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Book review: Real leaders don’t do PowerPoint

Real Leaders Don't Do PowerPoint: How to Sell Yourself and Your Ideas

By Christopher Witt

Crown Publishing

$25

We're kicking off innovation show-and-tells at work next week. It's a new lunch-hour initiative that's a mix of showcase, support group and meet and greet.

Practising and aspiring innovators will get together to bounce around ideas and swap war stories. Just like show-and-tell from our preschool days, it'll be informal and interactive, candid and conversational, safe and supportive.

To that end, we've banned PowerPoint. Some folks nearly weep with joy at the news. Other folks get that deer-in-headlights look, having forgotten there was a time when our forefathers pitched and presented ideas without a PowerPoint safety net. And others try to cut deals, offering to limit themselves to no more than 10 slides. Or maybe 15. Twenty at the most.

Instead of inflicting death by PowerPoint, our game-changers will tell stories. They'll talk about how, when and why inspiration struck. How they turned that inspiration into something real. And what they learned along the way.

Author and speech consultant Christopher Witt says storytelling is the way to go when you stand and deliver. "Masterful speakers create images, because they know that long after the audience has forgotten their words, they'll remember the images," says Witt. We're hardwired for storytelling. Long before show-and-tells at school, we were read stories in bed. It's stories that tap into our imaginations and sidestep our calculating, analytical minds. Great stories stoke our emotions and move us to think differently or inspire us to do something new.

That doesn't happen with the standard six-bullet-to-a-slide PowerPoints jammed with facts and stats, charts and graphs. As a leader, you're peddling influence and inspiration and not information. "As a leader it's up to you to communicate a vision, a direction, a purpose and the impetus for acting. The more you focus on imparting facts and figures, the less you'll be perceived as a leader."

So how about those next generation PowerPoints tricked out with cool stock photos, two-word tag lines and pithy quotes? The ones getting thousands of hits and rave reviews on Slideshare.net? "It hogs people attention," says Witt about PowerPoint. "When you project something on the screen, people look at it. And all the time they're looking at it, they're not looking at you. But as a leader, you don't want to be upstaged. You want people to look at you."

You want their undivided attention as you deliver your one big idea. The idea that influences, inspires and shows your audience who they can become. The idea you absolutely have to tell and the one others simply have to hear. Early in his military career, Dwight Eisenhower wrote speeches for General Douglas MacArthur. Eisenhower told other speechwriters that if you can't put your bottom-line message on the inside of a matchbook, you're not doing your job.

Don't try disguising a small idea with meaningless big words or loading your speech with half-baked thoughts. Your audience will see through it and quickly tune you out. "Each speech should lay out one, and only one, idea. But it's got to be a big idea — big in scope or insight or implication, big enough to justify talking about, big enough to engage the audience's full attention," says Witt. Once you've nailed down your big idea, go and write a speech that delivers three compelling supporting points that seamlessly fit together.

"It takes moxie to state your idea baldly. But that's what being a real leader is all about — saying what you mean in a way that people can't misconstrue or second guess."

There's no shortage of big ideas that need to be shared right now. As our economy unspools, as good people get hurt and as the hits keep coming, now more than ever we need leaders who can stand and deliver and inspire us to regroup, rebuild, be resilient and reinvent ourselves through innovation.

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