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Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #7: Think of the Entire Room As a Visual Environment

In an effort to further the graphic recording field and support our clients in getting the most from their visuals, we present our blog series, Powerful Habits to Maximize the Benefits of Graphic Recording in Meetings. 

The tips we offer are based in context of a scenario where a meeting facilitator is partnered with a graphic recorder to serve a client, and where either the facilitator, the client, or both are new to using graphic recording. We strongly believe thatgraphic recordings are meant to be a thinking tool, not just a recording device. 

Working visually is both a process and a product. We also believe that optimizing the use of graphic recording rests largely upon 2 factors: 1) the quality of the partnership between the facilitator and the graphic recorder and 2) their collective repertoire of strategies for engaging participants to interact with the graphic recordings in a way that produces new insights. Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #7 speaks largely to the latter. 

Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #7: Think of the Entire Room As a Visual Environment

People often roll their eyes at the idea of attending a meeting because so many of them are the same old boring experience. Working visually presents an opportunity to create an engaging, exciting event for your participants – but you have to design the entire meeting environment to make it really effective.

Think of a car dealership. The entire structure is designed to sell cars. From the shiny new models that look down on you from risers to the tiny sales desk in the huge showroom that is positioned there to make you feel small during sales negotiations, every detail and step is by intentional design.

That’s the way to approach a visual meeting. Look for every opportunity to turn your surroundings into a stimulating space that is built to encourage conversations and inspire thinking.

This photo is a great example of turning the entire space into an interactive visual meeting where each attendee can collaborate and contribute to the discussion.

LA_Post 7_ImageWhen you collaborate on the meeting design, the graphic recorder should think creatively and come up with a variety of approaches to help design an interesting meeting space using other visual formats besides the standard live recording on a 4’ x 8’ chart.

Build Physical Representations of Ideas 

When the goal of an educators’ retreat was to shift paradigms, we built 3-D models of the elements of these paradigms. The box represented the traditional system, the triangle represented alternative schools, and the amoeba represented the individualized approach. We visualized the characteristics and realities of each paradigm on the structures then engaged participants in an activity where they actively processed the visual content to make personal and shared meaning.

LA_Post 7_Image 1Leverage Every Moment

Visuals can help you make use of the entire time you have with your attendees. They can be used to inspire meaningful conversations about the topic at hand during times like receptions, breaks, and meals when participants would otherwise be searching for small talk.

In the photo below, we took charts from a previously recorded meeting (a dialogue with physicians) and used them in a conversation with medical office assistants (MOAs) to help them understand the physicians’ perspectives. During the welcome reception, we sent the MOAs on a fun scavenger hunt to find answers to key questions listed on slips of paper.

LA_Post 7_Image 2Create Deliberate Distractions 

Our limited human attention spans guarantee that at some point in the meeting, people will tune out. So, give them something visual and meaningful in the space that they can tune in to. That way you can keep them on topic even when their attention drifts.

A great idea comes from a corporate visioning session we organized. Before the meeting, we created placemats with the company’s manifesto visualized at the top. Underneath we listed the 18 beliefs that underlie the manifesto and laminated them.

Setting a placemat at each seat, we imbued the conversation with meaningful ideas and gave people something fun to look at during moments when they needed to rest their brain from the struggle of birthing a new vision.

Here are 5 tips to help you create a visual environment: 

  • Discuss with your design team: “What is the experience you want people to have in the room? How can you build the space using visuals to inspire the conversations you want to have happen? Where do you need to place the inspirational graphics so the conversations occur when you want them to happen during the meeting? How will you engage participants when they walk in the door?

For example, if you want people to meet each other, think about a visual prompt you can put on the tables to give attendees a meaningful, meeting-related topic to chat about when they sit down. Or, if you want to shift culture, you can come up with different visual quotes to post in the space for people to ponder throughout the day.

  • Dare to be creative, but keep visuals meaningful. Building a visual meeting environment is not decorating. The things you create should support the meeting objectives. So yes, think beyond the usual 4’ x 8’ chart, but be sure the visuals you choose make sense. Vary mediums, sizes and shapes, hang things from ceilings, create display towers … the sky is the limit. But also be certain that the creative choices you make lend themselves to content, and that the two in unison support one or more meeting objectives.

For example, if you want people to reflect on pre-meeting survey information, you might put footprints on the floor with provocative questions on them that lead from where participants enter the room over to a chart with the pre-survey information visually displayed.

  • Consider the staging of live graphic recordings. When a graphic recorder is producing multiple charts during a meeting process, think ahead. Where will the completed charts will be moved to? When and why? If one chart is getting a lot of attention, will you place it prominently then open up a conversation about why it’s so engaging? For each stage in the meeting process, consider what previously recorded information would be handy to have in sight while thinking about the next topic. What do participants need to see side by side?

For example, in order to discuss and develop targeted solutions, it might be important for the group to have the graphic recording of their earlier discussion on the vision and barriers to that idea in sight. Another example might be hanging the roundtable introductions chart above the coffee station before the first break to help people remember who’s who during social times.

  • Switch it up. If you’ve created a visual space with meaningful ideas for people to soak up and ponder, think about when in the process you might want to inject another fresh idea.

For example, find meaningful supporting content for your process that you could put on a series of 3 visual table tent cards that could be switched up at each of the breaks. For multi-day meetings, think of ways to change the space and switch up the scene to re-engage people the next day. Consider what people need to see most prominently from the previous day in order to integrate the next day’s thinking.

Yes! Get a room with a view. Like a canvas for your meeting, the space in which you choose to hold it is a crucial part of the visual environment. Often clients wonder if a room with lots of windows and a view will be a distraction for participants. It will not. A beautiful view and natural light will keep people’s mental performance high. A room with no windows and dim light stresses your participants and decreases their ability to process information. The lighting, the view, the colors in the space, and even the scent of the room all affect your participants’ states, and therefore their ability to do quality thinking. 

As you begin to design your visual meeting, be sure to consider the layout of the room. Work closely with your graphic recorder to pinpoint ways to use the entire space and come up with a variety of different visuals to maximize interaction and learning. Together you can create a fully effective visual experience for your participants from arrival, throughout the meeting, and beyond.


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