Straight from the Chart

A great deal has been written and said about PowerPoint, but very little about the value of the presentation preparation process. How important is this process to executives, and by extension, to their entire organization?

Let’s go straight to the top and see what Jack Welch said about his own process of preparing for analyst presentations when he was CEO of General Electric – this passage is from his #1 New York Times bestselling autobiography, Jack: Straight from the Gut:

“In December of 2000, I was probably the only 65-year-old guy still drawing business charts for analyst presentations. I’ve always thought that chart-making clarified my thinking better than anything else. Reducing a complex problem to a simple chart excited the hell out of me. For every analyst meeting, I’d sit for hours with my finance and investor relations teams, sketching out and tearing up chart after chart. I loved doing charts and got so much out of them. The crazy thing about it was that we always felt the last presentation was our ‘best one ever’.”

Jack’s brief paragraph lists at least 5 ways the process has value:

1. “…I was…drawing business charts…” (It is a personal responsibility.)
2. “…chart-making clarified my thinking better than anything else.” (It clarifies thinking.)
3. “Reducing a complex problem to a simple chart excited…me.” (It arouses intellectual curiosity and passion.)
4. “…I’d sit for hours with my…teams, sketching out and tearing up chart after chart.” (It facilitates teamwork.)
5. “I loved doing charts and got so much out of them.” (It offers personal gratification.)

PowerPoint aside, what is the value to you and your company to continue to get better at any process that focuses personal responsibility, clarifies thinking, arouses intellectual curiosity and passion, facilitates teamwork, and offers personal gratification?

There’s clearly the need for debate about whether we’re producing the best quality presentations possible with PowerPoint today. But there’s no question that the process we undertake when we engage PowerPoint, is the same process that engages the highest, deepest, most valuable work we do, at every level of an organization. A presentation is the place where our intellectual rubber meets the strategic road, and that’s why it’s so important we get PowerPoint right.

Tip: Make a plan, if you don’t have one already, to continually develop your presentation process skills. Want to develop your skills of chart-making? Study the work of the best – Edward Tufte. Story-making? The work of Jim Bonnet is very good. Public speaking? Join or form a local Toastmasters club. Design? Take an offline or online course.

Whatever resources you choose to use, the most important thing is that you follow a clear path of improvement for your presentation and PowerPoint processes, because nothing less than your organization’s strategic value emerges straight from the chart.

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One Response to “Straight from the Chart”

  1. What Do You Mean, No PowerPoint?

    I had an interesting conversation with a coworker this morning about ways to differentiate oneself during presentations by not giving the same old text-heavy PowerPoint presentation that most people fall back on. What we started wondering was, what wou…

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