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Visual content makes you a more effective internal communicator

01 Mar, 2015 Internal communication, Visual communication

This article was originally published in 2015 and has been completely updated in 2020.

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.

Image: 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.

Unfortunately, managers often tend to fall back on traditional methods of communication: emails, reports, PowerPoint presentations and meetings. But these methods can be more effective by using visual material for greater impact.

(Confession: to my regret I am so busy I don’t have time to follow my own advice in this newsletter. I just don’t have time to spend on labor-intensive extras such as preparing infographics and diagrams. Using existing photos and similar material is about my limit, unfortunately.)

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.

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 organisational 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.

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 about achieving better safety through more visual communication in this presentation.

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.

Here are some great sources for free stock photos, including art collections, that you can access to enhance your communication effectiveness:

http://openglam.org/open-collections/

http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/08/a-guide-to-the-webs-growing-set-of-free-image-collections/278655/

This article was updated in February 2020.

About the author Kim Harrison

Kim Harrison loves sharing actionable ideas and information about professional communication and business management. He has wide experience as a corporate affairs manager, consultant, author, lecturer, and CEO of a non-profit organization. Kim is a Fellow and former national board member of the Public Relations Institute of Australia, and he ran his State’s professional development program for 7 years, helping many practitioners to strengthen their communication skills. People from 115 countries benefit from the practical knowledge shared in his monthly newsletter and in the eBooks available from cuttingedgepr.com.

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