Do's and don'ts for using visuals during group meetings

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Did you know that employee time spent in collaborative activities has increased by more than 50% in the past two decades (according to Harvard Business Review)?

Making this time count is important but it can also be challenging. 

Whenever individuals come together to solve problems they will be faced with competing needs. On the one hand, they will want to belong to the group, to make positive impressions, and to feel valued. Unfortunately, these desires may keep them from generating and sharing new ideas and solutions that are essential for group progress.

Groups must keep in mind that communication tools will need to help individuals get their social needs met while also advancing the group’s ability to execute tasks. Visuals can play a key role in maximizing time spent together and ensuring that these needs are not in competition.

Here are some dos and donts for using visuals during group meetings:

Do use visuals! Educators and scientists assert that learning happens primarily through our visual senses. Visuals enable us to form a more complete, in-depth understanding, which is especially important if we are working on large-scale problems. They have even been shown to shorten meetings!

Don’t rely on PowerPoint. It is common practice for groups to rely on presentations as the sole source of visuals during meetings. But there is a reason that the phrase “death by PowerPoint” has become a well known one. Presentations are for one-way communication, actually requiring audience passivity and weakening audience reasoning.

Do use visuals that encourage active participation. Visuals that best serve groups are social in nature, helping individuals feel heard, better listen to others, and thereby build trusting relationships with one another. Visuals that encourage group members to share ideas openly enable discussions that lead to effective problem solving. For example, use sticky notes or a sticky wall to openly display questions, attitudes, or preferences.

Don’t miss an opportunity to capture ideas visually. The best way to use visuals during group meetings is to highlight ideas as they are being shared. The creation of visuals in real-time, known as graphic recording or graphic facilitation, incorporates multiple perspectives, sparks exploration, reveals patterns, and informs decisions. They can be invaluable for individual understanding as well as group progress.

Do use visuals to reflect on group progress. Visuals that capture individual input and group processes are also colorful documents, making it fun to revisit agreements as needed and to share the group’s work with larger audiences if desired. Visuals are also much more memorable, so members will recall moments in time that could otherwise be lost.

Don’t wait to change up current practices. Whether the groups you work in are in the process of defining their purpose and vision, clarifying roles and processes, or simply sharing expertise and experience, effective communication is key to success. The way to avoid confusion, competition, and apathy is to use visual tools that help individuals feel their contributions are valued and thereby help the group create effective solutions for the problems at hand.

To learn more about and practice using these tools yourself, attend my session “Improving Group Communication and Productivity” at the Denver Nonprofit Institute on January 31, 2017.