Guest blogger and independent consultant Dr Echo Rivera shares her experience and offers support to researchers who want to create and use effective visuals when communicating your research.
My passion for effective visual communication began when I was an undergrad over 10 years ago. I was torn between two majors–graphic design and psychology–and eventually chose psychology because it meant I would graduate faster.
But, my interest in graphic design and visuals never waned. As a college/grad student, I had to endure a lot of horrible lecture slides. Bullet point after bullet point, text text text. I hated it. I was bored to tears.
I decided to do something about it. I knew that graphic design and visuals could be the breath of fresh air that academia needed, so I started using them in my presentations. Sure, at first I made a lot of mistakes because I had no mentors or teachers for this sort of thing. Still, I was doing things like using animations, stories, and visuals in different ways than people were used to.
What happened was that I quickly built a reputation among peers and mentors for creating stellar presentations. To this day, effective and visual communication is my passion and something I’m dedicated to in the long term.
But it’s not all stars and moons. There have been times where I felt discouraged, like I was wasting my time, and that I should just give up caring about effective presentation design.
I’ve encountered a lot of nay-sayers, haters, and backlash along the way.
Almost as soon as I began applying graphic design, stories, and fun to my presentations, I received mixed messages from people. Some people loved my work and told me things like, “That is the best presentation I have ever seen” or “I wish everyone made slides like yours.”
But I also heard (sometimes from those same people) things like “You’re spending way too much time on that” or “That seems so unnecessary, why bother?” or “That’s inappropriate, you shouldn’t use pictures of people when you talk about domestic violence!”
It was confusing and discouraging, and I still come across haters from time to time. I wanted to write this post because if I’m dealing with this, then I know others are too. I would hate for anyone who is just getting into effective visual communication to get so discouraged by nay-sayers that they give up.
So how do we stay inspired to keep at it? What has worked for me?
1. I read feedback surveys
The feedback I get from my audience of academics, students, evaluators, and nonprofit advocates keeps me going when my motivation is down. When I hear how the information from my presentation was actionable, helpful, and easy to apply, then I know that I have value to bring to others.
When I hear how people like the creative spin I add or the visuals I use then I am reminded why I take the time to add these elements to my presentations.
So, I encourage you to find ways to get and store your positive feedback. It helps to have something positive to read when you’re in need of something inspirational.
2. I got inside haters’ minds
Another piece fell into place for me that was empowering: Most people resist change or the unknown. There is an individual and cultural bias towards the status quo.
And what have I been doing all these years? Challenging the status quo.
Like I said, most presentations I’ve seen are horrible. So then here I come, trying to change the way most people create their presentations.
Here I come telling overworked, tired, professionals that they should:
- Stop saving their presentation creation until the last minute.
- Practice more because their speaker notes won’t be on the slides.
- Think through better storyboards because facts alone are boring and uninspiring.
- Rethink how much information they try to cram into their audience’s brain in one sitting, and build in more time for engagement.
- Take more responsibility for making sure their audience pay attention to, understands, and remembers what they say.
Most people don’t like to learn that what they’re doing is ineffective, and that to be effective it’s going to take time, practice, and effort. When people dismiss or invalidate what you’re doing, pause and ponder: Does their reaction have more to do with them (and what they don’t want to change about their current practice) than it has to do with you? The answer is never an automatic “yes”: it is important to take feedback with grace and to look for the truth in it.
Likewise, just because the answer is “yes”, doesn’t mean you can’t approach them in a new way to change their mind.
I’m just saying, don’t let haters get you down or stop you from pursuing your passion. Look for the truth, fix what you can, and forget about the rest.
3. I reflect on my feelings & how far I’ve come
Rewind about 13 years or more and you’ll find a young woman who was terrified of public speaking. I mean, I used to throw up before presentations. I used to feel nauseous. My hands would shake and my voice would crack when I spoke.
Now? I deliver presentations with joy and I feel good about myself when I’m done.
It’s been a long, difficult journey for me to get to this point. And thinking about how I felt the last time I presented (i.e., awesome) helps me build up the courage and excitement for my next presentation. It’s a positive upward spiral now.
And I can say with 100% honesty that I only got here because I started using graphic design, visuals, and storytelling. It wasn’t overnight, and it wasn’t the only factor, but it was the foot in the door that I needed.
So when I’m feeling a lack of motivation to create effective and visual communication, I reflect on this journey. I think about how using good design makes me feel and how it helped me get over my fear/hatred of public speaking.
I even drew a comic so I’d have a permanent reminder, and so I could let others know that there is hope for them too. I’ve included an excerpt here, but you’ll definitely want to check out the full comic over at my blog.
4. I look for the potential in others & cultivate a community
The nay-sayers are losing their power. There is a growing number of us who desperately want to create effective and visual presentations: people are growing more impatient with bad slides every day. To help us network with and support each other, I created a , the creative research communication network. Our group is full of researchers, academics, scientists, and evaluators who are passionate about effective, visual, and creative research communication. I’m able to look to this group for inspiration on a daily basis.
And my guess is, you’re reading this post because you’re interested in effective and visual communication, which means that you’re part of what I’m talking about here, and YOU are what gives me hope.
Taken together, this gives me a lot of hope for the future of research and science communication. For whatever your field or topic is, think through ways that you can find or create a community. There are few things more inspiring than a community of supportive folks.
5. I know I’m not alone
Finally, I must give a shout-out to some of the trail blazers out there who kept me going when my motivation was the most vulnerable.
I spent years learning effective and visual communication strategies on my own, and the negativity and isolation had almost worn me down completely. Just when I was feeling like all my efforts were a waste of time, someone told me about Stephanie Evergreen, which then led me to Ann K. Emery, Chris Lysy, Kylie Hutchinson, Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic, and Sheila Robinson. Finding these leaders in the field validated that all my efforts were not in vain and that, in fact, I was not alone.
So my suggestion is to look for mentors or leaders who validate your passion. In my case, just the fact that they existed, had websites/blogs, and published great work is inspiring enough to keep me going.
Hi! I’m Dr. Echo Rivera, owner of Creative Research Communication via echorivera.com. My passion is helping researchers, academics, scientists, and evaluators become effective visual communicators. I love to teach people how to create astronomically awesome slide presentations for lectures, conferences, and workshops. I also love to draw comics and want to see more comics used in research and teaching. I’d love to connect with you on Twitter or in my Facebook group, the Creative Research Communicators network.
– Visit Dr Echo Rivera’s website
– Connect with Dr Echo Rivera on Twitter
– Connect with her on LinkedIn
– Join her inspiring Facebook group
Image credits: All images supplied by Dr Echo Rivera and used with permission.
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