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Paula Wallace’s Pro Tips for Digital Dynamism — Part Two: Visualize!

These days, we're all on stage together, and presenters pitch, persuade, and entertain from the painted backdrop of home.

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Months ago, as we sat in stiff chairs and waited for curtains to part, we knew what to expect: a lone speaker spotlighted in a vast venue. The effect: dramatic, if often distant. No more. Now, our laptops chime and our screens flicker, and we’re invited into spaces we never would have imagined. These days, we’re all on stage together, and presenters pitch, persuade, and entertain from the painted backdrop of home. Indeed, we come to know each other like never before; we welcome the world to tread our boards.

As communication evolves in the knowledge economy, SCADamp—SCAD’s professional communication studio—empowers our community of scholars to create compelling, visually-supercharged presentations. During the pandemic, as we glimpse the personal spaces of colleagues and counterparts, I invite you for a glimpse inside SCAD, the university that perennially transforms virtual interactions into person-centered engagements. So, enjoy Part Two of my Pro Tips for Digital Dynamism—our journey continues! 

Cut. As Coco Chanel once sagely suggested, “Before you leave the house, look in the mirror and take one thing off”—wise words which work for wardrobes and presentation decks alike! Why? Because while busy is not bland, it is cluttered (more on this later) and confused. When we carefully cull images like we thoughtfully edit ensembles, we put finer points on our statements, be they fashionable or philosophical. So, lead with your best, and let linger just a few photos that captivate like Coco.

Crop. Channel your inner contact sheet—the tried and true tool used to sample and select primo images. In the darkroom ages, when photographers regularly used film, they’d assemble a series of contact prints—negatives of the same subject—and affix them to a sheet of paper. Side-by-side reviews (often conducted with an editor) helped determine not only the perfect image, but also the best crop. This instructive technique is featured in Proof: Photography in the Era of the Contact Sheet, a current exhibition which shows, among other things, how evocative images evolve from elevated edits and curatorial collaborations. So, find a friend with an engaged eye and share a screen. (Just remember the rule of thirds before you snap, and please safeguard subjects’ limbs when you crop.)

Correct. Proofread once, proofread twice, proofread three times and three times again! Just like pictures and graphics, words themselves are visual elements, and unfortunate typos (or inconsistent font styles and sizes) in a presentation distract like lint on a jacket—nothing shows carelessness and undermines a presenter’s credibility more. If you’re an ace illustrator yet don’t fancy yourself a wordsmith, seek a scribe who can paint with words, spot split infinitives, and ask what you’d ideally like to express. In return, lend your expertise to your writerly friend, who will benefit from some advice about proportion and palette.

Connect. Speaking of color, consider choices for both screen and stage—meaning your actual presentation and the forum from which you deliver. In Pro Tips for Digital Dynamism—Part One (Speaking), we embraced the unprecedented control to harness and hone afforded by Zoom and work-from-home. Reminder: we are our own stage directors! So, when selecting tones for graphics and text, consider the hues of your home, too. From peaceful pastels (Ballet Slipper pink and Skyway blue) to “nature-infused,” “health-giving” colors (Turtle Green and Beetle Wing teal), our friends at Pantone suggest a spectrum of shades to welcome and soothe during the pandemic. To foster connections that are as individual as they are organizational, ponder SCADamp Communication Coach Kelly Quinn Kilgore’s advice: “Ask yourself, ‘What world does my audience live in?’ Reflect their values within your slides. Weave their logo and colors into your presentation branding. All elements need to live in the same world—tone, language, visuals—and you, as the presenter, should be the guide.”

Complement. Connection catalyzes engagement, and engagement deepens with presenters’ ability to hold audiences’ attention. The most effective way to bore an audience, you ask? Reading verbatim what’s on a slide. Slides are not note cards or scripts, and too much text—especially in virtual settings where viewers might be tempted to stop listening and start Googling—encourages people to tune out. Don’t let them. Artfully arrange text to heighten tenor and tone, and proffer gripping visuals that accentuate powerfully projected prose. Lastly, as Director of SCADamp Ally Steinweg advises, “Thoughtful rhythm and cadence are vital, so pace visual and aural elements to enhance comprehension and deepen engagement—make sure it’s a slow build, so audiences can digest one element, one idea at a time.”

Curate. I’ll keep this one short: no stock imagery, please. Create your own visuals and shoot your own photographs—or find a partner who can art direct. Yes, there are millions of stock photos out there, and odds are your audience hasn’t seen most of them. Why take the chance, though? (Plus, don’t most stock images seem to … feel the same?) Show people something they’ve never seen—build a library of your best work!

Clean up. Talk of libraries conjures images of bookshelves, the surprise stars of work-from-home—who doesn’t delight in the discoveries of The New York Times’ “Celebrity Bookshelf Detective?” And what do Tom Hanks’ and Gwyneth Paltrow’s and Yo-Yo Ma’s shelves have in common? They aren’t unnecessarily cluttered! Like an intriguing library, tap into a vibe that’s eclectic without being distracting. The same goes for your larger workspace (read: stage) and attire. As Steinweg notes, “Think of the modes of communication—your voice, your nonverbals, your visuals—as different channels that you tune and merge to create harmony, not dissonance.” Project personality and make yourself memorable—for your appealing demeanor, professional appearance, and persuasive presentation.

Today, as we find our visages bound by flat screens, we celebrate opportunities to convey depth and complexity with tools that are anything but one-dimensional. From poignant photos to enthralling infographics, from scalable fonts to smartphone films, speakers have access to unprecedented ability to animate inventive ideas. As we journey toward Part Three of Pro Tips for Digital Dynamism—when we’ll examine captivating connection—consider the emotional gravity speakers convey through authentic expression. Imagery—visual and literary—lends trust, vulnerability, and humanity to our ideas and messages. So, speak from the heart, and present your best self.

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