When asked about the title — Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint — Chris Witt acknowledges that you either love it or hate it. Many people, he says, break out in a broad smile and say, “Isn’t that the truth.” And just as many have a gut reaction against it. They simply can’t imagine giving a speech without using PowerPoint.

Witt seems philosophical about the love-it-or-hate-it reaction.. “I’m always urging leaders to take a stand, saying what they believe to be necessary and true, without watering it down or playing safe,” he explains. “So I figured that I should do the same when it came to writing this book.”

He isn’t, he says, against PowerPoint. He helps many of his high-tech clients use it in their presentations. What he’s opposed to is the over reliance on PowerPoint.

Highlights from the interview::  

1. Leaders speak for one of three reasons: They speak to shape the identity of the audience, to influence how they think and feel, and to inspire them to act.

2. The most important element of a speech is the person of the speaker:Who you are — your character, reputation, personality, experience — determines the message your audience hears..

.3. Anyone who wants to be taken more seriously should learn from how leaders speak: Even if you don’t have the title or position, you can position yourself as a leader by looking and sounding like one every time you speak.


In 25 words or less, what’s the book about?

If you want to change how audiences think, feel and act, you can learn from the strategies and techniques real leaders use when they speak.

What are some of the book’s key assumptions?

First, giving speeches is one of the most important responsibilities of leaders, and they take it on as a challenge and an opportunity. Leaders are concerned about their organization’s identity, what people inside and outside it think and feel about it. They’re concerned about the organization’s mission and purpose and direction. Giving speeches — if done well — lets leaders do all that, and more.

Second, leaders are not primarily concerned about communicating information. There are other ways to get information out, and there are other people whose responsibility it should be. Leaders have three primary reasons for speaking. 1) To define  the audience’s identity — what unites them, what makes them different from others. 2) To influence audiences — to shape how they think and feel about issues. And 3) To inspire audiences — to tap into their feelings and values in a way that moves them to take action.

And finally, people who aren’t leaders can have a greater impact when they speak if they learn from the way real leaders speak.

Do you have something against PowerPoint?

PowerPoint has its place. When used well — which isn’t very often — it can help presenters communicate information. That’s why technical presentations rely on it so much. (When used poorly, PowerPoint is a colossal waste of time, energy, and money.)

But PowerPoint cannot help leaders do what they should be doing in a speech. PowerPoint doesn’t allow them to present a vision of what’s possible and preferable. It doesn’t allow them to engage listeners’ imaginations and emotions. And it doesn’t allow them to speak person to person, heart to heart, to their audiences. 

What gave you the idea to write this book?

I work with two different kinds of clients for the most part. Half my clients are  presidents, CEOs, senior executives, business owners, and association directors. The other half are senior-level technical experts. I noticed pretty early on that how they speak and what they want to accomplish is different. Technical experts — engineers, researchers, programmers, analysts, and the like — primarily want to communicate information in a way that other people can understand and use. They almost always use PowerPoint, some more effectively than others. But leaders have a bigger agenda. And they needed a different approach. In working out what made them different, I came up with the ideas I set forth in Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint.

How’s this book different from other books on speaking?

It’s not just about giving speeches. It’s about speaking as a function of leading, speaking as a leadership tool, speaking as xxx.

It’s short and to the point. We’re all busy multitaskers who have limited attention spans. So the book is divided into very short chapters. Each chapter develops one point, explaining why it’s important, citing examples, and giving advice about how to use it.

It’s a combination of theory, which is meant to make you rethink how you approach speaking, and practical advice, which lays out very clear do-this-don’t-do-that suggestions for implementing the theory.

What gives you credibility to write this kind of book?

I guess it comes down to experience. I’ve been speaking professionally for more years than I’d like to admit — a little less than 30 years. I taught public speaking at the graduate level. And as the president of Witt Communications I worked with Fortune 500 Companies and with presidents and CEOs all the time. I’m steeped in the theory of public speaking. My clients confirm the effectiveness of my advice. (They don’t tolerate anything that doesn’t work.) And since I’m often in front of live audiences, I practice what I preach.

What’s one thing you’d like readers to take away from Real Leaders Don’t Do PowerPoint?

I’d be happy if readers felt empowered to give a speech that expressed what they thought and felt in a clear and compelling way.