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Visual Storytelling – Rise of the Power Sketchers

April 26th, 2012

If you want to win the hearts and minds of audiences, draw them the big picture – literally.

Leaders face a daunting challenge of getting audiences to see things the same way they do.  So why do so many still overly rely on words, stats and bullets to get their points across?  In this age of big data and digital daydreaming, these relentless barrages of boring presentations are even less effective.  Visual storytelling is the way to go.

We’ve always known that pictures are worth a thousand words.  But pictures that tell a visual story are worth millions. If you want to win the hearts and minds of audiences, draw them the big picture – literally.

Graphic recorder Sunni Brown, shown here, sketched a live Zappos.com meeting. – Source: Wall Street Journal

In A Whole New Mind, Daniel Pink described that drawing and sketching are more effective ways to develop the aptitude of symphony, the ability to connect seemingly unrelated pieces to create deeper understanding.  Check out the great cartoon-driven RSA-animate video on employee motivation which speaks to his point.

Research in cognitive learning proves the advantages of diagrams and sketches in communication and problem solving.  Unlike words, diagrams relieve working memory, making learning physically easier on the brain (van Essen & Hamaker, 1990).  Diagrams also help people better digest and reorganize large amounts of information, which, in turn, facilitates deeper meaning (Larkin & Simon, 1987).

The corporate community is just waking up to this visual dawn – something the tech community has known for years.  Whiteboards, chalkboards and writable glass are now staples in organizations that need to share knowledge and information.  According to Rachel Silverman’s Wall Street Journal piece, firms are holding training sessions to teach employees the basics of what’s known as “visual note taking.”  Others, like Zappos, have in-house doodlers – graphic recording consultants who sketch what’s discussed in real time, ultimately producing a cartoon-style “big picture” of what was covered and how all the pieces fit together.

According to Silverman, doodling proponents say this act helps generate ideas, fuels collaboration and simplifies communication. It can be especially helpful among global colleagues who don’t share a common first language.  To top it off, studies show it can help workers retain more information.

Silverman also cites a 2009 study published in the journal of Applied Cognitive Psychology, which found doodlers retain more than non-doodlers when recalling information presented in a boring context, such as in a typical meeting or conference call. The logic, according to Jackie Andrade, a psychology professor at the University of Plymouth in England, is that “doodling takes up just enough cognitive energy to prevent the mind from daydreaming.”  This goes to show that contrary to popular belief, doodling can be productive.

This is especially useful if you need to communicate complex strategies or product features. So to get people or audiences on the same page, replace your PowerPoint with a power sketch.

According to Mike Rohde, author of Sketching: the Visual Thinking Power Tool, a drawing creates a unique space, enabling people to think differently, generate a variety of ideas quickly and explore alternatives with less risk.  Now doesn’t this sound like something that encourages constructive discussions with colleagues and clients?

Can’t draw?  Don’t sweat it. It’s not about beauty.  Lines, stick-figures and basic shapes work just as well.  Give it a try.  Next strategy meeting, use a white board or flip chart to draw out your strategy and draw in your audience.

Have you seen examples of good strategy sketches?

Reply here and share with the group.

Posted Under: Storytelling
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