PpT: Thinking by Powerpoint

powerpoint graphicPowerpoint is evil.  Did I just say that out loud?  OK, call it a necessary evil, then.  Powerpoint has imposed its own structure and grammar on business communication, creating a generation of slide jockeys rather than strategic communicators.  It has changed the way we think.

I was in a meeting recently with a potential startup client.  The senior execs and technologist were raising their first big funding round, the money that could make them a recognized player in a growing niche.   They struggled to explain their company.  The story was disjointed, but the guy who created the slides was still a true believer.  He kept interjecting “this is what you say here” while stabbing his finger at a printed Powerpoint slide.

It was an example of what I call Powerpoint thinking, or PpT for short.  People get wrapped up in the tool and how easy it is to create simple graphics, charts and bullets.  Producing a good slide deck becomes the real goal rather than achieving a business objective.  Presenters end up narrating their slides rather than making an argument or telling a compelling story.

The topic at hand was how to explain a complex technology to potential VCs.  The technology in question has some buzzword status, so the VCs are likely seeing pitches about it on a daily basis.  The team had some artfully produced slides but struggled to tell a compelling story and differentiate their approach.  Whenever the thread of logic got lost, this person reliably piped in: “This is what you say here…”

PpT essentially puts the slides at the center of the thought process and then bends the story around them.  That stands strategic communication on its head.  A few bullets here, a few bullets there, a couple charts and what do you have?

Bullets and charts.  Not an argument.  Not a story.

This particular management malady comes in various forms.  At larger companies, perfectly competent marketing people will labor to get their CEO slotted as the keynote speaker at an influencer conference; but then prepare a speech that starts with last quarter’s product launch slides.  Any sophisticated audience expects something more and will be disappointed – even a bit insulted – at such a performance.  That’s a lot of effort for a negative result.  CEOs would not accept that equation in a sales force and should expect more when competing in the marketplace of ideas as well.

Powerpoint is a fine tool and we should all know how to use it.  But, PpT is a state of mind where the tool uses us.

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