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The Elusive Power of White Space

One of the BIGGEST questions I get is:

I honestly never know how to answer this question in the moment but I’m going to address this question in a few different ways. Here we go! 

Because I work a lot of conferences and events where the speakers time is 30, 45 or 60 minutes. My typical size that I work with is 4 x 8 though more recently for short talks, like 30 mins, I have been working on more of an approx 3 x 5 or 6 feet size. This is all flexible though depending on space available for me to set up, client needs, etc. But it will likely fall within that range. 

More recently I have been working a lot of events where I need to create multiple charts. I find the white space more difficult to manage when I’m in situations where I’m requested to make one or two charts over the course of the whole day. In creating less, I have to work my synthesizing muscles that much more deeper to really try and capture the essence and leave out any fluffy details. 

An example of not so good use of white space.


In capturing shorter talks over the course of the day I typically have the luxury of space. I have a sense now, after doing so many now, of how large to draw or write and how large I want my title at the top to be. But if the talk is really content heavy then yes I do run the risk of running out of space. 

I can typically tell within the first 5 minutes which direction the talk is going to go. Are they going at a slow and steady space? Maybe they are speaking with lots of imagery for me to pull from. They are telling stories and breaking down the information in a clear, bite size fashion. They could also have slides of text that they are pounding through as quick as possible. I balance all of these with focusing on capturing what I hear as the main points with few details. I leave a bit of white space around ideas in case I need to add something later – like if they come back around to an idea they spoke about a few minutes earlier. 

An example of much better use of white space

I have a watch (ok, ok, it’s a fitbit) on my wrist and make a point to look at it as the speaker starts and note the time. I know how long they are supposed to speak for and look at my watch throughout the talk to see how we are making out with the pace of the chart. If we are 5 minutes in but I haven’t pulled much yet from what they have said, then I might start writing more notes on sticky notes. 

I catch myself telling people I ‘cheat’ by using sticky notes but it’s more about using them as a tool. When I’m unsure or have more time I’ll make notes, use them to group ideas and then finalize them with the paper. Short talks, you don’t really have the luxury of using this tool too much or you run the risk of getting to the end of the talk and have absolutely nothing on the page. When using sticky notes, if I have space and I feel like it’s important I’ll make sure I capture them within the chart. And sometimes I’ll just ditch them at the end. 

As I’m watching the time I’ll get a sense of how I’m using the space and managing that space with the time that I have left. 

It does often happen that the speaker who was suppose to talk for 45 minutes stopped at 30. Oh no. My whole timing plan was just thrown out the window. 

I used to freak out, panic, break into a sweat and try to fill the space. Nowadays I give myself some grace. I add in a few more graphics, colour and maybe synthesize the entire talk with its most important message in a clear way. But at the end of the day for me it’s more important to highlight what was said then try and fill in space, just because I have lots of it. It’s a representation of what actually happened in the room and I find people don’t get bent out of shape because there might be more white space on one then another. I’ve never had anyone outright criticize me because of it. 

There ya have it folks, I quick insight in my brain and a few tips on managing my space! Leave me a comment with any other questions you have or let me know your favourite insight.

Love,

Ashton

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