By: Bucky Dodd | May, 3 2017

How Making Ideas Visible Can Transform Your Next Meeting

This guest blog post is by Bucky Dodd, executive director of the Center for eLearning and Connected Environments and director of the Institute for Learning Environment Design at the University of Central Oklahoma.  

If you're like me, you’ve probably sat in numerous meetings that seem to lack purpose, clarity and focus. For many professionals, the ever-present meeting is where we share ideas, listen to speakers or occasionally make decisions. We’re conditioned to think of meetings as a time to talk and listen.

If you want to transform the way your team learns and connects through meetings, use meetings as a time to show and create together.

In this post, I’ll share how making ideas visible can transform the way we plan and facilitate meetings. I’ll also suggest some simple steps you can use right away.

Why Visuals Matter

Think back to your early school years for a moment. Do you remember the countless activities involving colorful crayons, glue and construction paper? When I bring this up, you probably can think of a specific skill or lesson you learned through these experiences. Now, try to remember the details of a routine meeting you had only two or three months ago.

Why is it we can remember learning experiences from many, many years ago with such detail, and yet we lack details from meetings or conversations that happened recently?

Visuals in which we have a role creating are a fast track to memory, learning and collaborating. Taking personal ideas and moving them from an invisible state (in our minds) into a form where others can easily build on them is a great way to help teams engage in productive communication and create a shared vision in meetings.

Here’s How It’s Done

Using visual communication techniques successfully is more than writing notes on a white board or using presentation slides. They key is to find ways for each person in a meeting to participate and contribute.

Before a meeting, spend some time planning what would have to happen for that meeting to be a success. For example, this might be that a decision has to be made.

Next, plan how you can engage each person in the meeting by having them contribute their ideas or discussion points in a visual form, such as on a sticky note. Try to keep these ideas movable. In other words, allow the visual idea to be moved and organized as the conversation develops. While the meeting is in progress, continue to focus conversations and attention to the visual representation of the idea, instead of a person.

When it’s time to the make the decision, use the visual elements to summarize the context and conversations and finally visualize the decision in a similar manner. You might also ask for confirmation of the decision from the group.

Give It a Try

Ideas that are communicated visually give facilitators and meeting participants a common tool for communication. This approach helps people think more deeply about issues and gain ownership and commitment in solving problems.

Give it a try and see how working visually can transform your next meeting. 

For more information and help on using visuals to communicate and plan your next meeting, visit the Institute for Learning Environment Design.

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