All Articles Leadership Management 7 ways to wake the dead and inspire action

7 ways to wake the dead and inspire action

4 min read


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