Lose your bullet points

I love lists as much as the next person. For example (and it’s a list):

1) Top 10 lists, such as the “Top 10 Most Dangerous Jobs.” The most dangerous job, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: logging.

(Good to know. Let’s say you’re working in an office, feeling time-pressured and stressed-out. Sure, you’ve got big worries. But at least gigantic trees aren’t falling on your head.)

2) To Do lists: I use them daily, even weekends. Sometimes I put an item on the list that I have no likelihood, really, of ever doing. But writing it down makes me feel better.

3) Angie’s list: online service if you need an electrician, plumber, or logger. Finding an electrician is on my To Do list. I’m sure I’ll be doing that very soon.

But lists have their limits. Main problem: you’ve got to see the list to remember it. If I put “olives” on my shopping list, and then lose the list, there go the olives.

And if you’re trying to influence or inspire others, showing them a list—for example, a bulleted list on a PowerPoint slide—is probably the worst way to do it.

The other day, I picked up a book called “The Art of Woo” (Shell, Moussa). “Woo” stands for “win others over.”

How to woo? Well, the book lists four steps: “1) Survey your situation; 2) Confront the five barriers; 3) Make your pitch; 4) Secure your commitments.”

I’ll never remember this list, ever. Too bad—there goes my woo.

But I’ll remember a story from the book about how Napoleon inspired his soldiers. He needed them to man an artillery battery under deadly fire. No one wanted to do it.


So Napoleon put up a large sign at the battery. He didn’t list the “Top 10 reasons to volunteer for this suicide mission.”

Instead, he wrote 7 words: “The Battery of the Men without Fear.”

Tip: To influence and inspire, lose your list. Tell a story.

© Copyright 2014 Paul Hellman. All rights reserved.

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