Matching your substance with style
My wife recently presented at a conference, so I tagged along to take in the sites of a city I’ve never visited before. But I also crashed three of the conference presentations, including a keynote address, which was one of the more fascinating and frustrating presentations I’ve seen.
The keynote speaker is pretty well known, and she’s one of the only people talking about issues of privilege—especially around race, gender, and sexual identity—in this particular field. The content was terrific. Just outstanding stuff.
And it took everything I had to pay attention. In general, I don’t have an awful attention span. It’s getting a bit worse with age, I admit, but with content this good, my mind shouldn’t have been wandering.
There were a few specifics I think we could all learn from:
- Don’t read your speech. Or if you are reading, practice it enough that it doesn’t sound like you’re reading it.
- Don’t use PowerPoint to write out all of your content. If we’re reading, we’re not listening to you.
- Tell stories. When the speaker spoke from personal experience, the audience was way more engaged than when talking in generalities.
It’s easy to dismiss style as unimportant. I’m sure most of us have heard the point-of-view that if the substance is good enough, the style doesn’t matter so much. Translated to the nonprofit world, maybe it’s more like this: if the work we do is good enough, people will pay attention or get involved or make a donation.
But that’s not enough anymore, as I think most nonprofiteers are now realizing. At Big Duck, we often talk about how some of the most rewarding projects we do are the ones in which we help an organization’s brand match (or catch up to) the quality of its work.
So don’t dismiss style. There’s very little separation these days between the substance of your mission and communicating that substance to your audiences.