Shape Your Thinking

PEOPLE PASSSION 360 by John PhilpinThey say a picture is worth a thousand words. I think that is short-changing the picture. While most people think with images, pictures and visuals, we rarely communicate with those tools, falling back to speech – and if we have to – the written word.

Why is that? You might ask. If I were a betting man, I would say because most people don’t think of themselves as ‘creative’, which is what they associate ‘drawing pictures’ with.

In this article, I focus on Powerpoint as the tool that you are most likely going to be using to create diagrams. But the fact is that the lessons of Visual Thinking applies to any software, pen and paper, marker and white board, blackboard and chalk, iPad and Stylus.

Consider Microsoft Office for Mac the ‘starting pack’ if not ‘go to’ software for office productivity – yes really – that is how Microsoft describes it – talk about irony!

You have Outlook to communicate. Word to write. Excel to calculate and Powerpoint to draw. (I know that isn’t how Microsoft thinks about it – but am I wrong?)

The first problem is that there are too many people who do not know how that software should be used. Here’s a quick test to show you what I mean. Randomly select 5 word docs and see how many of them have used the ‘normal’ template (most of them) or have utilized ‘headings’ or ‘styles’ (hardly any). I could go on – but you get my drift.

So now, let me focus on just one of those apps in the suite … PowerPoint.

Powerpoint is the de-facto choice for most people when it comes to developing and making presentations, yet paradoxically Powerpoint, amongst other things sucks, or so popular meme’s have it.

Turns out that it is the presentation creator’s abilities that suck, makes it boring, too long, lacking information etc. Make no mistake, Powerpoint has massive shortcomings – that’s why I don’t use it – but it is a lot more capable than being a list manager.

There are far better applications to build presentations such as Keynote, Prezi and 30 odd other packages, but no – sorry – not Google Presenter. Even so, it turns out that the old adage that a bad workman should never blame their tools is actually right. While their are different competency levels when it comes to building presentations, even a Powerpoint show can rock in the right hands.

I mean – just think how Darth Vader utilized Powerpoint to bring order to the galaxy.

Oh, that’s right … Darth didn’t use Powerpoint to make his point because he didn’t need the ‘crutch’.

Rule 1

When making a presentation ask how good the presenter is to begin with. It’s all very well building a deck that reflects the ’12 presentation rules of Steve Jobs’ – but if the presenter hasn’t got Steve’s natural grasp of pitching and communication – it won’t matter.

Rule 2

Be real clear about what you are trying to say and who your audience is.

Rule 3

Build your own deck … and despite what I wrote earlier about Powerpoint, the fact is you can make great decks with Powerpoint. Just take a look at some of the decks that my pals at Hubspot are showing off. All created in Powerpoint. It isn’t the software. It isn’t the tool. It is how good you are.


John Philpin
John Philpin
JOHN'S career spans 30 years, 2 continents, and organizations as diverse as Oracle, Citibank and GE. A Mathematics graduate, John moved to California in 1990. He helps technology companies create, develop and deliver their story for fund raising, market development and influencer programs. He also works with businesses to ensure they understand, and are ready, for the ever accelerating changes that technology is bringing to their industry. John is a co-founder of Expert Alumni and gleXnet and long before futurists and industry watchers were writing about the impending challenges that industries were going to be facing, they predicted a perfect storm of issues like skills gap, declining work forces, the gig economy, people trained to do work no longer needed, demographic shifts, economic and social change, market upheaval and rapidly changing ways of doing work. From the beginning they have promoted the idea that massive change was coming to how organizations should think about their workforce, with a singular focus on simplifying the interface between people and their work. Understanding the challenges ahead of the curve, the solution was built to arrive at a better understanding of the greatest restraint to business operations - competence, not capital. gleXnet provides unparalleled insights into an organizations people and operations by flipping the problem from the perspective of people, not the business.

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  1. I absolutely love this article! Please educate on this important communication method. PowerPoint is a visual tool. In my opinion it should be a tool to assist in getting across your message not something your audience is reading along with. If they are reading your message while you speak it the conveyance of the idea through verbal communication is unnecessary. Throw up the visual and explain it’s components and voila – right and left hand side of the brain is activated.