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Visual Meetings – Review March 5, 2012

Posted by Pritesh in [Books] Visualization & Presentation.
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Introduction

With Visual Meetings, David Sibbet hopes that the book would encourage people to ‘reclaim and universally appreciate’ the visual way of communicating with groups. Sibbet certainly does a remarkable job of providing a comprehensive guide for anyone looking to add visualization tools to improve the ability of a group to realize their shared goals. It covers a spectrum of tools and methods ranging from the simplest of tasks like hanging paper on a wall to more complex tasks such as strategic visioning process for a team. Think of this book as a ‘graphical user interface (GUI) for meetings’.

Description and Key Ideas

The book presents the concepts of visual meetings in a manner that reflects how people ‘move from ideas to action’. It captures this process in four sections divided as IMAGINING, ENGAGING, THINKING and ENACTING which is also visualized on the cover. The author provides examples from his personal experience working with companies and organization to reinforce the key topics.

In the first section on Imagining, Sibbet highlights the role of visual tools to create a shared frame of reference for participants in a meeting. It eases the reader into understanding the value of visualization and how individuals can begin to unlock their innate ability to draw. The section on Engaging is focused on how to involve the meeting participants using visual tools and methods. Sibbet describes a variety of ways to improve the participation of attendees (such as sticky notes, graphic recording, idea maps etc.). The use of scenarios and templates for different types of meetings is particularly useful.

The next section about graphics for visual Thinking is essentially the heart of this book. It does a wonderful job of providing several templates that can be used to organize, plan and solve problems as a group. I particularly liked how Sibbet presents the Group Graphics Keyboard © (source – www.grove.com) as the building block for visual thinking. The concluding section on Enacting continues on the similar theme and provides tools that are directed towards getting results and being more productive. It illustrates more graphical tools to support better team processes, decision making meetings and project management meetings

Analysis

At work I end up spending almost half of my time in meetings. So when I first saw the title of the book, I was certainly intrigued by the concept. Sibbet does a great job of analyzing and presenting every aspect of visual meetings. The author’s style of presenting the ideas graphically along with examples from his experience makes the book a very practical guide for visual meetings. I do agree with the author’s point of view and believe in the value of visual thinking, but there are two areas where applying these ideas might find resistance. In a typical organization (those that are not that accustomed to visual thinking), changing the culture to leverage visual meetings is a somewhat difficult process. Ideally, you would need an experienced facilitator who can initiate and proliferate the idea of visual meetings in the organization. Without such a person to set an example, it would be hard to change an organization’s culture to appreciate and accept visual meetings. Another related area that makes it hard to apply some of these ideas in practice is the role of attendees. A large number of the meetings that I participate in are as an attendee/participant and not the host of the meeting. And not surprisingly the majority of the hosts for the meetings are not trained/ familiar in the concepts of visualizing meetings. In my opinion the author does an excellent job of guiding facilitators but could include a section on influencing the broader organization to adopt visual meetings as well.

The book provides very useful tools to facilitate the process of design thinking. Designing, as we learned, is a team sport. Often the people involved in designing products, processes or businesses meet and share their points of view and this book is an essential tool to ensure the designers are sharing the same point of view. A lot of the techniques we have learned so far for brainstorming, mind mapping, affinity diagrams (clusters) etc. overlap with visual meetings. As the book acknowledges, mastering the techniques of visual meetings can certainly allow you to become an experienced visual facilitator, but will also provide you with ways in which you can integrate your creative and analytic thinking to make better decisions.

Conclusion

Although I have used some of these techniques in meetings or discussions, I haven’t read any other book on visualization. In my experience with this topic, it does require some effort to plan and prepare for the meeting to incorporate visual thinking. I typically organize my thoughts using diagrams in PowerPoint which takes up a lot of time – but with the tools gained from this book; I can now use my drawing skills to facilitate visual thinking as well. I would certainly encourage designers view the webinar by David that serves an interactive guide to the concepts in the book.

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Comments»

1. Suhani N Mehta - March 6, 2012

I guess “visualization” is one of the reasons people are now emphasizing story-telling. Though one may just speak a story without using any visual elements, the listener himself creates the visual in his mind. Hence, even without using any visual tools, it is easy to effectively convey the message. But the downfall is that without tangibility, each person is left to his own perception.

Does the book talk anything about such though visual yet non-visual elements?

2. Pritesh - March 7, 2012

Hi Suhani

The book doesn’t talk as much about non-visual ways (such as story-telling) of getting your point across. In fact, one of the key messages from this book is that visualizing through more tangible means (like on paper/ tablets etc.) is a great way to remove the ambiguity that comes across in verbal discussions. Additionally there are some mechanisms like story-boarding that can be used to effectively address describing a story along with pictures/visualizations.

-Pritesh

3. jhpittman - March 11, 2012

I was intrigued by your comments about using these techniques in meetings and the need to plan. Most people that comment on meetings talk about preparation, but we often do little to prepare. It would be great if you could try some of these techniques at work and let us know how it goes!

4. Pritesh - March 28, 2012

Hi Jon

Last week I was in India for some work related meetings. It was one of the early product strategy/direction meetings where we were exploring a new concept and trying to come up with a roadmap for the products team. I was tasked with running a “brainstorming” session on what type of functionality we could build in the product for the next generation. It was a perfect opportunity for me to try out some of the learnings in class and this book. It worked out really well – I started with explaining some concepts of diverging/ converging and then had a very fruitful 1 hour of brainstorming with close to 25 folks. We generated about 40 new ideas and then condense them into three groups of 7 or so ideas each. It was a wonderful experience and certainly got a lot of people involved who would instead have been passive listeners in the meeting. For some of the other meetings we even used several techniques like dot voting, creating clusters or a story board to explain ideas to the broader teams.

It was a great experience, hope others try it at their work places as well.

-Pritesh

5. jhpittman - March 31, 2012

Pritesh – I’m glad to see you were able to put some of the ideas from Visual Meetings into practice.

6. David Sibbet - April 17, 2012

Dear Pritesh: You did a great job reviewing Visual Meetings. It’s useful to me to see what people pick up. You will be interested to know I’m working on a third book on Visual leadership that will link the storytelling with the visualization work — since that is a key part of how it works from a leadership point of view.

The part of this work that is very difficult to get across in writing and graphics is the energy quality of a meeting with interactive visualization. People get very exciting seeing themselves listened to in this way, and the level of contribution and engagement is consistently higher than with other media. I just got off the phone with a planner in a health system who worked to visual her CEO’s vision. She’s isn’t terrific and drawing, or facilitating and drawing at the same time, but she kept reminding the CEO that the point wasn’t to be perfect, but to engage and get feedback. And they did — through three versions!! I’m going to be featuring her story.

So thanks again for your careful reading. I apologize to taking a bit of time to reply, but I did want you to know I read the review.


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