Lean-Forward Meetings (or Why You Should Ban Powerpoint)

 Graphic: Trevor Melton

Graphic: Trevor Melton


Our work at The Leadership Center revolves around the mantra “Work Together, Have Fun, Get Results.” So why do so many meetings revolve around Powerpoint? Sadly, we still see too much “Death by Powerpoint” at our world-class, nature-filled space: there’s nothing there about “together;” even your funniest memes do not last long; and we have yet to see “results” projected from a PPT.

I'm typically not much of a hater, but I hate meetings where people are expected to sit back and be passive observers. This is a symptom of stale organizational cultures that require the kabuki of the dreaded "deck" for any idea to break through. News flash: you can send us the deck ahead of time, so we can spend the meeting talking about our implications and insights.

Not interested in feedback? Just reporting? Great! Then we don't have to meet!!

So we constantly advocate "Lean-Forward Meetings" where participants are engaged with each other and the subject matter. When people are leaning forward, they are engaged; when they are sitting back watching someone else’s presentation, they might be paying attention, but they are not actively engaged. Can we at least have conversations, not presentations? *Note: there is plenty to say about the general awfulness of Powerpoint, but nothing I could add to Edward Tufte's withering screed on "The Cognitive Style of PowerPoint." (Spoiler: it has been used for evil, and people have died...)

Our processes use graphic murals; copious amounts of post-it notes (or the leveled-up, electrostatic version SlickyNotes), markers and paper; lots of LEGO; but above all, generous helpings of play, visual thinking and other processes and stimuli designed to activate additional neural pathways and uncover new insights. These create the Lean-Forward effect, which re-programs the body language and brain function -- and that inevitably sets the stage for engagement (and thereby a better meeting).

So here is your to-do list for Lean-Forward Meetings:

  • Send an agenda and relevant materials ahead of time (long enough for attendees to process the purpose and background for the meeting).
  • Think through a series of questions to engage your team in developing a solution.
  • If you must present, use a 7:2:1 ratio for each ten minutes of your presentation: 7 minutes of content, 2 minutes of collaboration, 1 minute of report-back.
  • Are you just updating the team? Then PLEASE spare everyone a meeting and just send the update!!
  • Use processes and materials that invite people to lean forward and engage with each other and the topic: have the team work together at murals and whiteboards, write on post-it notes with sharpies; have fun with hand-brain triggers like LEGO; and do anything to get people moving around and push toward results!

Anything you use to get meeting attendees to lean forward? We would love to hear about it!


Jody Lentz is a lifelong facilitator with a passion to create high-performance, low-drama work environments. His focus on supporting organizations to create and maintain better teams, better meetings and better decisions touches strategy, culture, leadership and innovation. Also, he worked for LEGO and lost on Jeopardy!

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