A Close Call: Overcoming Old Habits

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Lauren Batten, Director of Advancement at Charlotte Country Day School

Guest Post by Lauren Batten

The assignment was nothing new: update 350 faculty and staff members on the fundraising results over the last school year, as well as outcomes with strategic marketing/communications and alumni relations.

My initial response was typical as well: I’ll dump a bunch of data points into a PowerPoint, lace it with my usual jargon and genuinely thank the faculty, as always, for their role in our success.


Lou Solomon’s wisdom rose in my ear back from the Storylines that Connect class I had participated in February.

“Tell people a story. Be vulnerable, and give people a reason to listen. Slide the necessary data in the middle, but begin and end in a powerful, surprising way,” Lou said.

I realized in that moment that, as much as I loved my faithful PowerPoint presentation, it was dead. Forever. The good news is that I was beginning to recognize when I was about to bore people beyond measure. A first, solid step toward everyone’s recovery!

I polled in my colleagues and offered them the challenge. How do I engage the faculty and staff in a more dynamic way? They nailed the solution.

I started my presentation by saying one word—“Success”.

Then I rhetorically asked the crowd if they found it interesting that there are so many ways to define it. I went on to list a number of data points that I could list on a PowerPoint presentation that would suggest that it had been a successful year in Advancement at Country Day—such as dollars raised through the Annual Fund and capital campaign, the significant rise in online engagement, attendance spikes at reunion events, etc.

Meanwhile, I pretended not to know that our tech assistant was projecting one, single, PowerPoint slide behind me, listing out those bulleted outcomes. I relaxed more and more, having fun as I jokingly said that I could get really excited in sharing these various metrics, which was sure to lull them into a deep slumber.  “Or,” I said, “we could simply talk about what lies at the heart of our success.”

At that moment, a video loaded:

The crowd sat back, soaked in the lively music, photos of students and fellow teachers, and heartfelt quotes from donors for just over a minute, and applauded loudly as the video concluded. They had been spared!

I finished with a few simple statements. First, they could thank Shannon Drosky, our marketing and communication director, for saving them from another one of my deadly PowerPoints. Secondly, the broader school community had once again risen to show their gratitude for them and their important work. And lastly, they truly defined our success in Advancement through everything they do.

As I sat back down in the theater-style seats with my colleagues on the leadership team, they high-fived me as people applauded. It had worked. We had created a self-depricating moment, passed along enough information for those key shareholders to know that the school was financially sound at the close of the year, and created an experience that had evoked an emotional response to the human story that lies at the core of our business.

One small audience in the world saved from the deathly boring presentation from the podium. Thanks to Lou and her team, I’m now determined to save another.

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