In 2017 I took 131 flights to lead 58 workshops. I spent close to 100 nights in hotels. Yes, it was exhausting, but also worth it because of the success stories I heard from clients. People don’t get smarter as the result of our workshops. They simply become better communicators. I see our workshop attendees use what they’ve learned to get promoted, close million dollar deals, and (a personal favorite) receive standing ovations at internal presentations.
My favorite success story of 2017, doesn’t come from one of our clients. It comes from my wife.
Jess graduated nursing school on December 8th. One of her final big assignments was a poster project: fit the contents of an entire research paper onto one poster.
The temptation with projects like this is to cram everything in. Write in bullet points. Play with the margins. Shrink the font size.
Of course, when you have a Duarte workshop facilitator as your husband well, perhaps he makes some tactful suggestions… We went the other way with this project. Jess ditched the bullets, represented ideas visually and made the most of white space—by leaving it white!
By applying visual principles to her poster, she was able to better communicate what her group was trying to say. Translation: people understood what they were talking about.
The result? Best-in-class poster. Her instructors asked her to present at a conference.
The best part is, the poster was created in PowerPoint. So even if you, dear reader, are not entering a poster contest, you will be able to apply this strategy to your slides. Here are the steps she followed that you can apply to your own work.
First, figure out the story you’re trying to tell. Most people skip this step. In this case, the story was that, while dental health services were being provided, they weren’t being fully taken advantage of. There were still several problems in the community. Jess and her partner had ideas on how to fix them.
Once you have figured out the story you’re trying to tell, then you can start editing accordingly. Example: on the “after” version, you’ll see in the top left there is text basically arranged in columns with the word “yet” in the middle. That’s to highlight the story mentioned above (they have access to dental services but weren’t taking full advantage of them).
Importantly because she understood her story, she was able to delete extraneous information – stuff that, while interesting, did not directly tie back to the story she was telling.
Once we had edited her information to tell a story, we wanted to make the story more digestible. In this case, that meant looking at all of her bullet points and splitting them into groups. Seven bullet points are too many; turning them into three groups was about right.
You know what’s even better than having three groups? Using visuals to represent those groups. Anytime you can use visuals instead of words, that is a huge win. People notice visuals before they notice words. People remember visuals better than they remember words. You’ll see where the bottom left goes from six bullet points to three icons.
Here’s the before and after:
Similarly, in the bottom right, she simplified the information into three groups: Coordinate, Increase, Improve. It would be nice to use pictures to represent those words visually. We couldn’t figure out how to do that*. Instead, we used simple diagrams and added color.
*If anyone knows a simple, self-explanatory visual to represent “coordinate” this is a good time to email firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a note in the comments.
Once we re-organized everything, we took a step back to objectively answer an important question: if we were in the audience, would we want to look at this poster? It’s easy to answer “yes” to this because your poster will always make sense to you. Also because you just want the project to be over with. Objectively speaking, we realized there wasn’t enough white space. We re-sized the banner and Big Blue icon accordingly.
Here’s the finished poster compared to the original one
Let’s summarize so you can apply this to your work, whether it’s a poster, slides or something else:
- Figure out the story you’re trying to tell. You need to be able to do that in a short sentence, two at most.
- Write down everything you know about the topic, then remove anything that does not directly help tell the story you’re trying to tell.
- Group your content together.
- Use visuals to express those groups
- Make sure there’s enough white space
Same information. More visuals. Less clutter.
How long did it take to fix all of this clutter? About an hour.
One hour. That’s it.
That’s all it took to go from “poster that would have been completely forgettable” to “poster that everyone stopped to look at.” You would think that everyone would be willing to spend that extra hour. Truth is, most people aren’t. But if you are…well, you might just be the next great Duarte success story. Do you have any success stories of your own? Tell us about them in the comments.