Illustrations help capture concepts, ideas, and processes which replace the use of words. Why should we care about meeting graphics and illustrations? Therefore, illustrations enable participants to…
All too often, we depend on the written or spoken word to capture or express our ideas. As facilitators, we need to extend beyond so that we enable groups to better and more fully express themselves.
The facilitator’s role makes it easier for groups of people to communicate effectively. People use all of their senses to communicate, not solely sound. We interpret what we see and hear—but each one of us interprets it differently. If one person has a vision of a business, that vision is buried in the back of the mind—an image that is different than the image that is in the back of the mind of the next person. To illustrate—if you heard the use of the term “building” what pops into your mind? Is it a verb? Does it represent a noun? Is the building two stories, a skyscraper, or a house? Words leave much to the interpretation of the person hearing them. If we draw pictures to support words, we embrace more senses that enhance the precision of the communication.
Why are Graphics Important?
Graphics take advantage of the old saying; “Pictures are worth a thousand words”. Images help us communicate and help cross-cultural boundaries (notice that international road signs are symbols—not words). Calling it a “house”, “casa”, or “maison” is less important than understanding that we are talking about a . . .
Hence, other examples include blueprints, maps, process flow diagrams, and other analytical models. Most of these can be described using words—yet few are as effective unless documented with the appropriate graphics.
Seven Graphic Formats
Seven different graphic formats are useful at differing stages of a meeting, project, or workshop. The seven formats, from least complex to most complex, are:
- Poster—a central theme
- List—a sequenced list of ideas
- Cluster—an arranged collection of ideas
- Matrix—a forced comparison of ideas
- Diagram—a model of an idea
- Drawing—a metaphor or image of the idea
- Mandala—a unifying, centered image
The process of developing a specific workshop entails understanding and coordinating a number of issues and people. Stepping through the seven formats, we may use a . . .
- Poster—to announce the workshop, date, time, and place.
- List—to list the items that must be done before the workshop.
- Cluster—to organize the items listed into appropriate groups, such as roles, logistics, and actions.
- Matrix—to associate the role to the action or logistic for which the role is responsible.
- Diagram—to lay out the workshop room in two dimensions.
- Drawing—to illustrate a three-dimensional view of the workshop room to help us visualize the workshop.
- Mandala—to pull all of the elements together illustrating how each relates and how each contributes to the overall success of the workshop.
Many facilitators are afraid to use graphics because:
- “How do I turn them into words or actions?”
- “I’m not artistic enough.”
- “The participants don’t think they are artistic enough.”
- “The participants won’t like it.”
- “When do I use them?”
Unfortunately, we have been taught to “stay within the lines.” In workshops, drawing a stick figure is just as effective as drawing a well-proportioned figure. The idea is to communicate. We need to be able to express ourselves and know that content is more important than presentation. Facilitators need to become comfortable both drawing images and using the graphics in gathering ideas as well as asking the participants to draw out their ideas. Learning some simple approaches and becoming comfortable drawing simple lines and circles helps us find the “child within” to permit us to use graphics.
Therefore, it is not enough to be comfortable drawing pictures. One key problem with graphics and workshops is “When do I use them and how?”. Knowing ‘which graphic format to use when’ is important for a facilitator. Using a matrix to define a vision is ineffective. Using a drawing to identify roles and responsibilities becomes too complex. The graphic is the means to an end. Knowing the end and finding the appropriate means makes for a more effective workshop. Realize that graphic formats help people think through a problem and help in developing consensual solutions.
Use different graphics at different points to help an organization develop a strategic plan—a vision of where they are going. Drawings help with vision and mission (The ‘Coat-of-arms’ tool works wonderfully for a mission). Lists help develop objectives, strategies, and critical success factors. As a complement, illustrate your entire strategic plan as an evolving mandala by creating a mural with various elements placed as we develop them.
Do’s and Don’ts
The following are some basic guidelines for using graphics during meetings and workshops:
- Do make graphics a means to an end. Don’t make them the reason for the effort.
- Do worry about content. Don’t worry about “artistry”.
- Do explain instructions clearly. Don’t be vague or too restrictive.
- Do let them know that this is important—part of the process. Don’t let them think that this is “just fun stuff”.
- Do learn if it doesn’t work. Don’t get worried if it doesn’t work. Fail fast.
Hence, facilitators need to use more graphics in their workshops. More than creating presentations, our responsibility makes it easier for participants to communicate. Verbal/ language communication is one of the vaguest processes we have as people. We should augment the narrative with graphics—appropriately. As facilitators, we should prepare the right tool for the right problem. Often, facilitators get a new hammer and everything looks like a nail. To avoid that, develop a clear understanding of which format to use, what it does for the group, and us and where to take it next.
Don’t ruin your career or reputation with bad meetings. Register for a class or forward this to someone who should. Taught by world-class instructors, MG RUSH professional facilitation curriculum focuses on practice. Each student thoroughly practices and rehearses tools, methods, and approaches throughout the week. While some call this immersion, we call it the road to building impactful facilitation skills.
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