Signal Before You Turn

May 12, 2008

Sudden changes without adequate forewarning can be jarring for people. Providing notification of what is to come can ensure a smoother transition for them and for you.

Sometimes I think that my fellow commuters are out to kill me. Other times I know that they are! This morning I was almost hit by a bus.

The bus driver’s scowl contrasted sharply with the large yellow happy face painted on the side of the door beneath his window. I am guessing that he was late in the delivery of the dozen or so adolescents being tossed about in the rear of the bus as he frantically maneuvered through traffic.

Luckily, I had noticed his approach in my rear view mirror. Alerted by car horns and foul language, I had glanced over to witness his path of carnage and I moved to the side of the road. Wildly gesticulating with a single-finger gesture, he zoomed past with a belch of black smoke.

If I had not been alerted by fellow commuters I would have been taken completely by surprise, because there were no other signals. I would not have seen the bus driver’s approach and would not have been able to anticipate his moves. The result could have been disastrous. As it turned out, my car and I came out of the altercation without a scratch, but I would not say that I have warm feelings for the bus driver.

When interacting with others, it is important to remember to signal any changes to come, so that they will have time to respond appropriately. This is especially true for time and/or resource-intensive projects, or when explaining difficult concepts.

People need time to contemplate their role in the plan and to prepare for time and resource demands. By signaling ahead, you are giving them the opportunity to align their priorities with yours, and you are allowing for opportunities of collaboration and synergy.

“Change has a considerable psychological impact on the human mind. To the fearful it is threatening because it means that things may get worse. To the hopeful it is encouraging because things may get better. To the confident it is inspiring because the challenge exists to make things better. “

King Whitney Jr.

It is a fact of life in large metropolitan areas that traffic can be hairy at times. However, driving defensively and using your signals to announce your intentions will generally ensure a safe commute. Signaling your intentions in the workplace can have similar results.

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.


Technical Poster: Graphic Marketing Tool

February 25, 2008

Applying basic marketing concepts to your next poster presentation could make a difference between time well spent and a lost opportunity.

You know the drill. You work hard to represent your research with a series of text-laden PowerPoint slides, print them up, put them on a poster board, and then watch everyone walk past as they search for the shortest beer line, or their best bud from grad school. It is not a very fulfilling experience. What if this time you shook things up a bit? What if you tried something new?

At the many ACS technical meetings this year, there will be thousands of posters presented. Most will gain only a cursory glance, others may not warrant notice at all. In marketing, posters are used very successfully as graphical tools to convey concepts quickly and effectively. Applying basic marketing concepts to your next presentation could result in significantly higher retention rates for you and your poster.

Consider your poster as a marketing tool. Look around at posters that you have seen on your commute into work: movie posters promoting the latest flick, or billboards lining the highway. Think also of the illustrations in textbooks. The successful ones will feature one or two main points with a dynamic graphic and minimal text.

In marketing, text and graphics are two very different tools that convey different types of information. Graphical campaigns are designed to convey a single thought quickly—in a glance. Heavy text is seen as the kiss of death. People just won’t take the time to read voluminous text as they wander down an aisle.

As you design your next poster, think of the one concept that you want to convey more than any thing else. Visualize it and determine the best way to illustrate it without any words at all. The graphic could consist of two molecules docking, a transformational isomerization, a key analyte, or an exploded view of an instrument. Think beyond stick figures to 3-D representations, and use color for dramatic effect. The graphic should also imply motion where possible.

Utilizing these simple concepts you can make your poster much more attractive to passersby. The changes might even result in a conversation that you can use to make a connection for collaboration or networking. Whether you are looking for a job or a grant, you need for others to notice you and your work.

Secondary concepts can be illustrated through smaller panels surrounding the main graphic. For each panel, the relationship to the main graphic should be readily apparent, text should be minimal, and the secondary graphics should add to the primary graphic’s impact. In most cases, the primary graphic should dominate with smaller panels for secondary concepts.

Since people are most likely to search for your poster online, be sure to use keywords in your title and abstract that are common to your field. Consider names for classes of compounds or processes rather than more specific terms.

Lastly, be cognizant of your body language when you are standing in front of your poster. Avoid crossing your arms or legs. Try smiling—even if you don’t want to. You will be seen as more approachable.

If these tactics seem cheesy or trite, reconsider why you chose to present your work in the first place. If you want people to notice your work, and recognize its relevance, then you must first get their attention. In the end, you will have to be more attractive than beer or an old friend if you want others to say, “What’s this all about? I’d like to know more about your work.”

This article was written by David Harwell, Ph.D., assistant director of the ACS Department of Career Management and Development.