By our job title or through appointment, we all get called on to lead groups or projects. And when the time comes to stand up in front of the group, what happens? The first PowerPoint slide goes up and … *crickets* … the silence of death by PowerPoint is deafening and swift.

Since PowerPoint launched, millions upon millions have suffered death by slides. The irony is that PowerPoint is designed to be one of the most powerful visualization tools to mobilize groups. The challenge lies not in the tool, but whether a leader uses it as a crutch or a way to bring life to their story.

A leader is defined as one who guides, motivates and inspires. Since humanity first started gathering at campfires, effective leaders have been great storytellers. The human brain is literally “wired” for themes and stories. The reason that so many leaders fail to inspire with PowerPoint is because they don’t have a compelling story; they fail to call for action; and they use PowerPoint bullet points as a crutch for speaker notes.

Here are seven ways leaders can wake the dead and inspire action.

  1. Start with the story. All inspiring speeches and presentations can be diagrammed as a story with a beginning, middle and end. A great story has a personal dimension and an emotional appeal. If you don’t have a story, no amount of slides will fill the void or inspire.
  2. Start with the end. As a leader, what do you want the outcome to be? What is the call to action? Like a good novel, everything should be designed to build to a climax. Your groups should not only get your point, but say “WOW” … let’s get going.
  3. Open with a bang. How many presentations have you seen that open with credentials and introductions? BORING! You have one slide to grab the audience and capture them with the story. The great visionaries, like Steve Jobs, most often only used a single photo or a couple of words to start legendary stories.
  4. A picture is still worth 1,000 words. In addition to being wired for stories, humans are visual creatures. A compelling photo or graphic is a powerful way to send the message, make it memorable and save words.
  5. Storyboard in 10 or less. The art of storyboarding main concepts has been lost. Limit yourself to no more than 10 slides to lay out your story. If you can’t do it in 10 slides, 100 won’t make it better … it will be much worse. If you can’t script your story in 10 headlines, it’s not a good story and you won’t be inspiring.
  6. NO bullets. If you are a leader aspiring to inspire your team to action, kill all bullet points on your slides. If you need notes, print them. If your group needs data or facts, send it to them. The very best way to focus your group is limit your slides to only graphics and a maximum of 12 words. The best way to limit your words is use 64-point type.
  7. Don’t assume; call for action. Don’t assume anything. If you want the group to act, then ask for specifics and use verbs specifying behavior.

Bonus: Use tweetable headlines. The goal of the leader is not only to tell the story, but to get the members to be story-sharers. In the age of social media, the best way to do that is think of headlines that can be tweeted. There is nothing like 140 characters to limit words, kill bullet points and inspire people to share the vision.

Your ammo should be the art form of being a storyteller, not bullets [points] that deafen the audience.

Chris Petersen is a strategic consultant who specializes in retail, leadership, marketing and measurement. As CEO of IMS, he has built a legacy of working with Fortune 500 companies to achieve measurable results in improving their performance and partnerships. Petersen is the founder of IMS Retail University, a series of strategic workshops focusing on the critical elements of competing profitably in the increasingly complex retail marketplace. For more information, visit IMS.

Image credit: AndreyPopov, via iStockphoto

Related Posts

18 responses to “7 ways to wake the dead and inspire action”

  1. S Hanson says:

    great post!

  2. Adelmi Martínez says:

    Surprise me by telling me who will be interested in my comment, short and to the point: "You either have it or you don't!!!!!!!!!"

  3. Scott says:

    Great post!! Also if there's an opportunity to use video, I'd do it, as long as it's relevant to the presentation. It can easily be incorporated into your powerpoint.

  4. Theo says:

    The problem with this advise is that powerpoint slides live forever. How many times have you all searched for a topic, found a powerpoint, and then only get the graphics but not the story? You don't "get the full meaning" of the presentation but many organizations are using these powerpoints as a means to communicate a complex topic – if you were in attendence that day, then great – you got it. But if you were not, then you are SOL.

  5. Constance says:

    Theo, you miss the part that says–SEND or PRINT OUT all the relevant notes, data. (see #6 above)

  6. John Loty says:

    If you weren't there and you have access to the slides of few words but don't get the message/story (probably all of us wouldn't) then ask someone who was there!
    That's the way stories get passed on.
    Great post by the way.

  7. John Loty says:

    If you weren't there and you have access to the slides of few words but don't get the message/story (probably all of us wouldn't) then ask someone who was there!

  8. Kelli says:

    I really appreciate examples…is there a presentation online somewhere you could point me to that is a good example of the above suggestions?

  9. Thanks for the great article. I would also be grateful if you were able to share an examle. Many thanks. Pollyanna.

  10. Cathy Parham says:

    Excellent article! I second Pollyanna's request for an example. Many thanks

  11. Kim says:

    This remind me of a speaker I saw recently who made me understand how I can be a confidant story- speaker even though I have intense shyness and English language issues. I recommend that speaker. My company brought him in to our office. He spoke to 100 or so people. Speaking Energy is the company. He's a great story-speaker!

  12. I'm planning to start sharing content on Slideshare but one look at the few slides I did tells me it's boring!. Now I know why: too much text, not enough images, and lots of bullet points. So I am starting over with your tips. Thanks!

  13. Lynn Taylor says:

    All So Very True … My best presentation ever was for a promotion … My starting point was the history of the Company … Moving on to where the future lyes … Then Ideas and improvements that could be implemented … Then why I should have the job and what I had to offer …. they were transfixed for the whole presentation and they were even commenting " brilliant " " excellent " and " great " throughout … I held there interest right from the beginning … I had 1 prop … which I held up at the very beginning as I introduced myself … A Large Poster on a board … It gave immediate impact … Now I've got you guessing … It was a poster of the " X" as in X-Factor … My opening Gambit was … Hello Louis / Simon … Shazza's Here …. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  14. Karine Blaufuss says:

    Also, don't read your slides. I can do that for myself and I probably don't need to attend a presentation if all the user does is read slides. PowerPoint is a tool that constantly gets abused. The skills needed are presentation ones: i.e. entrance your audience with a good story that they can relate to.

    I would highly recommend Guy Kawasaki's book: Presentation Zen as a good example on how to use PowerPoint.

  15. Arlene Shannon says:

    Great tips! Thank you!

  16. […] 7 Ways to Wake the Dead and Inspire Action […]

  17. If you want to wake up the dead, I suggest one more idea: involve the audience. Ask them to do something! Think a little creatively about what you are doing/saying and see if there is some way they can replicate it, demonstrate it, repeat it or respond to it!