I spent several months maybe even years thinking that “corporate America” was a foreign country. I was acutely aware of my differences and the strange customs and language this new world presented me. And in retrospect that may have helped me be successful. I had experience in learning foreign languages, so I did it, again here. I learned a new language full of terms like “deliverables,” “reach out,” and “vertical,” and expressions like “let’s not try to boil the ocean,” or “we need to take this to the next level.” As I had done in my Paris days, I wrote down the unfamiliar terms, looked to speakers who could help me understand and communicate as needed, and identified people I admired to mimic.
But in the end I learned to trust my gut. I knew what I liked to do and volunteered for opportunities that involved those things. I like to create things, to make them hang together as one, and “make them shine.” It’s beyond design and not really design at all. But I volunteered for projects that needed a new look or needed to be innovative and or present the content in a different way. And after awhile, I was handed them. For one of my first projects I worked with an artist to create a “graphic novella” that was published in installments as part of a company-wide awareness campaign. I saw the similarities between the serialized novels I wrote about in my dissertation and what I was producing – and thought how cool is this? It was well-received. We pulled metrics, did surveys, and it even got positive reviews from senior leaders. So I kept going and going for it. And I kept trying to improve upon what I learned. I researched, I talked to people. I didn’t write a scholarly article or for a trade journal, but I did nurture it. Yes, I cultivated my own garden. And I still do.
Today, like every single day, I spend at least two-to-three hours working with PowerPoint (PPT). This includes creating, thinking about, designing and writing content for it. PowerPoint is my weapon of choice. I don’t know how I found it, but I’m grateful I did. For me, it’s what the blank pages of my dissertation were always lacking. For me, it’s more than what people criticize it for. Yes, people cram too many words onto two-toned light blue pages with random white swirls on them and call it a PPT presentation. That’s PPT at its worst. When you see it at its best, it’s a glorious canvas upon which great artists (and I’m not one yet) can express all things good and bad, new and old, and the complexity of all those things.
I knew nothing of PowerPoint when I joined the ranks of “corporate America.” My first attempt to use it was a miserable failure. I knew it had some kind of image capabilities, but I thought it offered me what illustrations could do for books or what the Russian filmmakers like Kuleshov or Eisenstein did through juxtapositions. The first reaction in hindsight was entirely predictable. Apparently the words I put on the slides made sense and interpreted and distilled the policy correctly. But the images did nothing but distract. No big deal or drama there, the subject matter specialist simply stated: “Let’s just get rid of all of the images.” So I did. But I was hooked. I wanted to see how I could use both words and images to make meaning. And so I made it a part of my business to learn how to better use PowerPoint. Yes, I know that may seem horribly silly and small to anyone who at any point in time styled themselves as a great thinker, writer, artist or innovator. But, I’m over that. I like PowerPoint!
So today I’m working on two different kinds of PowerPoint projects. The first is a more traditional presentation, but it involves a more careful and time-consuming design and build. It’ll accompany a presenter who will use it to give a webcast to a group of people sitting in one room looking at a screen. I’ve thought of the design before and what I’m trying to express. It’s a grouping of icons that each stand for the different ways of communicating and the different ways communication has changed. I’ll use each of those icons later in the presentation, but this is the first comprehensive look and it’s setting up the rest. I couldn’t figure out how to connect them without having them look random and messy. But while I was listening to a town-hall call and someone else was presenting what they were doing, unrelated but also in PowerPoint, I saw something and hit on the right way to show the interconnectedness visually. So now I just need to do the work and make sure it functions.
The second is an interactive PDF. This is a new frontier for me. It’s basically an online book with auto-advance, glossary term look up, embedded videos, etc. And it offers a richer more three-dimensional way of presenting content. The entire rectangular page is open to me. The learner can enter it at any point, flip through it from beginning to end or skip around to focus on different sections. It’s not very technical, but it’s a skill I want to learn and master. And it’s got legs right now as a learning asset of choice, so I’m designing, thinking about, and testing out different solutions to organize all 60 pages of this content into the new format.
The views and opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PwC.