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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.