Byron's Babbles

Graphic Recording: Good Quirky Or Too Off The Wall?

Recently I have been both criticized and lauded for using graphic/visual representations in my meetings. So, in reflecting on the negative reactions, I have thought deeply about the value. My first reaction was that “Wow, these people are very antiquated in their thinking and have had no experience with this great way of facilitating and thinking.” In all fairness, however, I wanted to dig a little deeper. In convenings I have facilitated the results have been positive and far-reaching. Engagement is improved and graphics give the group a way to quickly review thoughts and work that has been completed. In other words, a birds eye view into the work. What we have experienced makes sense given that 65% of the population are visual learners and there is evidence that we retain information as much as six times more effectively when it’s presented through a mixture of speech and visuals rather than speech alone.

There is so much work being done right now using graphics and visualizations to help convening groups understand the work they are doing. It is one of the key practices recommended in a book I am reading right now, Creating Great Choices: A Leader’s Guide to Integrative Thinking by Jennifer Riel and Roger Martin. This great book blends storytelling, theory, and hands-on advice to help any leader or manager facing a tough choice. In the book the authors recommend drawing pictures of the choices and visualizing the possible solutions. I have found this to be such a powerful way to work through creating the best choices. Every person’s thoughts and ideas become very real when they are put on the board.

There is such power in seeing your own words be put up on the board. This was powerful as a classroom teacher and also powerful when facilitating the convening of meetings. Top facilitators make sure all participants’ words are recorded instead of their own.  They write what was said, regardless of theperception of value by anyone collaborating at the time. When working with groups long term, I really like to get them to begin to do their own graphic recording. This is very powerful when the group takes ownership and owns this. Once written, follow-up questions can be used to get the participant to clean up the words and flesh out other thoughts.

Furthermore, the use of graphics make an outstanding way to do a review at the end of a meeting or any time further clarification is necessary. I have made it a custom in any convening I facilitate to do a review at the end. This has proven to be a very powerful way to end meetings and make sure everyone is on the same page. This review can be very quick or very detailed depending on the work that is being done. It is also great to have the visuals available when reporting out from small group or breakout group work. It allows fellow collaborators to actually see the work that is being done and literally watch it develop. Really, this all works on the principle known as the picture superiority effect. Basically, using effective visuals will improve learning. The principle states that people generally have a better memory for pictures than for corresponding words.

Finally, the use of the graphic story boards from previous meetings serve as an awesome gallery walk prior to the next meeting. In fact it was awesome in a project I recently chaired to watch individuals get to the meeting early to review all the graphics from prior meetings. I have to give credit where credit is do and say that I learned the best practice of the gallery work review to my experience with the Harvard Learning Innovation Lab (LILA). Graphic recordings can help learners comprehend abstract concepts using visual language to depict meaning. In other words, the idea is to concretize abstract information with a corresponding visual when possible.

I also believe graphic recordings enrich the meeting space. Displaying the graphic recordings in the meeting space itself is one of the most effective ways to ensure the visuals are part of the ongoing discussion. People will naturally refer back to what was said — the graphic recordings serve as a tangible record in full view of everyone. Again, as I stated earlier by displaying the graphic recordings, you’re showing participants that their words and thoughts are valued and you’re encouraging people to review and discuss the content. This creates a safe environment to share ideas and conflicting opinions.

Bottom-line: Why do companies like Google, the Gap, Lego and Johnson & Johnson use graphic facilitation? Because they know how valuable their meetings are, and they know how graphic recording helps them get the most from their investment of time, money and talent to get their best people in one room. Therefore, I believe making a graphic recording makes the discussion visual. This enables those convened to have snapshot of the ground that has been covered so far. Almost immediately, you can see which points need to be built out and which have yet to be explored. We can “read” images much faster that written word, so the feedback loop is much quicker.

While some may think is quirky, I am a major believer in the use of graphic facilitation. I believe that when the meeting, leadership training, retreat, or any other type of convening really matters, graphic recording and facilitation will make that meeting more effective and productive.

Pictures in this post are of graphic recordings done by Mike Fleisch. I have learned a great deal from Mike and value the experience of having him facilitate many convenings with me.


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