Blast Off to Stellar Slides: the Student Perspective


Interested in BLAST OFF TO STELLAR SLIDES (BOSS) and wondering whether you'll experience a transformation in the way you storyboard, design, and deliver your unique presentations? Below are testimonials from current BOSS students. 


Kathryn E. Ringland

Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Northwestern University

I do very community-based work and I wanted to be able to make my research more accessible, not only to people attending my conference talks, but also to the community that my research is with and about. The BOSS program has allowed me to reach both audiences much more effectively. I have been able to think critically about my core message and then create the slides and overall presentation that best supports it. Not only do I get complimented after every academic presentation I give, I also get positive feedback from community members where I share handouts and materials from my presentations with them. I’ve had numerous people tell me that using such a visual style (which is not the norm in my field, although it’s starting to catch on) is compelling and that they want to adopt it for their own presentations.

I also used the BOSS program to help me create a more engaging, interactive job talk (the original reason I joined BOSS to begin with). I’m happy to say that I got a unique postdoctoral fellowship that job cycle and I plan on refreshing my BOSS skills again for this next job cycle’s talk. 😊 I also used my new, fancy BOSS slides for my dissertation defense and it really helped my ethnographic work come alive for my committee and the audience. Not only has BOSS allowed me the creative freedom I’ve longed for in my presentations, but it has given me the confidence to allow my presentations, and, therefore, my research, to shine. This has spilled out into all aspects of my career including my mentoring, teaching, and even service work.

Thank you, Echo, for creating such a wonderful program and I recommend it to anyone wanting to create more accessible, engaging presentations!


Sarah Hellesen
Research Associate, UC Davis School of Medicine, Public Health Sciences

A big part of my job is speaking to groups—presenting research at national conferences, conducting in-person trainings, and leading webinars. Until recently, though, my mindset toward public speaking was always Ok, let’s just get this over with. I work in public health, and I’m very passionate about improving people’s lives, but every presentation I had was its own special kind of torture. I would stammer my way through a boring, info-heavy slide deck and watch my audience visibly lose interest, then sit back down feeling defeated and disappointed in myself for not being able to do justice to what I feel is a very important topic.

BOSS changed ALL OF THAT. I started digging around for PowerPoint tips after not being able to stand the thought of yet another awful conference session, and enrolled in BOSS thinking, Hey, maybe I can learn how to make my slides better so that people pay attention! And I definitely did learn how to do that. What I didn’t expect was the incredible effect the course would have on me as a presenter. Public speaking isn’t torture anymore—it’s becoming one of my favorite parts of the job. I’m excited to share my work, and I feel like I’m finally doing it justice. And I don’t think I’m imagining that my audiences are much more engaged now. I recently spoke at a statewide conference, and one audience member enjoyed it so much that she requested I come do the same session for her local agency!

Echo’s teaching style is fantastic. She makes everything easy to understand and backs up her methods with solid evidence (something that appeals to the researcher in me). The technical skills, workflow and efficiency strategies, and effective communication skills she teaches are invaluable. Enrolling in BOSS was easily one of the best investments I’ve ever made.


Dr. Ana Maria Porras

Postdoctoral Associate, Cornell University

Before starting BOSS I thought I already had a pretty good understanding of good visual presentation design. Just one lesson into it I realized I knew far less than I thought I did. This is because Echo’s course is FULL of incredible tips backed by science and experience that will forever change the way you design and look at presentations. Her specific design, storyboarding, and storytelling tips streamlined the way I work on and think about presentations.

Since starting her class, I have gotten at least one compliment after every presentation I have given on everything from color choice to slide design to content. BOSS is a multi-faceted approach that has elevated communicating my work to a level I didn’t know existed.

Additionally, all the knowledge I have gained has helped me increase my confidence when delivering presentations. I strongly recommend this course to anyone who is even remotely interested in making engaging presentations that will actually be remembered by your audience.


Dr. Jennifer de Beyer

Research Coordinator & Publication Specialist at UK EQUATOR Centre, Centre for Statistics in Medicine at the University of Oxford

Signing up for BOSS has been the most fantastic decision! My slides are more much fun to teach from. I’m spending more time facing the audience and interacting, as there’s no temptation to read from the slides anymore. It’s been a serious time commitment to go back and revamp all of my slide sets, but so worthwhile, and colleagues have been very impressed with them.

BOSS arrived at the perfect moment in my presenting life. I’d been delivering training as a significant portion of my job for a couple of years and was feeling comfortable with my content and verbal delivery. However, there was an increasing disconnect between what I was teaching about writing (simple, clear, concise!) and what my slides were implying by their sheer wordiness. I knew I wanted more visual slides, but was unsure how to source images. When I did add images, they always seemed to look splattered on and the slides just looked a bit odd. A little bit of research turned up an overwhelming amount of information on design and imagery that I didn’t have the time or skills to dig into. Echo’s CYVD course was a lifeline in sourcing images safely, and signing up for BOSS was the logical progression to learn what to do with them.

The BOSS modules move at a comfortable pace, with small action prompts after each lesson that help consolidate knowledge. The individual lessons are short enough to easily rewatch the occasional one to review content. I started by ignoring the handouts that came with each lesson and just watched the videos, but soon realized that meant I wasn’t really engaging with the content. Once I printed the handouts and had them ready to complete during the videos, and I committed to trying out the actions, learning started to really happen. Altering my practice presentations felt gradual and manageable as we progressed through the modules, but looking back at the end of the course, there was a staggering change!

The BOSS VIP (Praxis) option has been an amazing investment. 

I'd been dithering over the extra bit of cash, thinking I'd be fine just going through the modules on my own. But the coaching calls and prompts have been incredibly helpful in keeping me accountable. I didn't really start working on the course until the first coaching call happened, despite promising myself that I would start as soon as the course opened and work consistently! I then used the calls as a marker of how fast I could be going through the modules and tried to keep up. Being able to dump questions into the call survey stopped me getting stuck and stalling on a particular class - I knew Echo would answer them in a few days, so I could keep going and not worry. The course couldn’t fall too far off my radar, as there was a little pinging reminder every day with the prompts. And going through the course as a whole over a few weeks, rather than dipping in and out, kept the momentum going really well. It would have been such a pity to put BOSS to one side after a couple of modules and not finish, as happens to so many online courses. Plus, we even get to have a refresher in a few months, when the next cohort starts!

I’ve particularly loved that the course learning doesn’t stop between cohorts. There are small but growing communities on the private BOSS group. Whenever a presentation issue or new experience pops up, we can chat it through and keep asking questions. It’s also really fun to be able to share new slide designs or good experiences!


Dr. Kandace Creel Falcón

Associate Professor of Women's & Gender Studies

Seeing Echo Rivera tweet consistently and excitedly about her Blast Off to Stellar Slides course piqued my interest. Her enthusiasm encouraged me and I enrolled in the course the summer of 2017 to get a jumpstart on thinking differently about the use of PowerPoint presentations in my course lectures and professional, academic presentations.

As someone who has been delivering presentations for almost two decades I was skeptical about how much the course would impact my presentations. I wondered if it was possible to do better visuals, and if I would have the time to dedicate to making my presentations more visually appealing. I worried the course might make me feel inadequate, by pointing out all the ways I was doing it wrong, resulting in more stress to try to fix my presentation style.

Yet, Echo’s openness about the goals of the course and her transparency about the skills we would learn (including maximizing efficiency in presentation design) specifically increased my interest in learning more about how visual communication could help my students learn in different ways in the classroom.

As an interdisciplinary scholar I truly appreciate how Echo blends together different areas of study and expertise to craft a creatively engaging course. Most surprisingly, the class unleashed a creative energy within me I didn’t know was suppressed. In addition to making the visual components of my presentations more effective, Echo’s course ultimately changed my life. Echo’s class enabled me to embrace my artist self, I’ve integrated drawing and comics into my life and presentations in ways I never imagined before, and know with her guidance and support I will continue to make meaningful graphics for much more impactful presentations for the rest of my life.


Lesley Allen

Research Consultant at Allen & Allen Consulting and Research

I took the Blast Off to Stellar Slides (BOSS) course offered by Echo Rivera from June to August 2017, and I have some comments/feedback about the course content and the instruction to share with people looking to improve their presentation skills. Previously, I participated in the Visual Database course and enjoyed it so much that I decided to enroll in the BOSS.

I found the BOSS course to be extremely well designed and presented in the online format. The course was divided into six manageable modules that ranged from Foundations to Effective and Visual Communications to Dataviz Design. All the modules were comprehensive, interesting and instructive, but I really learned the most from modules 5 and 6 – Using Visuals Effectively and Dataviz Design. Within the modules, Echo offered technical lessons on the practical aspects such as taking screenshots, zooming in on websites, editing hand-drawn sketches and creating decluttered graphs. These practical lessons were very helpful and sharpened my technical skills immensely.

Since taking the course, my presentations are far more dynamic and engaging. My audiences have offered comments such as:

“Wow, great presentation”, “Love the visuals”, and “Compelling presentation.”

While taking the course, participants were asked to provide constructive feedback and identify areas that needed improvement or additional technical lessons. This request for participant feedback and suggestions demonstrated Echo’s ongoing professionalism and work ethic. Her aim is to provide the best course possible on presentations through continuous refinement and participant feedback.

So, if you want to improve your presentation skills, I highly recommend the BOSS course. It is an excellent online course that is well organized, user friendly and practical. It is well worth the investment of your time and money.


Dr. Kathryn Klement

Assistant Professor of Psychology at Bemidji State University

If someone asked me a year ago what would become one of the biggest influences on science communication and pedagogy, I would have no idea how to answer. (I would also probably raise an eyebrow at the use of “pedagogy.”)

I do now, though, and it’s definitely Dr. Echo Rivera’s BOSS course. I first encountered Echo’s work through a guest post on the The Professor Is In, a blog devoted to helping graduate students and faculty navigate the academic job market minefield. She was talking about how to create effective presentation materials for an academic job talk, and she spoke heresy like “1 slide/1 minute is a terrible rule” and “You shouldn’t have so much text on your slides.” 

I was intrigued. I signed up for two of her free email courses before registered for her next cohort of BOSS, and it is one of the best decisions I have made in my professional life.

As a social psychologist, it was so comforting to hear Echo’s methods and perspective explained with psychological theory. (Not that I don’t think it would be comforting for others. She has Reasons! Evidence-based Reasons! That should be comforting to us all in the current climate.) Her course modules are laid out in easy steps and with the idea that I could continue making small improvements to always be a little better. As a professor, this is also helpful, because changing all of my lecture slides immediately was a pretty daunting task.

You might wonder, are the changes so big? What is even the point if students are used to walls of text in class anyway? 

The after slides are a lot less cluttered and easy to walk through. I also found that lecturing with more, better, slides was easier than struggling to remind myself of what I wanted to say with 7 bullet points of text. Whereas before, I would be confronted with a wall of text (just like my students) that was mostly provided by a textbook publisher and have to stumble through the high points (with occasionally, “you might not be able to see this in the back, sorry!”), now I have to be familiar with the material, because I’m finding new ways to represent the information. I’ve found it easier to cue myself with great visuals or a few words, which helps my students, too. 

There were intermediate steps. This didn’t happen overnight. I used to be someone who tried to use a different slide template for each lecture, and to be fancy with serif fonts (trust me, you’ll learn all about fonts and typefaces!) and different colors. But I learned that all those things are just getting in the way of students’ learning. I never thought I would be someone to embrace an all-white background. But here we are.

This isn’t to say that my slides are boring. Perish the thought. But they’re better...And this has helped me start to rethink how I provide information via lecture to my students. I don’t want to be another boring professor who talks at their students. I want to be a professor who tells great stories and challenges my students to keep learning and asking questions.

So, literally, this course changed my life and my perspective on teaching and presenting my research. I no longer feel trapped by the traditional formula of conference talks, where I go through a literature review, then the methods of my study, the results and conclusions. I tell a story. I give them a “so what?” before getting into how I got there. 

I’ve always been excited to share my research at conferences, or to broaden students’ minds in class. But now I’m also proud of the stories I tell with my slides, and that is all down to Echo and BOSS (well, I did do some work…).

I'm really really glad I went with the community [Praxis] version of BOSS...

...because it's really helped me with getting feedback from the folks, or through office hours. It's an awesome, welcoming, safe space. If I have a question about whether my visual makes sense, or my storyboard flows well, I can post that to the fb group, and I’ll get several constructive responses. Being a part of the BOSS community has helped me create and deliver a kickass job talk, several conference talks, and everyday lectures. I also love seeing what my fellow BOSS students are doing. Seeing their work helps to ignite my own creativity, and I like being able to give encouragement and constructive feedback to them, too. 

If you’re on the fence and wondering, “well, how can I do all that stuff? I have 27 other things on my to-do list!” I totally hear you. I’m finishing up the first year of my first post-PhD job. I was also still on the job market, went to a conference (where I gave 3 presentations – not something I suggest), and prepped and taught 5 courses. You can schedule in time like a responsible adult, you can binge through 10 modules in a day like I did several times, or something else. 

A definite perk is that if you join BOSS, you’re in for life, so you always have access to the course materials. Even though I’ve finished the course, I still go back to lessons when I need a refresher. And if you need encouragement and motivation getting through, the BOSS community has your back! 


Dr. Hirah Mir

Educational Psychologist,, New York State Government Administration

I started working full-time at a New York State agency after I had finished up my doctoral coursework and was on my way to be ABD. My first big project at the agency was the development of a series of 23 webinars to educate the field of intellectual and developmental disabilities on how to best support people with disabilities to live independent and dignified lives. I developed the first draft of a webinar using tips I had learned from a few of Echo River’s free webinars and one page summary handouts. I was able to immediately apply some basic elements to the design of the webinar. I followed these tips to create a first draft of the webinar- a prototype.

When I presented the first draft of my webinar to my boss and project director, they were wowed. My boss said “There is nothing like this in the field.”

All I had done was design a presentation in the way that Echo Rivera had taught me (from her free resources!). My boss also commented on the high quality and crispness of the images I chose and that the overall look of the powerpoint presentation was very sleek and professional.

I had the buy-in of my boss and project director. The next step was to convince six other master trainers to accept this prototype and develop 22 other webinars in the same way. A seasoned master trainer (from whom I expected the most feedback and/or resistance) revealed to me later that when I emailed him the webinar, he “expected to be bored” but that he wasn’t! When I launched the webinar, a national advocacy organization who also does a lot of development and training for the field, emailed me:

“Thank you for making direct support professionals’ access to important educational opportunities highly accessible and apparent.”

Another comment from a retired and well-known leader in workforce was:

“[Webinar] was engaging, instructive, effective, powerful in communicating respect and informed decision-making, and practical in demonstrating how this important DSP competency functions in A REAL LIFE CONTEXT. You set an amazing example of how to teach the core competencies.”

Because I was now going to develop 22 other webinars and needed more guidance, I enrolled in Echo Rivera’s BOSS course.

I especially needed guidance on storyboarding because each webinar was going to have a story, or authentic scenario, about supporting someone with an intellectual and/or development disability. The norm in the field was to start with a powerpoint and throw all of your thoughts on the powerpoint. I wanted to change that approach and guide people to develop the verbal aspect of the presentation first and not worry about the visual. As a trained educational psychologist, I knew I had to focus on the learning aspect of the webinar, and not just the visuals. This is where I experienced the most resistance or push back from the master trainers.

I am now on webinar 14 out of 23. Throughout this project, I worked with 10+ different presenters all with different presentation styles and with varying experience in lesson planning and teaching. I have had to support and scaffold them in developing content and delivering the content in a way that will elicit quality feedback internally and will support learning once it is launched.

Echo Rivera’s approach is more than powerpoint design, it is about effective teaching and learning, which is also the core of the webinar series I am developing. Echo Rivera’s resources, course, and overall approach to effective communication enabled me to:

  • Develop a series of highly visual and concise webinars to train staff on how to support people with disabilities.

  • Support 10+ presenters of diverse professions and backgrounds on how to facilitate learning using evidence-based strategies for educational design (e.g. Bloom’s taxonomy).

  • Influence people to change people’s mindset and approach to training and development (i.e. there is more to training and teaching than powerpoint).

  • Implement virtual feedback mechanisms in the organization to enable people to give useful feedback to each other.

According to my boss, I have also set a new standard for presentation design in the organization.

The above testimonial is a quick overview of how Echo Rivera’s resources and approach influenced the development of a specific project. I have used Echo’s tips in delivering my own dissertation defense. I invited a number of people to my defense, including many undergraduate students and non-academics. I used mostly dataviz tips and broke down a lot of my methodology and analyses step by step. I gave an interactive handout to attendees, which is better suited for virtual presentations compared to in-person but were a great addition nonetheless. I have been asked to present my defense in two other places, one will be in an online meeting so the handout will be useful!

Overall, Echo has trained me on how to make research, data, and information more accessible to people of varying interests and educational and professional backgrounds, allowing me to become a better communicator, presenter, and advocate.


Gerda Zonruiter

Research & Evaluation Consultant

I highly recommend Echo Rivera's online presentation course, “Blast Off to Stellar Slides”.I thought and I heard from others that I developed good presentations before taking the course. Echo’s course taught me how to make my presentations more focused and interesting, and in less time than in the past. I found the lesson modules to be well-organized and worth the time it took to do them. The self-paced online format made it easy for me to make space in my day for the lesson. And Echo has been responsive and encouraging in her communications with me.

If you're ready to maximize your #PotentialPresentationImpact with some training, I've got just the thing for you:

It's called Blast Off to Stellar Slides and it's my core professional development online program.



Enrollment to BOSS is currently closed…but you can sign up for the BOSS list now so you’re the first to know when enrollment will open again (again you’ll get access to early bird pricing & bonuses)

Students did not receive financial compensation for their testimonial.