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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