When even the Pentagon deems PowerPoint an ineffective communications channel — failing to build understanding and motivate action among its team — nonprofit marketing practitioners better pay attention.

I was stunned to see this headline in today’s New York Times, responding to the this impenetrable slide representing the situation in Afghanistan.  It’s not real page one, above-the-fold material but it is a leading story for every nonprofit communicator.

PowerPoint makes us stupid,” Gen. James N. Mattis of the Marine Corps, the Joint Forces commander, said this month at a military conference in North Carolina. (He spoke without PowerPoint.)…

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding…but some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

McMaster sees the greatest PowerPoint communications failure in bullet point slides that “take no account of interconnected political, economic and ethnic forces. “

But it’s not the tool that’s dumbing-down conversation and limiting understanding. It’s the way we use it.

If you’re not convinced, get this:  The Pentagon uses bullet-point heavy PowerPoint decks for media briefings when they want to say very little. The 25-minute-slide-deck followed by five minutes of Q&A ensures that works every time.

Here are the changes I’ve made (and guide client orgs to make) after seeing audiences fail to connect with bullet-point slides like the one above, time and time again. I:

  • Avoid bullet-point format altogether in in-person presentations, using graphic-only slides with a headline at most and use it only supplemented by graphics (as illustrations on text slides and some graphic-only slides) in webinars.
  • Hold on distributing slide handouts until post-presentation — otherwise I find participants narrow their learning to what’s on the slides and not the other 90% of learning that’s presented orally.

Response to these changes has been hugely  positive and I recommend your organization does the same.

Even more importantly, extend these precepts to all communications:

  • Write and speak succinctly — readers and listeners have less time and patience then every — but don’t dumb down your message or cut out key aspects.
  • Supplement your narrative messaging with images — they really can convey 1,000 words.

What are your strategies for communicating effectively without dumbing down your message? Please comment below. Thanks!

P.S. Messages that connect are a priority for all organizations and the prerequisite for motivating your base to act. Learn how to craft the most essential message — your tagline. Download the Nonprofit Tagline Report, filled with must-dos, don’t dos, case studies and 2,500+ nonprofit tagline examples!

Nancy Schwartz in Branding and Messages, Presentations | 2 comments
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Steve Jobs' Presentation Technique Works Magic for Nonprofit CommunicatorsMany communicators consider Steve Jobs, Apple's co-founder and leader, to be the world's greatest corporate storyteller. One of Jobs' most ardent fans is communications coach Carmine Gallo, who decided to absorb thousands of Jobs' presentations to distill his magic formula.

I'm just finishing up Gallo's recently-released The Presentation Secrets of Steve Jobs and want to share a few of Jobs' most useful strategies with you. They're incredibly useful for program or fundraising communications, whether you're meeting with a major donor or presenting to your board:

  1. Brainstorm before you write a word or slide. Otherwise, your creativity and focus may be derailed by your outline.
  2. Stick to a single concept, the one and one only idea you want your listeners to take away, then support it with three key messages. The concept has to intersect with the interests and/or needs of your base — that's the point of connection.
  3. Express the concept with a memorable, visual headline or tagline. One of Jobs' most memorable headlines is Macbook Air, the world's thinnest notebook.
  4. Find the story in your theme, frame it in a hero/villain dichotomy and structure it as a three-act play (featuring the three key messages). Doing so makes the story easy and compelling to follow, a smooth journey. 
  5. Replace bullet points with a simple word/image combo on your slides. Example: Jobs conveyed the slimness of the Air with an image of the notebook being pulled from an envelope.

Watch Jobs here to see his presentation magic in motion. If you're interested in learning more of Jobs' techniques, I highly recommend Gallo's book!

P.S. Don't miss out on in-depth articles, case studies and guides to nonprofit marketing success — all featured in the twice-monthly Getting Attention e-update.  Subscribe today.

Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, Presentations, Recommended Resources | 0 comments
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I'll Be Speaking at CCSNYS' Money for Mission Tomorrow -- Hope to Meet YouI’m jumping in the car now to drive to upstate NY, where I’ll be speaking tomorrow at CCSNYS’ (the NY association of nonprofits) Money for Mission conference. I was lucky enough to meet the ebullient Valerie Venezia at the NTC conference, where she proffered this lovely invite.

Are you going to be there? If so, please say hello. You know what I look like (just look at the top of this page) and I’ll be wearing a Getting Attention t-shirt. I’d love to meet you.

I’m eager to dive into this conference, especially hearing the two bound-to-be inspiring keynote speakers; Greg McHale of Good2Gether and Charlie Crystle of Giftwork’s creator Mission Research.

But what I’m most excited about is meeting you guys in person(I don’t get enough of that) and, as the featured workshop speaker  be premiering my nonprofit tagline workshop! Can’t wait.

Strengthen your nonprofit brand with the Getting Attention Nonprofit Tagline Report. Subscribe to the Getting Attention e-newsletter (in-depth articles and case studies on nonprofit marketing) to get the free report on publication in mid-September 2008.

Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, Presentations, Taglines | 0 comments

As I’ve listened to eulogies delivered over the past few days at the various memorial services for Former President Gerald Ford, and musician extraordinaire James Brown, I was reminded how slim the line is between making and missing the mark in public speaking.

No one fires up his audience better than Al Sharpton, who delivered an impassioned eulogy at the renowned singer’s funeral in Augusta, Georgia this past Saturday.

“Rap started from James Brown. Hip-hop started from James Brown. Funk started from James Brown. We got on the good foot because of James Brown. And, Peter, if you don’t consider it too arrogant, I don’t know too much yet about what you do in heaven. But if you have Sunday morning service, you ought to let James Brown sing tomorrow morning,” sang Sharpton.

I listened, I remembered and I repeated. Here are some of the reasons Sharpton’s words resonated with me:

  • Short sentences
  • Lots of pauses, to let his words sink in (analogous to white space in hard copy or online); and Sharpton was comfortable with that silence
  • Dramatic language
  • Repetition of key ideas
  • Gestures, not too many but not too wooden.

Although there’s lots of guidance out there on improving fundraising letters, annual reports and Web sites, there’s far less on high-impact speaking. I frequently rely on the guidance of Patricia Fripp whose free e-newsletter (FrippNews) features a wealth of tips and case studies on effective speaking. Fripp focuses on getting her readers’ words remembered and repeated — every speaker’s end goal.

Are you Getting Attention? Subscribe to my free e-newsletter today.

Nancy Schwartz in Nonprofit Communications, Presentations, Recommended Resources | 0 comments

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