Effective meetings depend on discussion that is constructive and to the point, and on wasting as little time as possible.
It has been calculated that the average executive spends around 50 percent of his or her time in meetings of which at least a third are useless.
This was the finding of a 3M study carried out by Annenberg school of communications, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, in 1989.
Studying effective meetings has been ongoing for years and certainly since the 1960s and there has been a growing body of evidence to support the 1989 findings, which suggests that executive productivity could be much improved.
There is an assumption that using lists or PowerPoint presentations can result in more effective meetings, but in fact, this has proven to be incorrect, as Amazon CEO @Jeff Bezos and subsequently others have proved.
A couple of years ago Bezos banned the use of PowerPoint and bullet point slides in executive meetings requiring instead that everyone sits silently for about 30 minutes to read a six-page memo that’s narratively structured with real sentences, topic sentences, verbs, and nouns.
Once everyone has finished reading the meeting memo then the topic is discussed. It has proved to be so effective that is has since been adopted by other CEOs.
Why does a narrative structure produce more effective meetings that use of PowerPoint?
Storytelling has been a part of human culture since we first discovered the use of fire. Anthropologists and historians argue that fire encouraged people to congregate by sitting around the campfire swapping stories as a way of teaching, warning, and inspiring others in pre-literate societies.
But there is more to it than that.
To be persuasive, an argument has to appeal to logic and reason, and also to emotion, which neuroscientists have found is the fastest path to the brain.
Bezos is quoted as saying: “”I’m actually a big fan of anecdotes in business,” arguing that often there is greater insight to be gained from customer emails than from data.
Basically, the scientific evidence is that our brains do not respond well to, or retain, lists. Our brains respond much better to text and even more so when the text is accompanied by pictures.
So, it should be no surprise that effective meetings are more likely to result from getting everyone to read a well-constructed narrative memo at the start, which gives everyone attending the same, essential information before any discussion begins.
The result is a much more informed discussion in which more people feel able to participate, rather than those “usual suspects” with the loudest voices.
Not only this, but the narrative memo provides an essential historical record of background and context for those who are not attending the meeting.
Ultimately using narrative rather than bullet point lists and PowerPoint slides will cut down on the time it takes to reach collective decisions, thus saving executive time and improving efficiency.
We should restrict PowerPoint for use as a tool for making a sales pitch and recognise those who use it in a meeting as trying to sell an outcome rather than seek to discuss the topic.