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

Getting to know co-workers better

Kathryn works for a regional mental health agency, alongside a team that has been together a long time. Even though they’ve been a group for a while, the pressure and pace of the work doesn’t give them much chance to talk. They are just too busy providing services for their clients.
So Kathryn brought a VisualsSpeak ImageSet to a staff meeting. And what a difference it made!
In just an hour, they created images about themselves and got to know things about each other they otherwise would never know. That single session created a lot of humor and jokes and created all new points of reference for the people they work with.
Six months later, the team is still using references to that day and what they learned. Way to go, Kathryn! Nice use of the tools.

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.

Picking the 'Right' Images

ImageSet imagesOne of the most common areas of confusion with the VisualsSpeak tools for new users is around the images themselves and how to use them.

People are accustomed to using images to convey meaning. This is how they’re used most often, after all. We use images to convey meaning in PowerPoints, for example. Advertisers use images to convey meaning in 15- and 30-second blocks on TV every minute of the day and night.

So when people sit down with VisualsSpeak tools, either in print or online, they begin in that mold. They often start with the idea of finding the ‘right’ image. But that misses the point of the tool — and why it’s so powerful.

VisualsSpeak tools are designed to elicit information, not merely convey it. So instead of starting with the meaning and moving to images to represent it, the idea is to start with the images, and use them to figure out the meaning. It’s a different process, and it can be confusing at first. But it quickly becomes a lot of fun!

This different approach to the images makes it much more difficult to put a set of images together, and it’s why it often takes a long time for us to piece together a new set for targeted outcomes, like team-building or leadership development.

The mix has to be exactly right. That means in terms of the content itself — people, things, nature, life in motion. But also aspects of the content — colors, lines, aspect ratios, sizing, mood. After many years of research, we’ve mapped out a set of guideline ratios for each of them, which allow us to parse through the 10,000+ images that we’ve created over the years and put a set together.

But that only gets us close. There’s still a bunch of testing and refinement before we put the VisualsSpeak name and logo on it.

It takes a lot of effort for us to find the ‘right’ images — to enable participants to struggle with NOT finding them!

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!

Big Questions in Little Time

As a part of our monthly Tuesday Topics series of free phone calls, we interviewed Christine Martell in September on Asking Better Questions. As a part of that conversation, Christine addressed the concern of asking big questions when you have time constraints in a group:

CM: We start with this big overall framing question, get people all kinda going in the same direction so that we’re not just scattered. And then, there’s the start of a conversation. At the start of a conversation, it’s a divergent process. It’s about opening up, getting the ideas out, in as broad a sense as you can.

Examples of questions that might fit into that category: Can you tell me more? With the images, what did you notice? Talking about others in the group, what did you notice about what this person said? What else could this mean?

Interviewer: So we’re starting with kind of a big, broad question – What is success? What is trust? Whatever kinda the big question is that’s relevant to the session you’re talking about. And then it sounds like you’re starting big and really getting bigger.

CM: Exactly. You’re asking questions that make the ideas bigger, that draw people out, that help them ideate, help them get insight, help them be inspired by the ideas.

Int: Is there a concern when you get that big that, two things: one, that you lose the tie back to the original topic because you’re getting so large, and also a concern about time, that in a session where you kinda need to watch the clock a little bit, how do you balance that against the time requirement?

CM: Well, first of all, the group is invested in the outcome. If you have designed the session well, you’re grabbing something that they’re really invested in, so they’re going to help you. The group is going to help you say on topic. They’re going to bring it back to you.

You’ll have the people who are very linear, who are raising their hands and saying, “Can we get back to…?”

Int: Right.

CM: So the group almost becomes a self-policing kind of environment. And as a facilitator, we have some responsibility to help that.

Int: Sure.

CM: The thing that I find is that if we give people a context (“We have ten minutes for this conversation”), they’ll do it. We are all really, really conscious of time. If you don’t give people a framework, you will get the people who are more indirect communicators who will go off and, you know, go on and on and on and on.

But I find that if you share the process with the group, and you help them understand what the container is that you’re working in, they will really help you and they will work within that container. Especially if you are in a work environment because, you know, we’re all really conscious of the clock, and we have that ability.

To hear the rest of the conversation, head to our audiocasts page. This snippet appears around the ten-minute mark.

You can listen to other conversations there as well, on a variety of leadership development, team-building, and other topics.

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!

A Problem with Fad Leadership Development

In our October Tuesday Topics call, we interviewed Aaron Munter, a co-developer of our Developing Great Leaders leadership development toolset. Among other topics, he talked about one of the problems with fad leadership development tools, and how his work attempts to get past that. Here’s an excerpt:

AM: Between these six [leadership development] focus areas of the transition [to leadership], inward leadership, project leadership , team leadership, organizational leadership, and interpersonal leadership, they kind of set up a framework to cover the waterfront of leadership development and I think that’s where we get to the comprehensive piece that we were talking about earlier [about needing a tool to take a more comprehensive approach].

Interviewer: So it sounds like you were looking to kind of create a map of the world of leadership development.

AM: Yeah, I think so. I mean, we started, when we started looking at this, we started by really surveying what people are thinking about and writing on this topic, and what is the research showing at this moment, and we really looked broadly. We wanted to be as holistic as we could.

I think a lot of the fad kind of leadership development is very targeted: “Pick one of these things,” like leveraging strengths and weaknesses. So they’ll do a whole leadership development thing around strengths and weaknesses.

Well, that’s OK. That’s certainly a piece of the whole. But as we were talking about, that’s only a very small piece of a very large whole. So that, I think, can be dangerous to focus on to the exclusion of everything else.

Interviewer: Well, it just seems that leadership development is kind of a lifelong process and it’s not a one-time event. So some of these programs, they’re not necessarily bad; they’re just not everything. Sometimes I think they’re pitched as, “this is the answer for all of your leadership development woes,” and it’s really just “this is one more piece to help your leaders develop.” I know myself that I’ll never be finished with leadership development. What about you?

AM: Absolutely not, and I think that’s a great point.

For the whole interview, head to our audiocasts page. You’ll find this excerpt around 30 minutes into the call.

How Facilitation is like Cooking

CookingOver the last several months, I’ve increasingly taken up cooking. And the more I’ve done that, the more it seems analogous to the world of facilitation. See if you agree:

There are planners and there are improvisers. In the kitchen, I tend to be a recipe-follower. I get all the things I need for the ingredients out (my mise en place), then get the act of cooking itself. My spouse, on the other hand, is an improviser — where whatever seems like it will go together does, and a recipe is inspirational more than something to follow. In a facilitation, the same is true. There are those who plan everything out in advance, and those who figure out a framework and then riff on it.

Even for the planner, the unexpected happens. In the room of a facilitation, the conversation takes an unexpected turn. People begin to share, and who knows where it goes from there? In the kitchen, the same kind of thing can happen. Case in point: making a souffle the other day, I beat those egg whites within an inch of their lives, and couldn’t get them to peak correctly. Either way, you need to be able to flexibly reach your goals by adapting to what’s going on.

The best results come when everyone is satisfied. I may love to cook tomatoes and put them into dishes, but I know that my spouse isn’t a big fan of cooked tomatoes. When I focus my energies on things we both enjoy eating, everybody is more satisfied, and the outcome is better. Similarly, bringing a group toward consensus in a facilitation context is going to be a stronger outcome (and one more likely to survive over time) than one dictated by the opinion of the facilitation — or by that of a particularly dominating participant.

There are experts, but everyone can do it. Not everybody can be Ferran Adria (or Thomas Keller, etc), but almost anybody can get into a kitchen and give it a whirl. The result may not be a novel and inspired bit of culinary artistry, but it could be delicious and satisfying. Similarly, it takes real skill to be a great facilitator, but anybody in a team or organization can dip their toe in the water. If we spent more time teaching kids how to mediate disputes, we’d all be better facilitators today (but that’s a blog post for another day).

The journey is the reward. Well, okay, perhaps the result is pretty good, too. But for the facilitator (and hopefully, the participants), it is just as important (if not more so) how you got to the result. The process of effective facilitation is one that is in itself transformational. In the kitchen, for the cook, the same can be true. The tactile and tangible process of taking raw ingredients and transforming them into a dish can be wondrous!

I’m sure there are more similarities, but these were the ones that flashed in my head while making the aforementioned souffle last weekend. Maybe over a zucchini and sausage marinara sauce, I can come up with some others…

Visuals and Multi-Cultural Environments

Culture is everywhere!A few months ago, in our July 2010 Tuesday Topics call, Christine talked about “Why Visuals Work.” As a part of that call, one of the listeners asked a question about multi-cultural environments. Here’s a snippet of that interview:

Interviewer: What role can visuals play? How do they work differently, or better or less effectively with people in multicultural environments, as we all seem to find ourselves in today?

Christine: Well, we’ve done a lot of work with the images in a cross-cultural context. We developed them specifically to help with some of these issues. So one of the ways it does it is [by] really help[ing] level language difference. You know, because when everyone has a different native language that they speak, and they’re oftentimes required to speak in English—which could be their fourth or fifth language—the images really help. They help kind of keep the ideas and save them.

What I mean is that you put the ideas down on the table and they’re there. And you have those artifacts to help you talk about them. So you’re not necessarily sitting there translating in your head or thinking about what you’re going to say because it’s there, it kinda sits there. So it gives you the ability to listen more fully to the other people in your group. We hear a lot of stories about that.

We see a lot of people who wouldn’t necessarily share because they’re uncomfortable with their language abilities or whatever, share much more freely and they’re more fluent when they’re speaking from the images. It’s really pretty amazing to see.

Int: Is that in part because they’re describing something that they can then use as a reference as they’re describing it?

Christine: Yeah, I think that’s part of it, absolutely. And also it’s just more concrete. You know you’re making ideas more concrete by taking a visual image and putting it on the table. And it frequently is easier to describe things that have some kind of concreteness than something that is very abstract.

Int: I’m sure we could do an entire call about this, but are there specific kinds of cultures that respond in different kinds to ways to the images? Things that you’ve noticed through the process?

Christine: Absolutely. You’re right that’s a whole huge other call. Absolutely they respond very differently. You see the real cultural difference come forward, which is one of the things that’s really amazing and awesome. You see the ways in which they construct meaning very, very differently.

And those are all the things that kind of come out when you are doing VisualsSpeak sessions. As you go around the table, all those kind of ideas and different ways of looking at the world are put on the table and are being talked about. So even if the person isn’t currently living in another culture, or they’re a second-generation or whatever, you start to see some of those differences.

And you know it’s changing a lot because we’re working in multicultural environments. So it’s not as distinct as it would have been twenty years ago, when people were pretty much staying in their native cultures and it was rare to have people being global citizens. Whereas now, you’re seeing this melding of culture of origin and the cultures that they’re working in. Oftentimes, the organizational culture becomes very important, and it supercedes some of those personal culture kinds of aspects.

For the whole interview, head to our audiocasts page. You’ll find this excerpt around 38 minutes into the call.

Getting Beyond The Stories

Back in July, Christine Martell sat down for one of our monthly free Tuesday Topics sessions on “Why Visuals Work.” In the 45-minute session, she talked about using visuals to convey information, to organize information, and to elicit information. In the excerpt below, Christine talks about how we get trapped in the same old stories that we tell, and how she worked to figure out what images help us get out of that rut:

Christine:Oftentimes when we come into a group or a meeting, we automatically go into spewing those typical stories that we always tell. But a lot of times, they are not necessarily the most effective stories that we could tell, nor are they complete, nor are they necessarily kind of in alignment with the goal of the meeting or what we’re doing.

Interviewer: So then where do the visuals come in?

Christine:Well, with the VisualsSpeak tools, we will ask people a question or pose an idea, and then we will ask people to select images that they have some kind of connection to that idea for them. Then they’ll start to tell a different story. Oftentimes, what we hear people say is things like:

“I didn’t really know why I was picking the image, but I knew I had to pick the image. It had a kind of attraction for me. And now that I’m starting to talk about it, I’m starting to see why I picked it!”

And then this whole story comes out that they never would have thought of without that visual trigger. So in that elicitation process, in what VisualsSpeak works with, we’ve gotten really good at identifying the kinds of images that will create those triggers.

Interviewer:That seems like it’s a really critical point. We’ve talked about, in conveying meaning for example, that there are specific kinds of images that sell soap or do advertising. And in organizing meaning, that there are some very specific kinds of ways that you can organize with certain kinds of visuals. That must be true in the elicitation area as well, that there are some kinds of images that work much better than others.

Christine: Yeah. You know, when we started this process with VisualsSpeak, back when I was in graduate school, I laminated 10,000 photographs from books and magazines.

Interviewer:Wow. That’s a lot of lamination.

Christine: It was a process, to say the least. I am SO good with a lamination machine!

Interviewer: Extra added skills you bring to the table!

Christine: Exactly. On the resume!

So what we did is we watched how people responded to images. A lot of the images that we thought were going to be so effective, you know, all those metaphor images, those things we see in business magazines and stuff – didn’t work! People would say things like, “Oh, look, it’s a glass half full, you know hat that means.” End of conversation.

Interviewer: They became kind of visual clichés.

Christine: Yes!

Hear the whole interview from our July Tuesday Topics session on the Audiocasts page.

Asking Better Questions

Last week, Christine sat down for an interview with Aaron in our regular monthly Tuesday Topics call. This month, the focus was on asking better questions.

There were many good nuggets in the call – one of them was as Christine was talking about whether leading questions are good or bad. Here’s an excerpt:

CM: That’s why I don’t really like to think about questions as good and bad—more of, is it appropriate for the context and the audience, or isn’t it? Because there are times where the very leading questions can be very reasonable. And it can be important to know what you’re doing.

But I think that just being aware that you are choosing a leading question and knowing that you’re doing it and using it for a particular purpose is very different than using a leading question without thinking through your intention.

AM: So what’s an example of a time when a leading question might be good, or useful, or contextually appropriate versus a time when a leading question might not be? Is there an example that you can draw a distinction from there?

CM: Well, I think that one of the ways you can look at it is: oftentimes, the initial question should not be leading or guiding, and it should be as open as possible. And the place where leading questions become more useful is when you’re trying to really narrow down.

It’s much later in the conversation. It becomes where you start to see what the context is, you get to see what the ideas are, you’re trying to narrow them down into a place where they are going to become useful for another purpose. So I think that, then, you’re not really leading necessarily from your perspective, but you’re leading from what you’re hearing from the participants.

AM: So I heard a lot in that response that I want to kind of unpack a little bit, because there are a lot of pieces there. One of the implications that you talk about is that there is a kind of specific sort of process or series that you like to lead people through, and there are different questioning strategies at different points in that process. Is that true?

CM: Yes.

AM: So can you give us an overview of that, or take us through how it works in the facilitation context?

CM: Yeah. Well, I think the first thing is that if we use the VisualsSpeak process – VisualsSpeak is a questioning process. We just answer the questions visually, but really, for most of the facilitation process, it’s about a series of questions.

So the first question becomes an opening question, a framing question; it kind of is a big question. So something like, “What is trust?” “What does a great team look like?” “What is success?” It’s a big concept; it’s something you’re trying to pull out from the whole container.

AM: Sort of the anti-leading question, in a sense?

CM: Exactly.

AM: Very broad.

CM: Very broad. But related to what you’re trying to do in the session. It has to be connected. It has to be meaningful for the participants. It doesn’t really matter if it’s meaningful for you. If you’re going to be successful, it’s going to be all about the participants, and you’re just a facilitator of the process.

This snippet was at around minute 6:07 in the session. To listen to the whole 45-minute discussion, check out the audio file!

Debriefing the Conversation

Over the last couple of months, we have looked at each step in the VisualsSpeak facilitation process in more detail. This week, we wrap up the series by talking about the final step: debriefing the conversation.

At this stage you are helping participants create meaning from the conversations and reflect on what they have learned. This can be the most important part of the conversation, so make sure you leave enough time for it. It is really easy to allow the earlier parts to run long and cut into this section. Resist that temptation at all costs.

Each individual section of your session should include debriefing questions that apply to that section. For longer programs with multiple focus areas, there should also be an overall debrief of the whole program.

As the facilitator at this stage, ask questions of the participants that help them make connections between the session and the rest of their work. Suggestions include:

  • What was the process like for you?
  • What did you notice?
  • Was anything particularly interesting or surprising?
  • Did you notice any new patterns or trends?
  • Do you have any new insights?
  • Anything else to add?
  • What happened?
  • How did you feel?
  • What did you learn?
  • Does this remind you of anything in other parts of your life/work?
  • What are you taking away?

Keep in mind that the most effective questions will always be the ones that arise from the conversation in the room. The list here is to give you ideas about the type of questions you are likely to use and to give you a quick list of possibilities to scan in the moment to spark ideas.

Applying the Learning

ApplyingOver the last several weeks, we have focused one blog post a week on each step in the VisualsSpeak facilitation process, because the value of VisualsSpeak goes beyond the tools — it’s the process itself. This week, we talk about the sixth step in the process, applying the learning.

The question here really is, “how will we apply this back on the job?”

Change is not effective if nothing is different when everyone returns to the normal workday. Change is difficult. Everything in the environment supports the old behaviors unless there is a concerted effort to make a lasting change.

A key part of this step is asking people to talk about what they are going to do to change. Make sure that they are no planning to merely add things to already full schedules. Further, ask them how they can support each other — in supporting one another, they will also be supporting themselves. Have people make commitments aloud to each other and in writing. Where possible, set up agreements and accountability.

The VisualsSpeak tools each come with suggestions for individual exercises that can be completed after the initial session to help continue exploring the work of the session. It is helpful to remind participants of this, and to spend some time in the session focusing on this aspect of the work. The tools (and the follow-on exercises) can be used over and over to gain insights on many topics. Sometimes, simply thumbing through an image set that is sitting on a desk will spark insights and remind people of what they learned.

Planning ahead for later follow-up is perhaps the best way to ensure application of the learning. Although it can be difficult to remember to do, bake that work into your schedule from the beginning so that it doesn’t get lost. It really is essential!

Assessing the Conversation

AssessingThis week, we continue our ongoing sequence that focuses on both the toolset AND the process of VisualsSpeak. Last time, we talked about narrowing the conversation. This week, we begin looking at the final three steps as we explore assessing the conversation.

In this stage, the main question is whether you have succeeded in moving the group toward the desired outcome. If the answer is yes, you can move into creating action steps and assigning responsibilities. If no, what additional questions were raised? You may need to repeat the cycle with a new approach and possibly a new opening prompt.

As the facilitator at this stage, ask questions of the participants that help determine if they have made progress.

Suggestions include:

  • Are we ready to take the next steps?
  • What moves us toward action?
  • Did we surface new questions that need to be asked?
  • Do we need more information?
  • What implication does this have?
  • What are the next steps or applications?
  • What choice can I make today that will impact the future?
  • Are we ready to move on to concrete action steps?

No Substitute for Experience

NE ItalyI was in a conversation with a friend, who mentioned something about her upcoming trip to northeastern Italy. “Wow, that area is so beautiful!” I remarked. She immediately lit up. “You’ve been there?” she asked. Well, not exactly…

I had to quickly clarify that I was speaking from seeing the place on TV, in movies, online, and in books. (For the record, I have been to parts of Italy, just not the northeastern piece.) Her face fell slightly. Why? Because she knew it just wasn’t the same.

People form connections all the time. Sometimes it’s over common knowledge, or maybe some common understanding of a situation. But most often, it’s based on shared experience. Have you ever been in a long line at the store, or maybe waiting for someplace to open, and the crowd starts interacting and having fun with each other? That’s a connection based on experience.

Or perhaps when, after a long delay of sitting in an airplane, when the captain comes on and says you’re finally about to take off, and everybody applauds? Another connection based on experience.

It turns out that it really doesn’t take a very deep shared experience to bring people together (at least temporarily). And even those temporary connections are a bit deeper than those formed through merely shared knowledge.

Around the VisualsSpeak offices, we think about this all the time. Because we know that when people go through a VisualsSpeak facilitation together, they often form bonds that last for years. Even when we hold workshops in a city and attendees don’t know each other beforehand, they often leave with new friends. With teams in conflict, we have seen firsthand how the experience of VisualsSpeak is really magical.

But there’s no way to really simulate it. Sure, we try — with our Online Icebreaker Sample and with videos and case studies — but it really isn’t the same. Simply sharing the knowledge doesn’t give an accurate perception of the experience. And it certainly doesn’t convey the value.

If anybody has insights on how to do this better, we’re always on the lookout. Otherwise, we just keep encouraging people to get a Starter Pack or an Icebreaker Kit and try it themselves (after all, we do offer refunds, although we’ve never had a single person take us up on it). It seems to be the only way to convey the real magic — the magic of experience.

In the meantime, I’m calling my travel agent.