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4 Easy Ways to Practice Visual Communication

What’s the one thing we never have enough of? Time! Between work and personal commitments, calendars full of meetings and events (now probably all Zoom calls), and endless disruptions from our phones, we are overloaded with too many things and not enough time. Did you know our brains process visuals 60,000 times faster than written text? Additionally, individuals retain only 20% of what they read, but 80% of what they see.* We can improve our learning, retain more information, reduce meeting time, and reach consensus quicker by relying less on words and more on visuals. By leveraging visuals in how we work, interact, and communicate we can essentially do more, better and faster.

Visual communications have been around since the dawn of time. We’ve been drawn to them  – pun intended  – for thousands of years. Think about cave drawings all over the world that tell stories of our ancestors doing their life activities: hunting, gathering, celebrating, and holding rituals, etc. We continue these practices in our society today, but somewhere in time drawing became a skill we leave behind in middle school and now rely on “talented artists” to produce.

Communicating with visuals doesn’t have to be daunting or done on a grandiose scale – anyone can practice visual communication: all you need is a piece of paper, a whiteboard, or your preferred tablet device and any old pen or writing utensil. It’s that simple! Visual communication, (i.e: drawing) is easy, it can be learned, is very useful, and is also fun!

Here are four ideas and exercises to get you started with your visual communication practice.

1 – Practice the Art of Sketchnotes

Sketchnoting, or visual notetaking, is an easy way to incorporate visuals into the activity of notetaking. Blending visuals with text is powerful, as drawing taps into a different portion of your brain that would otherwise be dormant if you only utilized words to capture notes. You can start practicing sketchnotes with the practice prompts below:

Sketchnote Practice Prompts 

Illustrate 5 phrases you hear at work (example: customer success)
Illustrate your organization’s mission statement or core values (that’ll keep you busy for a while)
Illustrate the action items from your next meeting

Tip:  Keep it simple by starting with basic “seed shapes” (i.e.: building blocks) such as circles, squares, triangles, lines, squiggles and dots, and build from there!

2 – Drawing Together in Groups

Think of visuals as a language that has its own alphabet made up of basic shapes like squares and circles. Combine simple drawings to form visual words, sentences, and more complex thoughts like stories.

Challenge:  Can you tell a story relying only on just basic shapes and colors? Drawing Together Liberating Structure uses 5 basic shapes as the building blocks of a visual shorthand that team members can only use to tell their story.

Using this exercise in both small and large group working sessions can be a fun way to create energy and increase communication as you attempt to interpret each others’ drawings (i.e.: your visual stories) and work together to get aligned on a common visual language. What stories can you tell with just these five basic shapes? Try the following prompt with your team at the next meeting: Using only the five shapes provided, illustrate a recent success story.

3 – Design and Use Your Own Visual Templates 

While planning your next internal meeting or client session, think about ways to incorporate visuals into the session design. “Graphic Facilitation” is the practice of using prefabricated visual templates as a container to guide a group conversation. A simple fill-in-the-blank visual template can go a long way in helping groups organize and prioritize their thoughts and ideas. Download this self-serve CORE Prime visual template to help any conversation move from a current state to the desired future to be state. Once you get the hang of using ours, try your hand at creating your own and let us know what it looks like and how the conversation went.

4 – Find your Visual Support Group

If you are interested in learning more about visual communication consider attending a local Meetup on Graphic Recording (real-time capture of a conversation, meeting, or event with a hand-drawn a mix of images, drawings and words) and Graphic Facilitation.

Meetups are a ton of fun, a chance to play and learn in the safest of spaces with others in similar and also different situations and worlds than your own. If you’re local to the Washington, DC area, and also from anywhere in the world (we hold virtual events too) join me at a NOVA Scribes meetup (content and videos from past events are available for free!) – we’d love to have you!
Additionally, there’s a growing community of amazing Visual Practitioners (i.e.: those who work in Visuals) through the (International Forum of Visual Practitioners) which offers all sorts of free programming online and in-person training all over the world.

Just like any language, the more you practice speaking it the higher level of fluency you can achieve. As Brandy Agerbeck reminds us, “Practice makes progress,” because visuals are never perfect, nor should they be. The important thing is that these visuals serve your intended purpose and help you reach your desired outcomes.

We at The Clearing hope the exercises above will encourage you to start incorporating more visuals into the way you work and communicate.  Drop me an email, a tweet, and/or IG connect with me and let me know how you’re communicating visually – would love to connect!