The Graphic Facilitator’s Guide Review

How to use your listening, thinking, and drawing skills to make meaning.

Visual communication can be daunting. Most people don’t learn the foundations in school. Even if you go to art school, you may know how to draw, paint or make stuff. But you still may not know how to take this skills and utilize them in a business context.

Brandy breaks it all down in this book. She isolates the design aspects you need to effectively record conversations and provide visual overview for meetings and events.

Do you have what it takes to be a graphic recorder?

Early in the book, Brandy lists out the success factors for being a successful graphic recorder. Later she defines the language and skills you’d be using.

I am not a graphic recorder. While I have most of the skills required, my brain likes to gather lots of data and think about it before creating visuals. I’m just too reflective to be able to get the visuals down in real time. Even so, there is a lot of value in the book for me. It helps me understand the factors that make for other types of visuals like slides and flipcharts. It delves deeply into the most important elements to think about.

The Principles of Graphic Facilitation

 The bulk of the book are the Principles of Graphic Faciliation

  • Overview
  • Listening
  • Thinking
  • Drawing
  • Practicing
  • In the Room

She breaks down each part and clearly describes how you can use each principle to be more successful. Of course there are illustrations through out to help us see clearly exactly how to apply each idea.

Her section on drawing gives you a basic visual vocabulary that anyone can do. Really. If you can write and make simple marks on the page you can do these drawings. It’s a fantastic reference to pick up so you don’t have to think about how to draw something – it’s right there on the page.

(Real artists use references all the time! You can too.)

Other reasons I like this book

The book is well thought out through out.  Brandy really covers what you need to know to communicate more effectively using visuals. Graphic recording uses a lot of words. Oftentimes the visual parts are the organizing structures. I think this must be why Brandy is so good at it. She breathes structure and organization and makes it look effortless.

You can get a copy of the book at Amazon or on Brandy’s website.

If you’d like a really deep dive into graphic recording, Brandy is offering The Lab. It’s a small group concentrated learning experience, sure to accelerate your skills. I saw the results her students got after the last class and was really impressed. The next session is January 7-9, 2012 in Chicago. As of this posting, she’s only got 2 spaces left.


Can an Image Paint a Thousand Words?


Here’s what’s interesting about the brain.  It relies on memories to develop our values and belief systems.

I had to think about that at first because my initial reaction was, don’t I decide what I believe?  Nope.  My brain has an active role in determining what I believe based on what I remember.  Of course then I get to filter that information. 

So the mind, what we think of as our conscious self relies quite heavily on what the brain is doing and lets face it, the brain doesn’t really have the best filing system in the world or I’d be able to remember the name of that movie, you know the one with that guy…

And that leads me to images.  Images are the place where our memories hang. 
If you don’t believe me then look at the word below:


Now, how do you feel? How many memories were immediately triggered?  Or did you have to think about what the word meant first? 


Now, look at the image below:

So, this time, how did you feel?  How many memories were immediately triggered?

With the word you probably got some ideas about what the word means and what it means to you.  But I’m betting you didn’t have an emotional reaction like you might have when you looked at the image.

Images are powerful.  Not only are they worth a thousand words, they are worth a whole host of emotions, values, beliefs, passions and more. 

This is what makes VisualsSpeak tools so effective.  When working with individuals or groups on big questions about innovation or leadership or teambuilding.  Nothing breaks through barriers quite as quickly as images do.  Images reach into the brain’s filing cabinet of memories and make connections we couldn’t make as well on our own.

If you want big breakthroughs with your clients, if you want successful sessions every time, give images an opportunity to shine.  You’ll be amazed at the results… we always are!

The ImageSet does it all – check it out! >> ImageSet


What do I see, what might I see?


I’ve been exploring the idea of big data. Thinking about how technology can help us look at things differently. I want to be able to look at a combination of audio, video, text, and pull different threads from it. Find a series of pathways through the rich possibilities.

And I want the technology to learn. As I learn from it’s richness, or others do, I want it to get smarter.

Beyond one perspective

The most exciting thing about the idea of using technology to explore huge amounts of information is thinking about what it would be like to be able to explore patterns. To have the computer  identify possibilities. To be able to to explore layering and options. Allowing the computer to do what it does best, and partnering with it to bring the human elements we can not yet replicate.

Discovering beyond search

I’m longing to get beyond searching for a word or phrase. I want to be able to discover or consider things that are around an idea. A tool that manages divergence rather than just providing convergence. I know I can go down digital rabbit holes, but what if I could see how those rabbit holes related to other groups of data?

How can data be searched multi-dimensionally, and more importantly, fed back in a way that is comprehensible? I know it has a lot to do with making it visual. Flexible. With a variety of lenses.


When Science and Art Dance

I facilitated the Re-inventing University-level Learning Workshop at the University of Washington Bothell earlier this spring. Since then, a small group has continued to work toward creating programs and courses that reflect some of the ideas that came from the workshop. I was copied on an email to the group, where they were looking at images of science and art.

Maria Popova shared one in her post, Systemic Wonder: A Definition that Accounts for Whimsy

When I saw this image, I liked the idea of wonder emerging from the intersection, but the overlap felt too contained. It seems to be a lot more energy emerges when you bring science and art together. Almost immediately, this image popped into my head.

When science and art come together it’s more like a dance. In it’s highest expression. It takes attitudes of curiosity and wonder, and a willingness to search for the best parts of each approach. This image started an interesting project, where it spawned a series of images about this topic. I collaborated with one of our customers, Skip Walter, to uncover then design a presentation for a conference. More about that soon.



What do images mean?

Many people want us to tell them what the images we use mean. Or what the arrangements mean.

Here’s the thing. After watching thousands of people tell us what the same images mean to them, we know it varies. There are some patterns, with about 60% having similar idea, but the rest are all over the map.

Just when we think we have heard it all, someone comes up with something we have never heard before.

This is why we focus on asking participants what the images mean. Even if they don’t think they know, once they get started talking, they discover they do. The story unfolds.




Why Use Images?


Light a flame in participants!How do the images get such better results than traditional verbal-only or verbal+writing approaches? What are the benefits of using images? There are many! Here are a handful:

Create more engaging processes
Photographs have a natural way of getting people to look and ask questions. There are usually stories attached to them. Think about the last time you were around someone showing pictures of a recent trip or of their family to a group of people. What happens? Stories get told, people ask questions and the lookers begin to tell stories of their own, because the combination of stories and pictures spark connections for them. People are engaged!

This is very similar to the process that happens with VisualsSpeak tools. People will be engaged. And when they get engaged, they participate.

Increase participation
Because you are using a visual-based tool, you have helped people to engage with the process. This kind of engagement develops a synergy. When one person “gets it,” the others are soon to follow. Even people who had no inclination or desire to participate when they arrived are much more inclined to do so when others get actively involved. Who wants to be the odd one out?

Connect the dots
Images help participants get below the surface quickly. They create a door between the conscious and subconscious, giving your groups the ability to make associations and connections to information that is not always directly accessible. This linkage allows them to take leaps in their thinking by getting them out of their literal, analytical minds.

Level the playing field for non-native speakers
If your group consists of non-native speakers of the dominant language, then using images gives them another way to express themselves. The photographs will allow these participants to literally show their thoughts and gives them ways to communicate other than just in words. This has the added benefit of helping them feel included and empowered to share more. As a result, VisualsSpeak tools are used successfully across a wide range of intercultural settings.

Inspire storytelling
Stories are everywhere. They are the basis of communication regardless of culture. Every day we are bombarded with stories in the form of advertisements, movies, news, books, radio, songs and more. Even financial reports are stories told in the language of mathematics! Images help unlock the inner storyteller in your participants.

Increase learning through fun
Searching through stacks of images is a process that invokes fun in participants. They will compare and share stories about them, and engage in creative dialogues and find new ways to express themselves. Don’t ever doubt the power of increased learning through having fun–especially when it comes to adults!

Breaking out of habitual patterns
It is easy to fall into routines of thinking–it’s actually how we develop our expertise! Most of the time this is very helpful, but it can also tip into patterns that do not allow for new possibilities. Using images to spark associations can lead us to new ideas and insights that are beyond what we think about with words alone. The brain processes pictures faster and in larger chunks, to we can further open the possibility of making leaps in our thinking by using images.


VisualsSpeak versus Collage


When people see the VisualsSpeak process for the first time, or they look at our web site, one question that often comes up is about how it differs from collage. One artifact of the VisualsSpeak process looks a lot like collage, after all, with images arranged (often overlapping) on a surface or backing paper. But in actuality, they’re really quite different.

VisualsSpeak takes the randomness of results and the time-consuming nature of traditional collage processes out of the equation. The images that participants use have been tested in advance and pre-selected for accessibility and effectiveness across a broad range of topics. Here at VisualsSpeak, we spent years researching the underlying visual language of images and how that translates into creating processes that will engage groups and transform their conversations.

Also, participant and facilitation time will not be wasted by having to collect materials and clean up after the process is over. Participants won’t be spending precious time by having to clip images from magazines. Unlike traditional collage, VisualsSpeak is the opposite of a design process, because the emphasis is on rapidly selecting and arranging the photos, which engages the intuitive part of the brain.

What this means to you is that you are helping groups to bypass the linear/intellectual and delve into the fertile levels of imagination and creativity!


Eliciting Meaning Through Visuals…and Pantyhose?


Eliciting Meaning ... through pantyhose?In a recent Tuesday Topics call, we sat down with Christine Martell to talk about why visuals work. As a part of that conversation, Martell talked about the common ways to use images: conveying and organizing meaning. She then went on to contrast how VisualsSpeak uses images, with eliciting meaning. Here’s an excerpt:

Interviewer:It seems like the two categories that we’ve talked about so far, conveying meaning and organizing meaning, are really kind of similar in the sense that these are visuals that are picked to represent some bit of pre-established meaning that’s already there.

But those by themselves are not the only way to use visuals. I know that in the context of VisualsSpeak, a lot of the work that the tools are designed to do and that you’ve done there is really about an entirely different purpose altogether.

CM: Yeah. What we’re working with is eliciting meaning.

Int: How is that different?

CM: Well, eliciting meaning is using the ability of images to spark associations. So we’re saying, “Okay, we know that can happen. We know that we can pull things from people’s long-term memory if we show them something that reminds them of an experience they’ve had.” And we’re using images to optimize that.

Let me give you an example of someone else who does it.

Int: That would be helpful.

CM: There’s a guy [who was] working out of Harvard named Gerald Zaltman. He was working with doing this – he calls it metaphor elicitation. What he does is that he invites people to come into his lab and they have a topic. One I remember distinctly – this was years ago – they were doing research with duPont on pantyhose, women’s pantyhose.

So they asked women to come into the lab and bring images that they found around in magazines or books that evoked or reminded them of something about pantyhose.

What they do then is scan those images into the computer, and they sit with a graphic designer, who then talks with them about what these images mean. And they actually manipulate the images on the screen to make them bigger or smaller. They kind of work with them to create a collage that expresses their ideas about the topic.

So the thing that was really interesting to me was that when they did this research, what they discovered was that there was this feeling that some women got about feeling more beautiful or more elegant when they were wearing pantyhose. Which I cannot personally imagine because I think they’re torture devices. (Laughs)

Int: You don’t work for duPont, however.

CM: No, no I don’t.

But there was this large percentage of women who did feel that way. And they discovered that through this process that they went through, that they kept hearing little bits and pieces of that idea. So when they fed that back to duPont, they then realized that was something they could use in their marketing, and we began seeing [responsive ads]. [All based on ideas elicited from the images.]

For the whole interview, head to our audiocasts page. Don’t forget to sign up for our next free, monthly Tuesday Topics call!


Where Data and Visuals Meet


As a company focused on the effective use of visuals to deepen conversations and thought, we try to stay tuned to all the things an eyeball can take in. As a team, fortunately, we all have different areas of interest. Traditional visual arts, like painting and photography, for instance — or more contemporary examples like comics and manga.

One of my hands-down favorites, though, is infography. Loosely defined, infography is the art and science of using visuals to communicate information. Of course, that definition is so broad as to encompass nearly everything — including traditional paintings and photography. I tend to narrow it a bit further by defining information to be meaning supported by data.

As an example, take a look at the following graphic:

Infographic example

One of the longtime forerunners in the field is Edward Tufte, who has published often (and continues to do so) on data visualization, particularly visualizations for clarity. Infography today, though, seems to be focusing as much on being artistic as being clear. For the visually minded, this is a very good thing.

There’s something about a particularly well-done infographic that gives the observer multiple reactions. First, there’s a “wow” factor, because the graphic just looks amazing on its face. That seems like a good test of whether the infographic works well as art. Then the observer may experience a brief “huh?” moment, as they try to figure out just what information the graphic is trying to represent.

Is the graphic above about the numbers of people coming to the U.S.? Or the countries they’re coming from? Or something else entirely? It turns out that in that graphic, the answer to all three is “yes.” This “huh” stage is a good measure of how well the graphic performs on Tufte’s rubrics of information and data clarity.

From there, a common final reaction with a well-done infographic is the more long-lasting “cool.” It’s the stage where the observer picks into the graphic for meaning and leaves having learned something and appreciating the art AND science of the graphic.

Whether you’re an experienced infographer or just finding out about this emerging area, here are some links to sites with great examples of the form:


Power of Visual Communication

If you missed my December 9 Webinar about the Power of Visual Communication, you can view the full program here.

In the webinar, I talk about some of the many uses for the VisualsSpeak ImageSet. Here’s a quick breakdown of what I covered:

  • Why use visuals?
  • Heart Image icebreaker
  • How conversations change when using visuals
  • Research in creating VisualsSpeak
  • Facilitation Model we use
  • Case Study- Developing cultural competence in future leaders
  • Case Study- Change Management Initiative and Team Building
  • Conflict Resolution
  • Strategic Visioning
  • Question & Answer

Time: 43 minutes

You can download a free copy of the Heart Image exercise I show at the beginning of the webinar on the VisualsSpeak website.

You can get 20% off any VisualsSpeak product until Jan 9, 2010 by entering the coupon code (vswebcast) in the shopping cart

  • VisualsSpeak ImageSet deluxe version Regular price $495 – Sale price $396!
  • VisualsSpeak ImageSet Lite Regular price $425 Sale price $340!

Being an experiential facilitator, it was strange to work from a script on PowerPoint. Even though there were over 300 people signed up for the call, I was talking to my computer monitor and a cat. It was such a relief to have attendees ask questions so I could get a sense of the audience. So different than working with the energy in the room with a face-to-face audience.

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