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Great Communication

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The Art of Communication...or communicating in art.

On this morning’s Breakfast Show, Kevin Keegan told Chris Evans that he thought Jurgen Klopp was right up there with the best Liverpool managers of all time because –  He has Passion!… for the club, the sport, the players and he communicates it:

“Communicating with the fans, not giving cryptic clues out, … he talks a language they can understand.”

This made ultimate sense to me, that by being able to communicate with Liverpool supporters, he had their backing and as Chris said, “If you have the city, the jobs half done”

This made me think of a chat I had with a friend of mine who works in education. We were discussing how our hard working teachers and support workers often go above and beyond their job role. This is partly because they are working directly with and for people whose outcomes are affected by what they do,(the same can be said for many people working on the front line) but for her it is also directly affected by the way her manager communicated the need for and ultimately their appreciation of a job well done. She is prepared to go those steps further because the way she is asked and because she knows it doesn’t go unnoticed.

I think, across the board, great communication is the key to success.

There are so many options out there to “make you a better communicator” web sites, personal development courses, blogs, self help books. People understand how important it is to success in our relationships, personal and business.  Specialists also need this skill.

Good data analysts are great if they are able to interpret the patterns they see to others. They communicate the trends and comparisons to the people that need to know, in a language they understand. There are many things in an analysts toolbox to help in this task; narrative, charts, graphs, maps, tables.

Images are the ultimate communication, whether presenting big data trends and comparisons, informing people of change, getting your team on board with a new direction or presenting a complex system. We all use them; coaches draw formations on whiteboards, friends scribble maps of directions, teachers draw pretend cakes to explain fractions, we show pictures to children learning to read and follow the steps of diagrams on furniture assembly instructions. We communicate daily using infographics, even more so in the world of smart phones when text messages can be simplified by an emoji and most apps get around a lack of space by using images. 😉

The Presentation Dilemma

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In a world of big data, what comes next? We are swimming in facts and figures, we have mountains of information…So what! There are hackathons, getting brilliant minds to work out what it might show, plugging the piles of facts into applications to “make lives easier”.  Analysts trawl through, trying to discover trends, show movement and pass on intelligence. The ultimate goal is informed decisions, an organisation moving in directions influenced by knowledge of what happens when variables change. (oohhh, the mathematician in me squeals with excitement at the thought of this.)

SO what do we do with it, the data, after all the analysing? Well, the apps have it right, they are the interface between the big data and the decision makers. They stick it on maps, timetables, little squares with prices…no matter the data, they sort it, pull out the important bits and PRESENT IT.

We all like our information presented. Scrolling through sheet and sheets of figures is not everyone’s favourite thing (I love it but I’m officially weird) We create tables of indicators, process flowcharts,  maps of data points or polygons of density, paragraphs of analysis narrative, charts and graphs of all shapes and sizes.

For me infographics are data visualisation at its best, showing complex information in an easily digestible format, I love a good picture. Some people only trust data when it’s in a table or feel comfortable when there is comprehensive narrative around it. Some people want a chart or graph, others associate them with maths and switch off. Knowing your audience is great, realising that what you like may not be for everyone, also a good idea. Diversify, multitask, vary your delivery, however it’s put, when the analysis has been done and the story is ready to be told, cover your bases, tell it in different presentation options (or go with infographics, they are the best)

Sometimes an image is the only way to go, when the amount of data is so large there is only one way to get your point across. To stop people thinking of it as data and just see the answer they need, visualise it. Data is not always numbers, sometimes it’s just information. When faced with trying to explain a complex software system in one image to fit on a web page, no scrolling, you need to cut words and paste pictures. Below is the original and then my finished product.

  This is an example that I put together as part of a contest. It illustrates how sometimes the explanation of what is needed comes scribbled on the back of an envelope and it takes some careful work to create an attractive, professional image that tells the story.

The range of options available for presenting information is wide and very much depends on what you want to say and who to. I have been guilty of following a route for an infographic because I thought it would look cool, only to discover once the data was added, that the reality was messy and confusing. I learnt my lesson and now I let the data lead the way, keeping my options open and trying several ways before settling on a final product.

There will always be differing opinions on the best way to digest data and I am always prepared to use all the options that make sense but my main love will always be a clever, clean infographic.

A Wordle of Rememberance

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A picture paints a thousand words and, given the choice, I will always use a picture instead of text. There are certain situations however, where a picture, made up of words, can have great impact. I have created wordles in the past, from summaries of complex strategic documents to  an impression of a marriage proposal as a keepsake. My most recent has been a joy to put together.

Inspired by the Royal British Legion’s 2017 Poppy Appeal, it presents the words of the John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields in the classic emblem of remembrance, used since 1921 to recognise the sacrifices made by the Armed Forces community, past and present, the poppy.

What started as a personal project, something to put up as profile picture around the 11th November has now started to take on a life of its own. I thought, perhaps I could make it a frame, like I’ve used to show my support for causes in the past. After following the simple instructions and with a certain amount of trepidation, I set up my image as a frame and put it out there in the world, mainly so that I, and maybe some of my family could use it. The wonder of the internet and Facebook means I now have people I have never met with my wordle on their profile pictures…well that’s exciting.