Do You Think in PowerPoint?

Recently, I spoke with Maryfran Johnson, editor-in-chief of CIO magazine on the pros and cons of executives using PowerPoint as a vehicle to deliver their ideas. Maryfran has probably seen thousands of presentations from countless CXOs, and she firmly believes in telling a story, using humor, and speaking in plain language. Bravo Maryfran!

Our chat about PPT got me thinking. Do some executives
think in PowerPoint? Can there be a PowerPoint mindset that guides leaders' thinking, planning and analysis? Based on some executives I've worked with, yes, I think there is.

Do You Think in PowerPoint?

Now, just the thought of actually thinking in PowerPoint would make you take a gun to your head, or return to psychedelic 60's practices to blank out the stream of slides in your brain. Not that any readers of this blog actually engaged in those 60's activities. You read about them in Wikipedia like I did...right?

Not literal PPT thinking, but what about the process of thinking that PowerPoint promotes: seeing ideas organized in bullet points, logical structure, little deviation from status quo, confined analysis. Think about it. The templates and wizards in PPT allow for clean, streamlined thought patterns: main idea, three bullets to support it. Do you think this way?

A Time and Place for PPT Thinking

There are times when PowerPoint thinking and speaking come in handy.
  • In a crisis situation (and aren't execs always dealing with fire drills?), you want a fixed verbal template with prepared remarks and no ad libs. Organizing your thinking and communication following the template of PPT bullets and numbered lists might hit the mark.
  • When explaining complex issues. A terribly obtuse concept or complicated engineering schema sometimes could benefit from a structured explanation. Don't you wish Timothy Geithner could explain derivatives with a one, two, three logic?
  • During an earnings call. Going off-script and rambling will not help your investors. Tight, buttoned-up, structured communication is what you need, and the template of PPT thinking gives you just such a focused structure.
  • Describing a process. Have you ever had to explain steps your team should take to attack a challenge? Or a new selling model? Process thinking and speaking is right out of the PPT bible.
If your mind naturally thinks in a structured, formatted fashion, you're a PPT thinker. You're focused, tend to stay on script, and see logical "buckets" in which to place ideas. It can be comforting to think and communicate this way, and for many listeners, it's easy on the ears.

Breaking the PowerPoint Crutch

For executives who don't want to use PowerPoint thinking or speaking, what are the alternatives? When should you break the template pattern? What situations demand you don't have a template?

We'll address that in our next post. And for Macintosh fans, no; it's not using or thinking in Keynote!