The year was 1980, and the county administration was in the midst of its budget cycle. I was sitting in the hearing room, awaiting my turn to address the supervisors on another matter, but since I wasn’t sure when my petition would come up, I watched and listened fitfully while department heads came to the podium to plead their cases for capital and operating funds for the following year.
It was truly a ho-hum morning as Tweedle-Dums and Tweedle-Dees read figures from handwritten viewgraphs, attempting to justify their need for various amounts of the taxpayer’s money. Ho-hum, that is, until the Parks and Recreation Department director—the last and presumably least important person on the list—flopped down a spreadsheet showing where each and every dollar he was requesting would go. Not only that, but he backed the figures up with a series of brightly colored graphs showing in wonderful and easily understood detail what the benefits of the “investments,” as he called them, would be.
In the space of five minutes, he not only detailed the need for and use of his requested funds, but he offered several what-if alternatives, comparing their relative “returns on investment.” By the time he finished, everyone in the room was wide awake, marveling at the performance, each of us certain the P&R Department was going to get every dollar, dime, and penny of the basic request. Moreover, you could sense the envy of his peers turn to hostility as the other department heads realized they had been upstaged, not so much by the man himself but his use of a tool called VisiCalc…the magic application that history records as having single-handedly transformed the personal computer from plaything to industrial-grade performer.
In the 30 years since VisiCalc ushered in the personal computer era, nearly everything has changed, except for the need to convey vital information swiftly, clearly, and excitingly. Today, the tools are better, their acceptance universal, and the details they contain pretty well standardized. Where substantive differences between bids exist, the decision making process is fairly simple, but the closer things come to a toss-of-a-coin situation, the more important the presentation itself becomes.
Why the VisiCalc story? Well, Parks & Recreation received its full request, while other departments experienced trims. It’s to suggest that you take a fresh look at your presentations to make sure that they’re as vibrant and lucid as you can make them.