I’ve been through a flurry of bad powerpoint presentations recently. At the last one, the speakers turned their backs to the audience and read the slides word-for-word. I kid you not.

Perhaps it was because the words were so tiny none of us could see them.

If you’re using Powerpoint or a similar slide-style program to communicate your fundraising story, this has got to stop!

Reading your slides not only insults the intelligence of your audience, it also makes you look ill-informed. After all, if the speaker isn’t interested enough to master the topic, why should we be interested in listening to her? And if the speaker is the leader of a nonprofit, why would we want to invest money with her if she can’t even remember her presentation?

I think part of the reason people end up reading their slides, is that their slides are:

  • overly burdened with clipart,
  • too dense with words and bullet points, and
  • too cluttered with a background images that seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time.

You want your audiences eyes to be drawn to the slide, not repelled by it.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a Powerpoint expert. In fact, I didn’t even really make a Powerpoint until I recorded my “Fundraising 101” webinar for CharityUniversity back in 2003. Fortunately the content outweighed the very bad Powerpoint slides!

Being a relative late-comer to Powerpoint, I’ve done some reading and found some tricks for making sure you get your story across rather than lulling your audience to sleep. Here are some of my favorite recommendations:

  • Always remember 6×6: If you must use bullet points on your slides, use no more than 6 bullets and no more than 6 words per bullet.
  • Use a black background for all slides: Help your listeners to focus on the content of your slides. Black backgrounds usually blend in with the unused portion of the screen. So rather than focusing on a white box and hopefully seeing the words or images in them, people actually see only the words and images. It’s makes a big difference.
  • Avoid templates like the plague: Most of the people that write about effectively using Powerpoint strongly advise against using the built in templates. I used to think it was crucial that every slide had a “Fundraising Coach” logo on it. But people smarter than me say that if your audience needs to be reminded about who you are on every slide, your content must suck. Any of us should be able to hold a person’s attention for the time of our presentation.
  • Images over words: Studies consistently show that people retain more information if they see an image and hear the narration. If we make them see an image and read words while trying to listen to a speaker, their retention drops dramatically. It only makes sense: we’re asking them to process an image, read the bullet points, and hear what we’re saying at the same time! Talk about distraction. And if you’re trying to raise money, the last thing you want is a distracted donor!
  • No apologies: No matter how important your graph or information is, if you have to say, “I know you can’t see this but…” it doesn’t belong in your presentation. Period. Do the hard work of figuring out how to make it work for your audience.

As you can see from the fundraising talks I’ve posted to SlideShare.net, I’m increasingly becoming a fan of using one image on a slide. Each slide boldly reinforces my verbal comments. The results have been extraordinary. My audiences used to get a glazed-over information overload look; now they’re leaving my talks energized and seem to be getting much more from them.

Check out my “Successful Fundraising in a Recession” slides from my keynote last week. See if you can understand the information. Then listen to the comments of people that were in the audience. Do you “hear” the energy?

To help improve your use of slides and storytelling, be sure to check out work by Andy Goodman, Cliff Atkinson, and Seth Godin.

For what it’s worth, for my fundraising trainings, I buy most of my images through: iStockphoto or stockxpert.com. Of course, you’d want to use real people from your own nonprofit in your own presentations!

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