Deepening Strategic Visioning

deciding which image to use to describe vision priorities

In a recent visioning session, long-time client Valerie used the ImageSet to help bring focus to a group of nurses who were getting stuck.

The nurses were trying hard to get away from their stock answers and needed something to spark some creativity and renew focus.

Using the VisualsSpeak tools, Valerie asked the nurses to think visually by selecting one or two images to represent their priorities.  Adding the physical element of getting up and gathering around the table to look at and chose images is a fantastic way to add additional tactile elements to the exercise.

They got up, moved around, engaged with one another and really embraced the experience.  This process lead to a much more in-depth discussion about what the priorities they were focusing on meant to them individually and as a group.

This is a common response.  Research shows that when you can get individuals physically engaged in a process you up the potentiality of new and deeper outcomes.  The physical coupled with the visual helps to bring new insights and fresh ideas to established patterns.

The nurses were struggling to come up with new ideas and meaning, the ImageSet broke the struggle and enhanced the process.  The visioning session was a success for Valerie and for her clients!

If you’d like to learn more about the ImageSet >>> Click Here!

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

Trademark Issued for VisualsSpeak

Christine Martell and Tom Tiernan, owners of VisualsSpeak LLC, are pleased to announce that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) has issued a Certificate of Registration for the trademark VisualsSpeak.


Reg. No. 3,435,236

Registered May 27, 2008

Owners’ Response

Co-owner Tiernan ‘s response was to say “Now we are finally in a position to challenge Microsoft’s dominance of the global software market.” When reminded that VisualsSpeak® is not involved in developing software, he was quick to point out “But we could be”.

VisualsSpeak’s® principal, Christine Martell, could not be reached for comment as she is currently luxuriating on a private island in the Caribbean awaiting the riches to roll in after the Trademark announcement.

Newsflash: arrived today


New Product Announcement – Visual Energizer

Introducing our new Visual Energizer

Ideal for Icebreaker & Group Energizer Exercises

What would a tool that:

  • Gets you clients engaged
  • Builds solid connections
  • Doesn’t put people in a box
  • Helps build solid teams
  • Is fun to use

Be worth to you?

How about $39.95?

Visual EnergizerThe new Visual Energizer includes:

  • 32/ 8×10 matte laminated photographs
  • Suggested icebreaker & group energizer exercises
  • Protective vinyl storage envelope with Velcro tab

Buy Now!

For More Information on the Visual Energizer

Our Guarantee:

If for any reason you are not satisfied with any VisualsSpeak product, you may return the unused product within forty-five days of purchase for a complete refund. No hassles. Sorry we do not refund shipping costs.

VisualsSpeak ImageSet Receives US Copyright Approval

Christine Martell and Tom Tiernan, co-owners of VisualsSpeak LLC, are pleased to announce that the ‘VisualsSpeak ImageSet’ has been awarded a copyright from the United States Copyright Office. (Registration Number VA0001414349)

VisualsSpeak ImageSet

The VisualsSpeak ImageSet is a collection of 200 evocative photographs (gloss-laminated for durability), a 52-page User Manual and Carrying Case.

The ImageSet, along with VisualsSpeak Techniques, enhances communication processes. The nature of the tool is to evoke in-depth conversations, bring people together, inspire innovation, create opportunities to problem-solve differently, and to empower people by giving them a voice in whatever process they are engaged in.

It is being used in many different fields such as training, organizational development, consulting, coaching, counseling, diversity training, cross-cultural communications, education, and others.

For more information about the VisualsSpeak ImageSet and how it can enhance your communication processes click here!

Give Your Participants All The Images!

Getting Tough on Time Limits Narrowing image choices may create visual bias. When the choice of images is narrowed down, a specific person’s visual bias may be inserted into the process. In choosing the final 200 photos for the VisualsSpeak ImageSet, Christine and I, with the input of many people, made conscious choices about which images were going to be in the set. We knew that our visual bias would be in the set and we did as much as possible to minimize the impact. Every person sees the world differently. There’s no way of getting around that. The key to any process is to get as much of ourselves, as the facilitator, out of the process as we can.

Visual Bias
Photograph © Tom Tiernan

The key to the VisualsSpeak Process The key to the process is setting time limits for how long you give your participants to choose and assemble their images into a collage. There, I just gave away our ‘secret sauce’. (I hope Christine will forgive me.)

Why should I use a background?

In the VisualsSpeak ImageSet manual we suggest using 12″ x 18″ construction paper as a background for assembling images. We do this for a couple of reasons. First, it gives people a starting place. Second, we use the placement of the selected images on the back ground to give us more information about the person.

When we worked with the development team, we asked different questions at different times. Sometimes it was a one part question, sometimes two. We began to notice that the overall patterns in how the selected images were assembled were similar each time. We pointed this out to them, and they would try to make different patterns. It never felt right to them. We suspect we are seeing something about the natural visual language of each person. There seems to be a corelation to the way people think.

The more linear thinkers tend to make images like these:
Linear thinkers collages
Photograph © Christine Martell

The more strategic thinkers tend to make images like these:
Strategic thinkers collages
Photograph © Christine Martell

As we worked with this more, we discovered the patterns are most consistent when there is a short time to select and assemble the photos. We aim for five minutes. We have started charting these patterns across teams and watching how the patterns we see in the images relate to the patterns we see in behavior. We are seeing interesting trends.

Another reason to use the background paper is it helps people who like to work within the box. It gives those who like to line up the edges a guideline. The people who skew their images and expand way beyond the edges hardly notice the background. They also tend to be the people who find the process very comfortable. They don’t need assistance to make the process work for them.

Is it the picture or the process?

When we design a session, we spend time developing the process around using the pictures. Each session is customized for the individual or group using similar elements. So is it the pictures that make the session powerful and successful or is it the process. Sample VisualsSpeak Images I think it’s both. Mainly because each person engages differently. For some, I think it is the pictures. Some, it is the process. For others it is a blend. Which is why I like it so much. The experience can morph and accommodate a wide range of differences. Two very different people can sit side by side and engage with the exercise in their own way. The outcome is affected by who you are and how you process as the unique you. More sample VisualsSpeak image Extend the invitation to engage. Watch, listen. That’s where the learning is. Seek meaning in what happens.

How do the image categories work?

The image categories were created to help manage visual overload. Each person approaches the task of selecting images in response to a question differently. Some want to have an idea of what general type of images they will find, while others like to rustle through a pile and see everything.

VisualsSpeak ImageSet The people who seem to most appreciate the categories are seldom the same type of person who is likely to be facilitating an exercise. So even if the categories don’t seem important to you, consider who your participants are when deciding how to utilize them.

The VisualsSpeak ImageSet comes divided into four broad categories (Life, Nature, People, Things) in color-edge sleeves. On the back of the photographs, these categories are further broken down into twelve subcategories. If I were working with a group of people that included a lot of people who enjoyed structure and methodical approach, I might break out all twelve categories and put them each in separate piles. I might even put them in baskets or boxes to keep them ordered.

You can mix up the four categories (life, nature, people and things) if you want to work in small groups. For example, if you have a set of Visual Energizers or are using a VS ImageSet and you want to work in three small groups, you can give each group 1/3 of each category. This way every small group has a selection from the four categories of photos.

If you want to make sure the photo selection is more balanced, divide the set into the subcategories (each Category has 3 sub-categories) first, then split them into theNumbering System piles for the small groups. The backs of the photos are labeled to make this easy.

Each of the major categories are labeled in color as well as by letter for those who do not see color easily. The particular colors are not significant. They were selected because many office supplies come in red, green, yellow and blue.

There is a MS Word file (“From the VisualsSpeak ImageSet-Handout Template”) on our VisualsSpeak download page on the main VisualsSpeak website that includes a chart of the categories. The bottom of the page has a place to type the question or statement you are asking people to respond to. Some people like to have this information in front of them as they begin to select images.

I use the categories to better understand how groups relate to images. I often record the category use, and sometimes the unique image numbers. When I look to understand an individual or group, I look to overall patterns. What do I see that repeats? What trends emerge? The categories are a piece of that trending.

Why use visuals to spark conversation?

What happens when you use visuals to spark conversation? As the facilitator, there is energy in the room. People are engaged. When people select photos in response to a question or statement, they select things that are meaningful to them.

They tell stories. Stories about what is important to them. Stories about how the world looks through their eyes. Often these stories are full of passion.

Creative Energy
Photograph © Tom Tiernan

So what, people tell stories if you ask them questions without pictures. Yes, and they seem to tell a different kind of story. Perhaps one that is more familiar, perhaps rehearsed, perhaps one that is told over and over without thinking much.

Pictures, photographs, visuals of all kinds evoke some of the same story, but add the chance of seeing it in new ways. The subconscious, the unconscious, the unintentional but relevant.

Visuals can capture and express the relationships between various aspects. The brain processes pictures differently, responds more holistically. In places where the linear and structure is celebrated (like so many academic and business institutions), visuals can speak that which is unspoken in words. Those whose voices get missed or are often left unheard can come forward when sparking conversations with photographs.

Working with images is fun, for the participants as well as the facilitator. Pictures speak to our creativity, engage the imagination.

Designing the VisualsSpeak ImageSet

We developed a number of prototype VisualsSpeak ImageSets and watched how people used them for two years. The development team used them in sessions and reported back to us. There were a number of other people we recruited to try them in various settings.

We recorded the categories people used, wrote down feedback, interviewed users and dug deep into the literature. Through all this I wrote enough to graduate with a Masters degree (Post Secondary, Adult & Continuing Education with a focus in Training & Development) and a couple of training certificates.

We talked to potential users about what challenges they needed to solve. If you came within speaking, phone, or email distance, we asked questions and listened to what you said. Every detail of the tool was considered, reconsidered, and tested out. We learned that no matter what we did, it wasn’t going to be perfect, so we had to figure out what was must have, nice to have, and might someday have.

Continue reading “Designing the VisualsSpeak ImageSet”

Branding VisualsSpeak

I started with the name. Coming up with it took many months of paying attention to what was happening when I asked people a question and gave them images to spark their answers. I spent a lot of time playing with the Visual Thesaurus. It’s a great brainstorming tool for helping to find the right words.

Visual Thesaurus

When we were ready to start the company, the first thing we did was look for a graphic designer. Continue reading “Branding VisualsSpeak”

Will you sell, rent, or share my personal information?

This is a question from a subscriber. Thank you for asking. We recently re-wrote our website and the Privacy Policy was left out. OOps. Not good. This is another reason why its important to make it easy for people to ask questions and make suggestions. It keeps us on our toes.

Our VisualsSpeak Privacy Policy is this: We will never rent, sell, share, barter or exchange your personal information with anyone. Your trust in us is just too important to abuse.

Our goal is to build a solid, sustainable business built on the concepts of integrity and service.

Opting Out: We use a professional email service (Constant Contact). If you should no longer wish to receive our emails, at the bottom of every email is an Unsubscribe link. Click it and you are automatically taken off our list. The only way to get back on our email list is to go to our site and enter your email address. You will receive an email asking you click a link and confirm that you want to be on the list.

Fireplace Chains

Continue reading “Will you sell, rent, or share my personal information?”

Testing the VisualsSpeak Tool

Testing the VisualsSpeak Tool was a long process of finding and organizing thousands of photographs. I started by cutting out and laminating thousands of photos from books and magazines. Some were squares and rectangles which I cut on paper cutters, while others were cut from their backgrounds with scissors. Thousands of books and magazines, many hours of cutting. Little scraps of paper everywhere.


First LaminatorThen I decided to laminate. I laminated over ten thousand pictures on my home office laminating machine. I loaded them into letter sized laminating pouches, sandwiched them in carrier pages and fed them into the machine.

I tested the photos initially by asking people to make collages of how they see their present and what they wanted in their future with a transition in between. Continue reading “Testing the VisualsSpeak Tool”

Creative Lightning Bolts

So when did VisualsSpeak really start? In hindsight it has been forming for twenty-five years. But the moment that really stands out for me was in graduate school.

I was sitting in my professors office at graduate school trying to get her to explain to me why the grade on my paper was lower than I wanted it to be. She was going on about stating what I was going to say, then saying it, then saying that I said it, and something about my having to learn to WRITE LINEAR PAPERS.

I went to art school (RISD) as an undergrad. Twenty years before. We did very little writing, nothing was linear, and paper was something to draw on.

I asked if I could just build a webpage, or create a program, or do something else to demonstrate I knew this material. She looked at me and said something about my not understanding that WRITING LINEAR PAPERS was the only thing I could do, because it was the only thing she knew how to grade me on. Continue reading “Creative Lightning Bolts”

VisualsSpeak roots

Pictures in filesI had two amazing art teachers in high school. Marjorie Keary, who believed I could be an artist long before I thought I could, and Robert Enos. Mr Enos told me that if I wanted to be an artist, I should start saving pictures as references. Probably a simple suggestion made in passing, but one that would set in motion a passion for the inspirational power of visual images that spawned a business twenty five years later. I started cutting photos out of magazines back then and have never stopped.

When I went off to art school at the Rhode Island School of Design, I jumped at the chance to work in the clipping collection of the library for my work-study assignment. I worked part time during the school year and full time in the summer, filing endless piles of magazine clippings into category folders. I watched hundreds of incredibly talented students, faculty, and alumni come in with their assignments and ask for folders of pictures to help solve a wide variety of design challenges.

clipping fileMy boss, Matthew Amaimo, patiently taught me to catalogue images by how people thought about them and searched for them. He then decided we would begin to laminate the collection. Hundred of thousands of pictures. I remember it taking a couple of years, or maybe it just seemed that way?

My personal collection grew. I kept cutting up magazines, and filing them into folders. I moved all over the country, and hauled that collection everywhere I went. Everytime I would feel stuck, or needed some kind of inspiration, I would flip through those pictures. What started as a box, became a four drawer file cabinet full of tens of thousands of pictures. My all-time favorite magazine which I have subscribed to and cut up since I was sixteen is National Wildlife.