Why PowerPoint Is Pervasive and Good Facilitation Is Not
By Mike McCall

Posted January 04, 2012

I believe it was Socrates who said “Even a fool can give a good PowerPoint presentation but it is only a truly wise person who can lead a group of people to think creatively and make decisions effectively and efficiently.” At the risk of being deliberatively provocative, I maintain that this accounts for the prevalence of PowerPoint based meetings.

From childhood, though we may fear standing up in front of people, we are trained to present our ideas. We do it in school with the essays and papers we write, the science projects we – with that little bit of help from our parents – assemble and the tests we take. We are graded and told when we’ve done it right and when we haven’t. It’s not only the ideas we present but also the flair with which we present them. Sometimes the best science wins the day in a school science fair, but often it requires a combination of good science and nicely drawn or assembled posters that make average science LOOK good.

Why presentation technology tools are pervasive and collaborative meeting tools are not
With that desire in all of us to produce beautiful things, by the time we enter the workforce we’re primed for the task of creating PowerPoint presentations. We have time to assemble and organize our ideas just like we did throughout school. Then PowerPoint allows us to take those ideas and make even the ordinary ones look pretty. Like a peacock showing off its plumage it’s an innate desire to stand out.

How many of us, however, were taught how to bring a group of people together for a purpose, structure a meeting agenda, start with a discussion to draw out the best and most innovative ideas from the group, keep people focused and lead them to efficiently develop and prioritize those ideas, build consensus around the best ones and end with a decision or implementation plan? Though there are tools to help with this process (like FacilitatePro from Facilitate.com), the understanding of how to lead a group through this process is not taught in school in the same way we are taught how to make good presentations.

Is it any surprise that people adopt the tools that help them do what’s within their comfort zone and avoid what they are not good at? PowerPoint becomes pervasive and addictive. It allows us to take that skill we were taught in school and, regardless of the quality of the ideas in our presentation, generate excitement by showing a video and having text fly in from the right or the left or slides dissolving or popping at us with sound effects. We’ve been doing that since we were in first grade. Even the fool knows how to give a presentation, or at least they think they do.

Unfortunately, the skills that allow us to organize an effective agenda and lead a group through a process that results in a key decision or implementation plan are a tad more elusive. These we were never taught in school. We were never provided graded feedback telling us whether we were effectively facilitating. One might think that technology that helps run an effective meeting would be pervasive to help compensate for this deficiency. Clearly some folks do recognize the value of a well run meeting and bring in professional facilitators who understand how to make a meeting a success.

The average meeting is left to run itself however. Collaborative meeting technology is not adopted by those who don’t know that they don’t know how to run an effective meeting. This leads us to the real quote from Socrates: “True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us” and, with respect to this topic, how little we understand about running an effective meeting.

Posted by Mike McCall