Agenda slide?

By / Corporate Storytelling

Have you ever been watching a movie and start to think, “This isn’t a very good movie.”? When that happens to me, I have this conflict in my brain:

A. Should I stick it out and finish it? or

B. Should I cut my losses and turn this off?

Whether it is a movie, a book or grand slam breakfast at Denny’s, I hate to start something and not finish it. It may sound silly but I have a small psychological struggle in these situations. Perhaps it’s because my parents never let me leave the table with food on my plate. Anyway, when I start thinking a movie is boring, I wonder, “How much longer is this movie?” So, I check the status bar:

I can now judge if I want to turn it off or maybe fast forward a little. If I am watching an *interesting* movie, I don’t bother checking how much time is left. I just keep watching and enjoy the ride.

So, What?

Old overhead projector.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away there were no such things as PowerPoint slideshows and the projectors we use with our laptops. Instead, people used overhead projectors, like what you see below. (No, this thing is not a droid from the R2 family.) A presenter would use this machine along with a stack of transparencies to project ideas on a screen. You could look at the stack of transparencies the presenter brought and you could guess how long a presenter was going to talk.

Once PowerPoint came around, you could no longer see the stack of transparencies. If a presenter is rambling or talking about things you don’t care about you start to have the same struggle as with a boring movie. You wonder, “How much longer are they going to talk?” It’s too bad you can’t check the status bar on a presentation:

I believe this is where the demand for an Agenda slide came from. People were sick of bad presentations and they wanted to know, where are we going and where are we now? Just like a movie, people only wonder this if they are bored or if they feel the presenter is off track. If you make your presentation interesting to the audience, they don’t care about this. They don’t wonder, “How much longer is this?”

Therefore, I don’t use Agenda slides. Instead, I make sure I talk about things the audience cares about. I prepare and use my Articulus Storyboard to make sure I have all the right ingredients for a persuasive message. You might ask, “Well, is there any harm in having an Agenda slide?” I believe there is a potential harm. Two problems that I see with them are

  1. The first minute or two of the presentation are the most valuable real estate in the audience’s mind. Do you really want to spend most of that time going over a bullet point list that is not only boring but makes you look and sound like every other presentation they have ever witnessed? Right away, they are putting you in the “Boring” bucket.
  2. What if a key person in the room is only interested in item #3 in your Agenda? Remember, using the Message Strategy table you determined that items #1 and #2 were more important. If you have them thinking about #3 while you are trying to get across #1 and #2 you’ve planted a potential distraction in your path. Even worse, they might derail you on the spot and take you to #3.

I do believe that sending an agenda before a meeting is a polite thing to do. However, when I am up there presenting, I want the audience to ride along with my message. If I do a good job of that, they shouldn’t be wondering, “How much longer is Brian going to talk?” I haven’t used an Agenda slide in 15 years and I’ve yet to have someone stop my presentation and ask me about it. Perhaps I’ve just been lucky but I take that as proof that they aren’t needed, or worse, a distraction.

The next time you are faced with this dilemma or a manager (aka PowerPoint police) demands an Agenda slide, call me and I’ll talk you through it.

My the force be with you.

Brian O’Keefe is a Corporate Storyteller at Articulus LLC. He can help you get to the point and help your audience make a decision. He coaches leaders, sales people, IT people, etc. how to get to the heart of their message and be persuasive (not just informative).  Follow him on LinkedIN:  ©2017 Articulus, Inc. All Rights Reserved.