Researchers looked at how companies use PowerPoint. They found something surprising

woman presenting

Who creates your PowerPoint presentations might matter a lot more than you realise.

Image: Morsa Images/ Getty

You may assume that your CEO or other top managers are the masterminds that shape the strategy that your organisation will follow.

But academics have suggested that whoever is in charge of a relatively modest piece of office software could have a major influence on an organisation’s decisions.

Professor Sotirios Paroutis and Professor Loizos Heracleous, from Warwick Business School, and Dr Eric Knight, from the University of Sydney Business School have investigated the use of PowerPoint slides in business. They found that the people who designed and edited the slides strongly influenced the direction a company’s strategy took, and have suggested that employees who want to influence company strategy should help to design the firm’s presentations.

Their findings were published in the paper, The power of PowerPoint: a visual perspective on meaning making in strategy. The research found that strategy conversations are influenced by the techniques used to create slides, which in turn shape the kinds of follow-up actions that are taken.

“Our findings suggest that those who craft the visuals in PowerPoint slides have the power to influence a strategy’s direction. PowerPoint’s visual features are intimately connected to the direction strategy conversations take and subsequent activities,” they said.

They also noted: “those who craft and edit PowerPoint slides strongly influence the direction of the strategy. The skillful use of PowerPoint is therefore crucial in allowing managers to shape the nature and speed of strategy engagements.”

The researchers said starting with a draft pack of slides and using a wider group of managers to develop these would be a good approach to designing a more open strategy process within firms.

Paroutis said: “Our research highlights how PowerPoint slides, as a critical strategic tool, are used to create strategy. Slides are not an end product, but a tool to stimulate engagement and wider discussion.”

Paroutis said that since the power “is in the eye of the slide creator” organisations should consider who is making the slides, and who the audience will be.

“With the growing use of visualisations, big data analytics, and PowerPoint presentations embedded in strategy analysis and communications; the way managers present their strategies really matters.”

And while not everyone enjoys building (or watching) PowerPoint presentations, the academics warn it should not be under-estimated. “PowerPoint has been criticized as a source of banality,” the researchers said, “but we offer an alternative, opposing view.”

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