A professional services firm recently invited me to conduct a workshop on “PowerPoint”. Because everybody in the company uses PowerPoint, people from different divisions attended, including sales, marketing and design. Think about how we usually meet in organizations: If it had been a “sales” meeting, maybe marketing people would be invited, but not design. If it had been a “design” meeting, you might see marketing, but not sales. But because it was billed as being about PowerPoint, everybody had a seat at the table.
The value of the mix of people became clear as we looked at a blank PowerPoint in Slide Sorter view on the screen. What is the story we’re going to tell at our next sales call? How do we make it All about them, instead of All about us? I showed examples of a range of ways to use PowerPoint to quickly create a spirit of goodwill with an audience, to trigger dialogue, and to use visual listening techniques to open up new sources of competitive intelligence.
Strategic creativity began to spark. The designers in the room explained how their skill of storyboarding could help sales to map out the entire communications experience. Sales realized the value of having designers involved in the strategic conversation from the very beginning. During a visual improvisation exercise we did together, designers were challenged to experience what it’s like to speak with PowerPoint, and salespeople were stretched to learn some design techniques.
As an added bonus, the president of the company stopped in for 5 minutes to see how the workshop was going. He ended up staying for the full 2 hours. During the workshop, he was somewhat skeptical about the willingness of some of the company’s clients to go through a process like the one I had conducted. But the payoff was the next morning, when I was told the president had called a meeting of the same people to talk about how they would approach their next pitch. This was the first time that mix of people had been invited to the table to talk about strategy.
The beauty of PowerPoint is much deeper than meets the eye. It has less to do with the visual surfaces of slides, and more to do with the way it can help us relate better with one another. In this case, it brought to the table the right people who needed to engage in a communications strategy. It changed relationships. It opened up discussion. It focused strategy. It got results.
It was important the president was there, to see for himself what was possible, and to give permission for the PowerPoint culture to change. The reality is that all the pieces of the puzzle are in place at most organizations, but the senior leadership or the board of directors simply need to say Let’s put them together. As in this example, the simple word Yes can open up the floodgates of strategic creativity at every level.
Tip: Look around and see who’s sitting at your PowerPoint table. Bring in other people who you normally wouldn’t think to bring. If you’re in sales, invite designers into a meeting at the start of your strategy process. If you’re in design, send your president and your sales team a link to this blog entry, and invite yourselves to a seat at the table.