Deepening Strategic Visioning

deciding which image to use to describe vision priorities

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!


VisualsSpeak is Fun- The Secret is Out

True Confessions and more

We haven’t been entirely honest with you. Its true and I, at least, feel badly about this. The truth is that doing VisualsSpeak exercises can be fun. A lot of fun. This is one of those family secrets we’ve been guarding. Quietly whispering to one another hoping that no one overhears.

The reason for the secrecy is because the messages out in the ‘real’ world are that businesses shouldn’t be fun. Business is, well, serious business. If we mention or god forbid say that one of the primary benefits of using our tools and processes is that they are fun, no one will want to do business with us. We’re not serious enough. We don’t get ‘it’. Anyone who values fun is not going to make it and shouldn’t be associated with.

The Shot!
Photograph © Tom Tiernan

Recently Christine and I have been doing some startegic visioning work using the VisualsSpeak ImageSet. Practice what you preach, right? One of the exercises we did was to ask ourselves “Where do we want VisualsSpeak to be in five years?”. Interestingly enough, a lot of the information that surfaced had to do with our core values. Remember we’ve been telling you that this is one of the benefits of using our tools. “But why would knowing your core values be important to a strategic plan?” I hear you ask. Ah, lean closer Little Grasshopper and I will expound on this most important concept.

[Read more…]


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.

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