Once upon a time, in a career center far far away…
EACE contribution by Jen Pollard, Assistant Director for Trends, Assessment, and Communication at George Mason University
Each day we tell hundreds of stories. We recount stories of joy, stories of struggle, and stories that motivate our students. These stories become the language that connects us with others, makes us more relatable, and solidifies our brand. Each message is tailored to a specific audience – friends, family, or co-workers, for example.
These stories come naturally. They’re personal. But how do we tell a memorable story about our career center? Why is this important?
Career centers do not have just one stakeholder group. As professionals, we communicate constantly with students, staff, faculty, employers, parents, and alumni. It’s critical that we tell a compelling story to each group that clearly communicates our value, success, and goals. But in a constantly evolving digital society, we compete every day with social media sites, cell phones, tablets, cat videos, BuzzFeed articles, and so much more.
We need our message to be personalized. We need it to stick. Enter the world of visual communication. We must learn to communicate more by saying less. We must tell a story through visuals that is so compelling that others can’t help but want to be a part of it.
Don’t know where to begin? Start here.
5 Quick Tips for Communicating Data Visually with Stakeholders
- Begin with the end in mind.
It’s important to consider the ultimate message you want your stakeholder group to be left with. For example, if your visual communication piece will be targeted at employers, your ultimate goal might be to get them to recognize what makes your students stand out. Why should they hire at your institution? Ask yourself these questions before you even begin. Identify your destination before you hit the road.
- Choose your medium.
One you know your targeted stakeholders and the message you’re trying to convey, choose which medium will offer you the best opportunity to reach this group. Do you plan to email the visual? Print it? Post it on social media? This matters. For example, an infographic for social media is generally long and thin whereas one for print would be designed as an 8.5 x 11 inch document.
- Outline your story.
Knowing the size and space constraints of your visual, it’s time to decide what you want to say. What are the most important aspects of your story? What should the order look like? Is it cohesive? A good first strategy is to use bullet points to draft your content. You want to keep things short and sweet without leaving out important information. This is not as easy as it sounds. You’ll delete, rewrite, and change the order of your content several times before it tells the right story. This is normal!
- Prove it.
I set this aside as a separate tip because it’s critical in visual communication to prove the validity of your statements. You have a small window of time where you’ve captured your stakeholder’s attention. You need to tell your story and convince them it’s accurate in as little time as possible. What’s the best tool for doing this? Data. Integrating strong data not only makes for powerful visuals, it also backs up your statements and shows the strategy and reasoning behind your story.
- Get artsy.
Here is where the graphics come in. It’s important to consider colors, layout, typography, and white space. All of these elements, along with others, will help bring your story and data to life. Don’t get discouraged if you lack design skills. Today there are several free platforms, such as Piktochart, that make this last step more accessible. This final polish to your story can also be completed by a student worker, or someone else within your organization that has the time and desire to create visuals. If you can complete steps 1 through 4, you’re 80% of the way there!
After you’re done, it’s time to share! Sit back, relax, and watch as your hard work pays off. Communicating visually with your stakeholders will help you build relationships, showcase success, and continue spreading awareness for your center.
Jen Pollard is the Assistant Director for Trends, Assessment, and Communication at George Mason University. Beginning her career at a PR agency, Jen leverages her digital knowledge and design skills to help the career center visually communicate data with stakeholders and maintain strong relationships throughout the university. Jen earned a BS in Marketing from Bentley University and is currently pursuing an MAIS in Higher Education at George Mason. Her interest include assessment, forecasting and trend analysis, instructional design, and branding.