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International Conference Takes Communication Back to the Basics

Graduate students in Public and Organizational Relations learn from visual practitioners

Posted in: Communication and Media, University

David Sibbet, who pioneered the field of visual, organizational consulting, leads a conference session on “Crossing Global Boundaries.”
David Sibbet, who pioneered the field of visual, organizational consulting, leads a conference session on “Crossing Global Boundaries.”

The digital news labs and television studios of the School of Communication and Media got back to the basics this summer when a diverse group of people working in visual fields brought their pens and paper to Montclair State University for an international forum on graphic recording and facilitation.

Live drawing and note taking shared the stage with the experts in this creative field. As Thomas E. Franklin, an assistant professor at Montclair State and award-winning photographer, opened the conference on July 31 with a keynote on the convergence of art, journalism and visual storytelling, graphic recorders translated his words into images and text on large sheets of paper (See the time-lapsed video).

An increasing number of organizations are incorporating visual facilitation into their meetings and strategic planning. Practitioners listen visually, sketch noting to simplify and clarify complex ideas, improving the depth of understanding by shaping ideas creatively. “It’s so exciting to see your words up on that piece of paper and to be listened to,” said Brandy Agerbeck, a graphic recorder and author from Chicago who talked with Montclair State graduate students prior to the conference.

As host to the International Forum of Visual Practitioners, Montclair State showcased its multimedia facility and its place in the forefront of the rapidly changing landscape of communication and digital media, said Yi Luo, associate professor and coordinator of the graduate program in Public and Organizational Relations.

“The ability to create and present compelling stories across multimedia platforms is critical for leaders in digital media,” she said.

Visual practice is studied as part of the graduate program, and in the weeks leading up to the conference, students in a hybrid class with Adjunct Professor Philip Bakelaar learned from the discipline’s leaders to effectively think and communicate visually.

Visual practitioners from around the world bring their pens and paper to Montclair State.

“Having the opportunity to learn and work with the top visual practitioners delivered an immersive experience for our students,” Luo said.

The conference illustrated a variety of ways information can be “displayed and distilled,” said Tai Aaron ’18, a graduate student in Public and Organizational Relations. “Exposing multiple business concepts in storyboard form is not only smart, it’s responsible.”

Sam Bradd, a graphic recorder from Vancouver, for example, prioritizes his practice for cultural safety, human rights training and with the World Health Organization. “When we host a room, we behave in a way that actually helps people be safe, feel welcome, feel valued,” he told the students.

Bradd finds the profession lends itself to better understanding. “‘I feel this world really needs graphic recording, it needs graphic facilitation and it needs all of us,” he said. “I think that with the tools in the hands as democratically and as broadly as possible, that’s what’s going to help us all succeed.”

The impact this visual language has on the global community particularly struck Adrianne Natoli ’18, who is continuing her studies as a graduate student in the Public and Organizational Relations program after earning a degree in Journalism.

“I travel 15 minutes to get to Montclair State, yet people traveled from Belgium, England, Canada and countless other countries too numerous to mention to take part in the International Forum of Visual Practitioners,” she said.

Added Aaron, who uses her bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies in her job as an internal communications manager at a medical technology firm, “I was extremely proud to know this institution is continuing to set the bar for other educational institutions on the road to innovation and industry standards.”