Chris Witt is a coach, consultant, and trainer who works with executives and technical experts who want to communicate what they know more effectively. His clients include IBM, Intuit, Booz Allen Hamilton, Northrop Grumman, Sony, Biogen Idec, Pfizer, the San Diego Zoo, and the School of Medicine at Yale University.
In this interview, Chris talks about his book, Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint: How to Sell Yourself and Your Ideas.
Geetesh: Please tell us more about your book, Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint, and what inspired you to author this title.
Chris: As an executive speech coach, I found that leaders speak not primarily to communicate information, but to make a difference, promote a vision, and change the way people think and feel and act. I wrote Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint to show readers how to speak in a way that advances a leader’s primary goals:
- To promote the organization’s identity both internally and externally,
- To influence an audience’s outlook and behavior, and
- To inspire people to take action.
In order to accomplish those three goals, leaders appeal less to people’s critical thinking and to their need for more information than to their imaginations and to their emotions. Leaders know that telling stories is a more effective way of motivating people than showing slides.
Geetesh: In a series of mediocre PowerPoint led presentations, a single speaker who shuts down the projector and speaks without her slides comes across as an amazing success (an anecdote from your book) — and that scenario is very real indeed. On the other hand cleverly designed slides that work as visual aids have worked very well for leaders such as Al Gore or Steve Jobs. I observe that you do not use a completely anti-PowerPoint tone in your book, but it borders on “you can be a great leader even without PowerPoint”. Please share your thoughts.
Chris: Half my clients are engineers, and I wouldn’t think of suggesting that they swear off PowerPoint. Whether they’re giving a project update, a technical briefing, or an oral proposal, their primary goal is to communicate information in a way that other people can understand and put to use. And communicating information is what PowerPoint is good for. So I work with them to use PowerPoint as effectively as possible.
I’ve slowly begun introducing some of the principles I set forth in Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint into my work with them.
So, for example, I have them use as few slides as possible. I suggest using one only when it’s the best way to demonstrate what they’re talking about. Andrew Lightheart, a presentations coach I respect, put it this way, “You only need a slide in a presentation if you’d need one in conversation.”
I also urge them to approach a presentation as if it’s a conversation—an intelligent, well thought-out, and clear conversation, but a conversation nonetheless. When they dim the lights and stand off to the side of a screen in darkness, they lose one of the most effective ways of connecting with their audience and establishing credibility: eye contact.
But mostly I ask them to establish a goal for each presentation that goes beyond simply communicating information. What do they want people to do with the information they’re presenting? They can learn from leaders—like Gore and Jobs—the value of moving people to action.