I know, I know. Recommending that people ditch PowerPoint is like telling a toddler he doesn't need his blankie.
When the lights are dimmed and the projector starts humming, a good many human brains involuntarily start to atrophy. Well, at least mine does. I'm sorry, but for some of us even the occasional animation can't keep us engaged. This is especially true because so many people use PowerPoint poorly — they'll put up a slide and then proceed to read it to the crowd, include much too much text on each slide, or use charts and graphs that are so complicated they're meaningless.
I find that my preference is always to just engage in a directed conversation with the people in the meeting and then save a PowerPoint or any other prepared presentation to read later at my leisure.
My feeling is that PowerPoint is of itself a monologue. While that is necessary for Presidential addresses and 101-level classes in college, it's not the most meaningful way to interact within a group or to solve problems. (And even in Presidential addresses, the more interesting stuff comes at the end when the reporters get to ask questions.)
So here are my suggestions instead:
Meet face to face
If possible, make it so that your meeting attendees can face each other. This makes conversation much easier. You don't want one guy updating everyone on his department, followed by the next guy, and the next guy. You want interaction between the people, not one monologue followed by another.
As a meeting leader, you should be familiar enough with all the processes represented by the people in the meeting so that you can guide the conversation with some well-placed questions. For example, "What stumbling blocks did you face in that project?" or "What data would help you make the decision you're facing?" The point is to illustrate the interdependency of all factions of a company. People tend to silo themselves off from the big company picture, and this helps everyone see how their actions affect others.
Watch the tangents
Worse than a prepared PowerPoint presentation is a conversation that goes off on a long tangent. We've all been in those meetings where a discussion about a schedule ends up turning into somebody's description of a past vacation. Don't be afraid to gently admonish those meeting participants who can't stay on task.
I understand it's hard for people to give up PowerPoint as their meeting staple, especially just when they've nailed that zoom-out animation. But it's more important for meeting participants to engage with each other.
Toni Bowers is the former Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.