At 2:29pm on Saturday afternoon, I stood at the podium and looked across the room. All the seats at the tables were filled; people were packed into the corners at the back, and standing in the doorway. Folks actually stayed through to the last possible session slot at the 2013 Nonprofit Technology Conference and seemed eager to get started on time.
At this point, they had been at the conference for three days among thousands of other nonprofit leaders, learning how to put technology to work for their causes. They were now in our stuffy room on a weekend waiting to learn the winning recipe for infographics that educate and inspire.
I introduced myself then my co-presenter, information designer extraordinaire and long-time Resource Media partner, David Schellinger of lowercase productions. We were there to first show the steps to a successful infographic:
- Identify the ingredients: compelling data and images
- Organize them into a story, and then distill into a headline, tweet or email subject line
- Draw your elements onto the page
- Share with colleagues to check for clarity
- Serve it up via social media
Then we planned to help people “cook,” using the highly technological Crayola crayons as tools.
Visual communications was a major theme at NTC, and it’s certainly an obsession of ours (if you haven’t already, check out our new learning hub: visualstorylab.org). Most attendees brought a specific program, purpose, or project with them to our workshop. But instead of heads-down focus on individual missions, chairs moved even closer together and the room erupted into many conversations. Folks began helping each other unpack their complex stories into the simplest information ingredients and one-sentence headlines.
I squatted at one table sharing ideas to help a human rights organization simplify the story of abuses in the detention system. I was pelted with questions from another group determined to help one woman with her goal of “drawing the story'” of how her organization worked prevent and end homelessness. At a different table, talk was about how to convey the multiple health and productivity benefits of supporting pregnant women in the workplace.
From increasing marrow donor matches and ending hunger, the room was filled with great causes and good people. People were testing short messages, visual outlines, and concepts with each other, and then putting crayons to paper to draw their stories. Although the focus of the NTC 2013 was technology, our session proved that a good cooking lesson and some crayons could bring out the true spirit of the conference: working together to better communicate for more learning, caring and change.