The power of PowerPoint: A visual perspective on meaning making in strategy

Eric Knight*, Sotirios Paroutis, Loizos Heracleous

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Citations (Scopus)
32 Downloads (Pure)


Research Summary: Relying on ethnographic data from two consulting engagements, we find that strategists use three visual mechanisms (depiction, juxtaposition, and salience) to create PowerPoint slides. These visual mechanisms prompt meaning-making through the conversations they stimulate, creating strategic visibility. As participants react to visuals, they enact revised interpretations of the strategy, reflecting strategic resonance. Based on the interactions among these three subprocesses (visual mechanisms, strategic visibility, and strategic resonance), we develop a process model for how visuals influence meaning making in strategy engagements. We contribute to existing strategy practice and process studies by explaining how visuals help broker divergent interpretations of a strategy and give rise to new understandings, especially when issues are politically sensitive or analytically complex.

Managerial Summary: The purpose of this study is to understand how strategists use visual information (specifically in PowerPoint slides), and its effects on the strategy process. We find that strategy conversations are influenced by the techniques strategists use to create slides, which in turn shape the kinds of follow-up actions taken. The implications are that: (a) PowerPoint slides can be designed to help tackle complex issues, for instance, when participants have divergent opinions or in politically sensitive situations, and (b) 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)894-921
Number of pages28
JournalStrategic Management Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 1 Mar 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2017 The Authors. Strategic Management Journal published by John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • PowerPoint
  • strategy as practice
  • strategy consulting
  • strategy process
  • visual semiotics


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