New Year’s Resolution – Getting Visual

I’m keeping it simple this year… no flavour-free diets, tiresome exercise regimes or draconian abstinence edicts.  My only resolution for 2015 is to improve my visual communication technique.

Over the holidays I armed myself with a couple of great books on the subject of visual thinking & communication: Back of the Napkin (Dan Roam) and Visual Meetings (David Sibbet).  With help from these texts, and lots of practice on my SMART Board, I aim to give my collaboration approach a complete makeover.  By this time next year I intend to be a black-belt in visual communication.

Having seen what a good visual communicator can do with a blank canvas (one of my colleagues here at SMART is a master at it), I am 100% convinced that visual “storytelling” is a breakthrough method for: engaging your audience, drawing fresh ideas into the discussion and resolving collaboration logjams.  I will be shooting for a “group doodle” experience in all my meetings as a sign that I have made an impact.

The process of sketching visual materials in real time adds much needed “space” in the tempo of meetings.  Instead of having a slide instantly available, there is the element of breathing room while the meeting participant sketches out their idea.  The process of watching someone sketch on the board seems to stimulate the group intellect and drives higher levels of refinement in the idea.  As one participant is sketching the concept, the others will recognize additional patterns and be able to build on the initial idea to create better solutions.  This does not happen very often when using static pre-built presentation slides.

Approaching your meetings with a greater focus on real-time sketching also means freeing up your time from creating that perfect PowerPoint deck, to actually thinking through the issues and framing appropriate questions and problems for the group to dig into.  I often see meeting organizers come prepared with a slickly-crafted presentation that they slaved over for hours – this does nothing to inspire collaboration.  In fact, I think it has the opposite effect… the audience holds back on input and feedback as they are being spoon-fed a finished & polished idea. For my approach, I will only prepare a few basic idea building blocks (think of them as mental triggers) ahead of time, and then use the meeting to assemble, via sketching, the concept/problem/solution.

We all started out as great visual communicators, but most of us (myself included) have repressed that ability by relying too much on pre-defined content.  I’m looking forward to getting my kindergarten mojo back and learning to draw all over again.

I’ll be back in a month or so to report on my results.

Andy Ebbern
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About Andy Ebbern

Andy Ebbern is a Collaboration Consultant at SMART Technologies, focused on the application of collaboration technologies to enterprise meeting use cases. Prior to SMART, Andy spent 20 years in IT & Telecom supporting enterprise communication and collaboration solutions for customers across North America. Outside of SMART, Andy likes to unwind by scaring himself silly on his dirt bike.