When you present slides in meetings, you know it’s difficult to keep audiences engaged and happy. Not surprising because slide presentations are structured, sequential and always stretch at least 30 minutes. Stakeholders are overbooked, rushed and stressed. People want immediate answers without waiting for the final few slides.

Sometimes it’s impossible to keep the audience engaged. About three years ago, I decided to stop trying. Whenever possible, I prefer placemats in favor of slide decks.

The idea for placemats comes from… placemats! Think about Denny’sIn-N-Out Burger or any diner. Placemats tell a story or tempt you to order dessert. You can go through a placemat in any order, at your own pace, learning as you are comfortable. Give your audience a placemat and let them discover your content as they please.

This makes me hungry for some dessert!

How to use placemats

Make one placemat that captures your essential idea. Print one copy for each three audience members and spread them on the conference room table before the meeting starts. As people arrive — some punctual, some late — direct them to the placemats. Let them ingest the content as you offer to answer their questions.

This placemat tells a story. Imagine presenting your essential idea like this.

Invariably placemats make audience members happy, mainly because they can get the content in 3 minutes instead of 30. Groups will form, huddled around a placemat copy, starting discussions.

I typically bring slides too. I use the slides to provide details and jump to them when answering related questions.

Placemats frequently elicit outpourings of gratitude! Imagine inviting someone to a 30 minute meeting and you give them the full story in 3 minutes. They are free to leave early. Catch up on other stuff. Or stick around and learn more. With placemats you provide that choice. They are a great tool for promoting ideas and generating goodwill. A win-win!

Ditch the slides and use placemats instead

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