Creating Engaging Meetings Using Visual Language

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I wish meetings and conferences were more fun! Don’t you?

So many of them are nothing more than a boring, complicated, over stuffed information dump. Curating that information for the one or two tidbits of relevant, applicable take aways is like mining for gold.

And there is little time for real dialogue and engagement.

We know people get a lot more accomplished when they can collaborate and work together. Yet most conferences make attendees sit passively in sessions. Or they are forced to connect in a speed networking session. Rarely do we tap into the brain wealth of attendees and allow them to collaborate.

Likewise, often conference attendees retreat into intolerant positions of non-listening. In today’s world of complex challenges, we long for over simplistic explanations that will solve our problems. We are impatient for the truth of multifaceted systemic issues.

Enter Visual Language

So much of our systems understanding and how things work is represented by allegory, imagery, metaphors and stories. We need to tap into the power of that visual language more.

According to Visual Language author Bob Horn, “Visual language is a tight integration of text and graphics.”

Today’s use of infographics, informatics, mind maps and blended text and graphics are on the rise. It’s very different than the traditional text which represents words and illustrations that represents pictures.

We Are Visual Processors

According to Dr. John Medina, learning styles are a myth. The learning style theories that state some of us are visual learners and some aren’t is deceptively alluring. However, it’s not based on scientific fact.

“We are all visual processers,” says Medina.

50% of our brain’s processing power is devoted to visual processing. Our vision trumps all the other senses. It’s not that some of us prefer visuals over audio or touch. It’s that the brain biologically gives preference to processing visuals before processing the other senses. Our brains default to processing vision first.

And in case you want to disagree with that fact. Let me respond like Dr. Medina does, “It’s not an opinion, and you don’t have to agree with this thought. The fact is…it just is.”

Using Visual Language For Meetings

While most of us consider meetings and even conferences as a necessary pain, they can be experiences that create extraordinary results.

Here are three tools to create more engaging meetings.

1. Communicating Visually

Most of us draw daily. We gesture, using simple, expressive movements, with our body as we communicate. Some of us even gesture when we are on the phone. We draw with our bodies in the air. Regardless of what you believe, it’s fairly easy to translate our gestures into communicating on paper. We just need to gain confidence and learn how to hold markers and draw lines.

2. Interactive Media

Sticky notes, image cards, mind-mapping software, sticky walls and touch screens are some examples of interactive media. Combining little chunks of information helps us process connections. Getting our hands on information is a direct path to engagement.

3. Idea Mapping

Idea mapping includes working with blank paper and structured templates. Creating visual metaphors help groups to think about challenging, complex issues.

What are some other ways we can use visual language to create more engaging meetings? What are some tools you’ve used in meetings and events that involve visual language?

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1 comment
  1. It’s a really small thing, but whenever I survey workshop or strategic planning meeting participants in advance, I create a Wordle image of their responses and then use it as the cover slide or handout cover. It give us all a quick sense of what’s on their mind and usually leads to some interesting observations.

    The rapid growth in high quality information graphics makes me think presenters are going to need to learn how to better present data so that it shows the story in a more visually useful way. I can flip through GOOD magazine for hours just looking at their charts.

    Have you read David Shibbet’s new book, Visual Meetings? I’m going to one of his one-day trainings in San Fran the end of September. Can’t wait.

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