electronic devices away at the start of the meeting.”) By the next hour a new cluster of board members threw their attention to their electronic devices, while a solid majority of the original laptop viewers had already moved onto other distraction techniques (such as gazing longingly at the parking structure outside the window). After lunch was when the real tragedy struck, as two board members were lost to short naps as the meeting continued around them. (And they even admitted to it afterward!)

This was not just an isolated board meeting. In my view, the “Death by Slides” phenomenon has become pandemic in association boardrooms. Of course, it started taking root in the late 1990s, when every business traveler began to carry a laptop computer . Since then, too many staff preparations for association board meetings entail the hasty ritual of producing, gathering and disseminating large quantities of banal and horrendously unaesthetic slides. And this is not simply a problem during face-to-face meetings, the rapid proliferation of web-based meeting platform extends the problem deep into the virtual realm.

I believe we can – and must – reverse this course to ensure associations remain viable, productive and so that they continue to attract talented volunteer leaders. That being said, I offer a few simple ideas for those facilitating association board meetings:

  • Try a meeting with zero slides. It might feel like jumping out of an airplane without a parachute, but it also might lead to a great board meeting. (You probably won’t get to great with 232 slides.)
  • If you’re not sure you can lick the slide habit completely – or suddenly – try posting all slides at least one week before the meeting. Then, ask the board members to review them at their leisure. During your meeting, invite questions and comments on the slides, but don’t review the slides themselves.
  • Start the various segments of your meeting with awesome, thought-provoking presentations. Not sure where to start? Check out some ideas from visual design gurus such as Nancy Duarte. Or maybe try something in Prezi to infuse some movement into your slides.
  • Consider an outside facilitator. Sometimes bringing in someone with a fresh perspective can help a board look at its association through different lenses and reach closure on decisions more quickly. Boardroom slideware rarely pushes the envelope; a good facilitator can.

Perhaps most importantly, use common sense and be honest: Would you want to sit through all the slides you’re about to present to your board? I didn’t think so.

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