Conversations vs Presentations

Meetings, by their nature of people getting together for a common purpose, are microcosms of an organization’s culture. Is there one person who makes the final decision? Does everyone have to agree on the idea? Do you say you agree, but silently undermine the agreement after the meeting? And so on…

In this context then, you can examine your culture by characterizing how meetings are run. For discussion, there are at least three types of meetings: Presentations, Ad-Hoc, and Conversations.

Presentations are often designed to gain agreement of a direction or idea. And the best way to gain agreement is to generate an emotional reaction. Thus, we often use these as opportunities to tell a story. This is a great approach where we want the audience to agree with us. It’s Less great when you want to engender conversation and new ideas.

Ad-hoc meetings include stand-ups, or quick opportunities to get together to share camaraderie and status. These are chosen when we prefer the higher-bandwidth format of communicating in-person (or via video); and when we’re hoping for serendipitous ideas, thoughts, and decisions to occur.

Conversations are meetings where the express purpose is to have all perspectives shared, potentially to air and hear disagreements, to brainstorm new alternatives, and to gain consensus on approach. These are harder to engineer because you need to bring everyone up-to-speed prior to the conversation, and you often need a strong moderator or process to ensure the meeting doesn’t devolve into an Ad-Hoc format.

Each meeting format has its purpose. However, in a learning culture, I would expect to find more Conversations and fewer Presentations.