Businesses are shifting away from text documents to PowerPoint documents for strategic plans. This study by Sarah Kaplan at the University of Toronto is the first I’ve seen documenting PowerPoint’s evolution from a presentation-only software to a critical way strategy is formed in a corporation.
The study’s authors tracked how a midsize business uses PowerPoint and noted three important things:
- PowerPoint allows people to collaborate and negotiate meaning because it is both visual and modular.
- PowerPoint “blesses” ideas. If it isn’t in the form of PowerPoint, then it hasn’t gone through the vetting process with other stakeholders.
- If it isn’t in the deck, it doesn’t drive strategy. This is an important point – whoever controls the deck controls strategy. If you want to influence the strategic decisions, you need to lobby to get your slides inserted in the deck.
There are, I think, four reasons we see large businesses shifting away from text documents to PowerPoint documents for strategic plans. This is a permanent shift, not a fad, and business leaders need to embrace this shift.
1. First, visuals are more persuasive than text. This is called the picture-superiority effect. Managers at large businesses have more stakeholders than do managers in small businesses and so more people to persuade. It’s rare to find someone in a large business who can execute their own plans; they need to convince others. They need to sell their ideas to other departments, marketing managers in other countries, to their own executives. Whether a standalone business document or a standup presentation, using visuals helps convince others to see things your way.
2. Second, there are more complex issues to resolve in large than in small businesses. Visuals like schematic diagrams and statistical charts help clarify issues for executives and especially in large businesses. As the economy becomes more connected and global, decisions become increasingly complex
3. Third, there is more data and more software tools for analyzing that data than ever before. Business managers can collect data from website visitors, checkout scanners, CRM systems, surveys, sales transaction databases and other data-collection systems. And Excel gives them a powerful tool for analyzing it and converting it into graphs. Large businesses, especially, have more data to analyze than small businesses.
4. Fourth, information overload becomes a bigger problem as the amount of data grows. Larger businesses have more data, hire more market researchers, do more analysis, evaluate issues more thoroughly and have more initiatives going on and so they produce more documents to help them arrive at decisions than does a small business. Reading time is at a premium so visual documents, written in a summative writing style, are replacing verbose and rambling text documents.
Large businesses are embracing visual communication like PowerPoint because it’s more effective than text for surviving in complex environments. PowerPoint is not going away and the commentators who insist you should just “use a text document” are missing the point. This isn’t a fad but a fundamental shift in business communication and using PowerPoint well is a critical business skill if you want to drive strategy in a large company.
About the author: Bruce Gabrielle is author of Speaking PowerPoint: the new language of business, showing a 12-step method for creating clearer and more persuasive PowerPoint slides for boardroom presentations. Subscribe to this blog or join my LinkedIn group to get new posts sent to your inbox.