One of the managers I admire tries to explain concepts by using a marker pen and whiteboard – in his office or in a larger venue. Vincent thinks visually. I look at what he has quickly presented on the whiteboard in his office and marvel at the way those concepts have become clearer through his use of visuals – diagrams, graphs, and little flow charts. What’s more – the whiteboard images can be quickly printed and circulated as a tangible outcome of the meeting’s discussion.
Vince’s visual communication reminds me that people are visual creatures. It is the most powerful sense, and can be employed can be employed for many communication purposes.
Photo: US Atlas-Agena rocket launches on 16 March 1966 to begin Gemini 8 mission to orbit Earth with astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott on board. This type of image would be very effective as a visual metaphor of tremendous team capabilities. Photo source: NASA.
Unfortunately, managers often merely use traditional methods of communication: emails, reports, PowerPoint presentations and meetings. But these methods can be more effective by pairing visual material with information for greater impact.
Traditional methods are mainly text-driven—relying heavily on the written or spoken word. However, most people are visually oriented – they learn best from visual material to absorb complex information such as strategic goals, work processes, systems or plans for implementing organizational change. Even more important, text alone is ineffective at helping workers see the impact on them individually and how they fit into the plan.
Visual versus verbal learning
You can improve change effectiveness by using more visual material such as maps, icons, storyboards, charts and matrices to convey information quickly and effectively.
Research shows that about 60% of adults are visual learners. Yet managers often fail to take advantage of visual material to convey the process changes, system changes and behavioral changes that are necessary to improve their organization’s performance.
Free graphic images guide
One interesting source of valuable information about the power of graphics is “Mike Parkinson’s Do-It-Yourself Billion Dollar Graphics,” a free, 53-page PDF full of advice, packed with “200 Editable Graphics and Visualization Tools.” Easy to understand and well worth reading. Contains 7 chapters, an index, a glossary, page notes and many examples.
Benefits of using visual content
Research shows the benefits. For instance, Robert Horn at Stanford University, used studies from the Wharton School of Business, and other academic and business studies found:
- Responsiveness and decisiveness. An overview map can help people organize, process and act faster on information. In one study, 64% of participants made an immediate decision following presentations that used an overview map. The control groups lagged behind.
- Meeting effectiveness and efficiency. Visual content has been shown to shorten meetings by 24%. This creates obvious improvements to organizational productivity.
- Decision making and consensus. Groups using visual material have experienced a 21% increase in ability to reach consensus, compared with groups that did not use visuals. This is vital to the success of a change initiative.
- Influence and believability. In one study, presenters who used combined visual and verbal presentations were perceived as 17% more convincing than those who used verbals alone. Another study at the University of Minnesota found presenters with visual aids were 43% more effective at persuading their audiences to take a desired course of action.
Horn quotes other research showing the integration of verbal and visual elements is better than text separated from visual elements, as follows:
- In one group of studies, adding visuals to words improved learning by 23%.
- In another group of studies, adding visuals to words improved transfer of learning by 89%.
Other research supports these findings. The conclusion, according to the American Management Association, is:
- Written information is 70% more memorable when it is combined with visuals and actions
- Visual content improves problem-solving effectiveness by around 20%
- Visual content produces 22% better results in 13% less time.
In view of all this, visual aids should be included in every change program. The impact on management’s ability to implement change quickly is direct, obvious and measurable. Moreover, in a multi-cultural workforce, visual images are even more essential in ensuring that information is understood and acted upon.
Communicating about workplace safety is really about change communication – because we want employees to change to a safer attitude and behavior pattern. US communication expert TJ Larkin talks in this paper about achieving better safety through more visual communication.
Using visual aids for planning and strategy
Visual language is also a management and behavioral tool that can be valuable for dealing with organizational issues and identifying actions for improvement. Even something as simple as adding color to a chart increases the effectiveness of the chart. For instance, using green to represent desirable results and red to represent undesirable, leads to participants starting to refer to the various outcomes by colors. Color, then becomes a form of verbal/visual shorthand that helps reinforce the message and streamline the group’s actions. Overall, visual support provides a valuable, but easily overlooked, methodology for executing a wide variety of critical management functions.
My article, “Capitalize on free sources for online images,” gives helpful advice plus around 15 free stock photo sites worth visiting.
And here are some great sources for free stock photos, including art collections, that you can access to enhance your communication effectiveness:
The Atlantic – A guide to the web’s growing set of free image collections