The value of diagrams

I’m surprised at how few diagrams I see in presentations. Perhaps this is an artifact of PowerPoint – it’s so easy to import a few photos and punch in a bunch of bullet points. I realized this recently when mentoring an MIT electrical engineer who was describing his product concept, which is very visual in nature and has a very definite process flow. Why talk about it when you can show me with a diagram or flow chart?

So much in business and especially startups is dynamic – not static. A flow chart or diagram that illustrates, for example, your product roadmap, is much more powerful than a stack of bulleted text. It can be marked up, annotated, kept as a historical record, used in a patent application, etc.  Even consider doing it an an oversize sheet of paper, like 11″ x 14″ or bigger so it can be laid out on a table and presented to a group that way. You can always photograph it to get it into your smartphone or laptop.

Diagrams can represent connections, relationships, details, and highlight what’s most important. Diagrams can be walked through with a laser pointer or even a finger.

Don’t be afraid to do these by hand. One of the most successful entrepreneurs I know, Bill Warner, founder of Avid Technology and Wildfire, and prominent angel investor, hated PowerPoint and did his presentations by hand. This was some years ago, but I remember two things, no one would mistake Bill for an art school graduate and the drawings ended up on the computer in a presentation program, regardless of how they were drawn.

So don’t be afraid to sketch out your ideas with pencil and paper and scan your final result into Keynote or PowerPoint or Google Docs or whatever you use to present or communicate your ideas.  And maybe try to make friends with an art student who can turn your sketch into a more polished drawing if that’s what you need for an important presentation.

And don’t forget real time diagramming – white boarding. Again, I’m very surprised by how few whiteboards I see in some entrepreneurs’ offices and how rare it is for entrepreneurs to leave their chair in the middle of a mentoring session to get up and draw on the white board.

Way back in the last century, well before mainframe computers were even common, I had to take mechanical drawing in public school. I really think art and drawing need to be
re-introduced into education, even if the drawing skill ends up being applied to commerce, not art.

Author: Mentorphile

Mentor, coach, and advisor to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and non-profit organizations. General manager with significant experience in both for-profit and non-profit organizations. Focus on media and information. On founding team of four venture-backed companies. Currently Chairman of Popsleuth, Inc., maker of the Endorfyn app for keeping fans updated on new stuff from their favorite artists.

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