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Report on Visual Meetings, by David Sibbet March 4, 2012

Posted by jeffychen04 in Uncategorized.

Brief Discussion of the Book

In Visual Meetings, author David Sibbet asserts that most meetings are ineffective because they lack focus, organization, and engagement.  Through his years of consulting experience facilitating corporate vision, planning, and execution meetings, Sibbet has demonstrated how the use of visual communication techniques in meetings has improved the effectiveness of the meetings because they provide better focus, organization, and engagement for the entire group.  Sibbet offers his best known methods supplemented with visual communication techniques and tools to help the reader increase the effectiveness of their own meetings. 

Sibbet argues that humans inherently express themselves using visual cues.  Early humans drew cave paintings before there was written language, and young children drawing simple stories before they’ve learned to write.  Over the course of child development, our natural ability for visual communication is superimposed with written and oral communication.  We lose our ability to communicate visually.  Sibbet’s book encourages readers that they can regain their visual communication skills through some conditioning and practice.  His book guides readers how to integrate symbols, diagrams, and other visual representations into group meetings to provide focus, organization, and engagement to accomplish meeting objectives.

Critical Analysis

I identify myself as a visual thinker and agree with Sibbet that meetings should include visual communication to cearly communicate with other meeting participants who prefer that style.  I prefer to organize data visually for comprehension and create visual representations of my thoughts for communication, which is why I agree with the view point and purpose of Visual Meetings.  I have participated in far too many ineffective meetings in my eight-year career where data, information, and plans are shared without coordination so that it’s difficult to understand the relationship between discussions.  Having visual representations of the complex topics would increase my comprehension so that I can ensure that I execute to the vision and guide others in the right direction as well.

Visual Meetings makes a compelling case for using visual communication tools as a means of engaging meeting participants and gain their commitment.  Having built and led teams in vision, planning, and execution meetings, I have experienced some difficulty in focusing teams behind a single vision and rallying their support and commitment.  Sibbet’s most enlightening point in the book is that visual communication is more than just a one-way visual depiction of thoughts with charts, diagrams, and images, but is an active two-way collaboration process that engages meeting participants to contribute to the meeting and commit themselves to the meeting topics.  For example, meeting participants can write on sticky notes and place them on a whiteboard, and rearrange them in a mind map or affinity chart.  This engages them in the process so that wherever there ideas and feedback falls, it’s backed by their full support.  This is a subtle leadership skill that I had not paid enough attention to because I had always put myself in the position where I single handedly created the vision and assumed that my stakeholders would buy into it.  Sibbet’s perspective helps explain, in hindsight, why some of my meeting participants did not follow through on my expectations.  I realized that I had failed to engage the teams more fully, and I believe I now have a couple of additional methods to bolster support in the future.

What is the value of the book?

Application to Design: Chapter 11 discusses the story boarding process and idea mapping, which designers and planners frequently use and can be adopted in meetings to communicate an experience and complex relationships.  The fundamental premise of design is to anticipate user needs through an understanding of their world perspective and translating those insights into products and services with clear benefits that solve those needs.  True insight into the minds and emotions of the user can only be achieved through effective communication between the user and the designer.  Storyboarding and idea mapping techniques can easily be used in any meeting to articulate the business process, competitive intelligence, and proposed marketing messages, for example.

Leadership Development: Leaders should read this book if they would like to find new ways to engage their team members during meetings.  They should especially read this book if they have had experienced too many instances where individuals have misunderstood the vision or plans and have deviated.  These symptoms suggest that meetings have not been effective in clearly articulating the topics. 

Communication Development: People who have created presentations predominantly filled with full sentences and paragraphs should read this book to learn ways to articulate their thoughts in the form of visual charts, diagrams, images, etc.  In chapter 9, Sibbet provides the Group Graphics Keyboard™ which outlines the seven different categories of visual graphics that can be used to articulate complex ideas and relationships.  Sibbet suggests the best uses and limitations of each category of graphics,

What is the relevance of the book?

Visual Meetings primarily instructs readers on the best practices to run meetings effectively, which is not revolutionary.  Plenty of other books and courses provide equal instruction on the use of clear objectives and agendas for focused discussion, and checklists and diagrams to articulate ideas.  However, the book stands out in its use of visuals as a means to engage the audience. Sibbet shares anecdotes from his work with semiconductor companies, governments, and non-profits on how he used pictures, timelines, sticky notes, affinity charts, and other diagrams to get every meeting participant to participate.  Few other books provide suggestions on how best to keep energy levels and creativity up during a meeting. 

As an employee of a multinational company who frequently leads teams to accomplish business objectives, this book has provided me with a few additional methods that I intend to use in my future planning meetings.  Especially since I frequently conduct virtual meetings via telephone and the web, I want to run those more effectively otherwise I will fail to produce the desired outcomes.  I personally find it too easy to disengage from a virtual meeting and multitask when a meeting is not run effectively, so I would like to ensure that my own team doesn’t do the same.  Visual Meetings has inspired me to come better prepared with images and other visual representations to level set the meeting participants and utilize virtual whiteboards during discussions instead of relying purely on prepared presentations to conduct virtual work meetings.  I believe doing so will help build rapport among meeting participants while communication with one another more effective. 

I recommend this book to others who feel that they too struggle with articulating complex ideas and need to find ways to increase participation and commitment in meetings.