This is a guest post by Onno Kruitwagen, a VisualsSpeak customer from the Netherlands.
Fun, surprising, personal and profound
Last year, I was asked to facilitate a meeting for a team of senior project managers. The team
leader wanted to discuss the future of her team. The main challenge was to combine the individual
views about the future into a collective ambition.
This challenging request somehow coincided with my recent interest in using visuals in facilitated meetings. The literature about visuals told me that visuals can be very helpful in determining the course of a team or organization, and helps to shape the future. So it didn’t take much convincing: we were going to use visuals.
During the meeting I used an image set of 200 different visuals, divided into categories like people, nature, and life. Lots of different shapes, sizes and colors. I will never forget the participants’ faces when they saw the big table full of images. This was all new to them. They thought we were only going to talk!
I used the images to get to know the participants’ motivation to join the team (what made them tick?), and how they individually perceived the future of it. After that, we combined their individual views into a collective ambition. By the end of the session, we also determined the main activities for 2013 and the individual contributions of the team members, but we didn’t use the visuals for this anymore.
Tips for Using Visuals in Facilitation
I would like to share my experiences with you, and give you some advice about using visuals as a facilitator.
- You can choose to create your own image set, this way it is tailor made, or you can buy an existing one. There has been an interesting discussion about this on the IAF-group on LinkedIn (topic title: “Looking for picture cards”). I bought my image set at VisualsSpeak, because I didn’t feel like making my own one, and the image set of VisualsSpeak has lots of beautiful images (yes, I am a happy customer J).
- I think most participants are not familiar with using visuals. They might feel surprised and want to know why you decided to use visuals. Expect these questions, and make sure you have some convincing answers for them. I have noticed that participants are easily convinced if you have a good explanation, and truly believe in what you are doing is helpful.
- Participants should be able to see all the visuals on the table (or floor), so make sure you have enough space for that. Also make sure you have enough space for the participants to walk around the visuals. I remember that my room was too small, so it was a bit crowded when the participants had to select their visuals at the table.
- Start with some easy exercises using the visuals. I started my session by asking the participants to select an image that indicated how they had entered the room. This way, they started to feel more comfortable with using the visuals. I recommend that facilitators participate in these exercises, so they can set an example and break the ice.
- Be prepared for some very personal, surprising and confronting stories. Images can do a lot with people, you can really get to the bottom of it. One of the participants literally said that he had never expected the answers he had given.
- Using visuals can be surprising for participants. Even so, I advise facilitators to use the visuals in different kind of ways during the meeting. This way, participants stay challenged and focused. I sometimes asked the participants to select one visual, and sometimes I asked them to selected a couple of them. You can use visuals in many ways, so make sure you do.
- I found out that the participants really liked to talk about the visuals they selected. This took more time than I expected. Keep this in mind. It is such a shame to stop these personal stories too early.
- Although some of the participants started a bit reluctant, at the end of the meeting they told me that they liked working with the visuals. They said it was fun, surprising, personal and profound, and it helped their team in shaping the future.
If you have any questions or have your own experiences to share, please get in touch.
About the author
Onno Kruitwagen is a Certified Professional Facilitator (CPF) at OK-worx. He is self employed, andhelps project and team leaders to get more result out of their meetings. Onno creates customized programs that are tailored to the client’s needs, the participants and the intended outcome of the meeting. Onno is also a board member of the IAF Netherlands Chapter.
Email: onno @ OK-worx.nl