If you want your ideas to take off quickly and smoothly, you are best served engaging and connecting people’s visual and thinking senses. Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin, calls this skill “visual thinking” and teaches us how to draw and use low-key anthropomorphic elements (e.g., shapes, symbols, lines, simple illustrations) to create greater cognitive engagement.
“Visual thinking means taking advantage of our innate ability to see–not only with our eyes, but also with our mind’s eye–in order to discover ideas that are otherwise invisible…”-– Dan Roam, author of The Back of the Napkin
I have used Dan Roam’s book and exercises successfully in my effective presentation training workshops to demonstrate how engaging the act of drawing can be to your audience.
One of my favorite exercises is to instruct my clients to tell me how they got to work today, drawing it out on the back of a napkin while explaining it verbally. Then I ask them just to tell me how they got to work today ( speaking only). Then I ask them to show me their finished napkin and walk me through it (explaining the finished piece of art). By far, the act of drawing while speaking engages people most.
At the end of the exercise, we vote on “Best Napkin” and find that people who thought that they couldn’t draw did, in fact, use their rudimentary skills to create a strong, engaging and entertaining presentation. The image below is an example of a recent winning entry of Best Napkin:
The next time you are having a networking 1:1, consider drawing out your idea on the back of a napkin of on a piece of paper. Sit side by side so that your networking friend can follow along with your visual communication. Or if you want to really impress them, learn to draw upside down.
Remember, you don’t have to be a fine artist to be effective with visual thinking. Get Dan Roam’s book, learn from it, and practice to become more confident and comfortable. This is a specialty skill that really helps your ideas take off!
Think of flip charts as just larger napkins
If you are presenting your ideas and information to small or mid-size groups (5-20 people), consider swapping out the PowerPoint for an old fashioned flip chart easel and pad of paper. Whether you use words or images, the act of writing on a flip chart has a powerful engaging impact on your audience.
Recently, Bette McIntire and I co-facilitated an advanced presentation delivery skills workshop for a major client. Like many company cultures, this client is PowerPoint-centric, but they recognize that they need to be more creative and engaging in their presentations in order to produce the results they are seeking.
We taught them the power and utility of storytelling, using props and creating metaphors using ordinary objects. We showed them how they could return to the classic tool – the flip chart – to make their points and engage their audience.
Bette did a great job explaining the do’s and don’ts of using flip charts. We captured her tutorial in this video.
If you didn’t catch them all, here is a list of Bette’s tips on using flip charts more effectively:
- Writing on a flip chart provides an opportunity to make cognitive connections
- Avoid offensive smelling markers
- Avoid certain hard-to-see colors (yellow, orange, red)
- Only use 2 colors on any flip chart
- Use wedged markers for clearer printing
- Print, don’t write in script
- Don’t use ALL CAPS when printing on flip charts. Use upper and lower case letters
- Use ruled paper to help you write in straight lines
- Limit your content to 5-6 lines per flip chart
- Use dashes or squares (tick boxes) to separate lines
- One inch line spacing for every 10 people in the audience
- Best not to use flip chart for audiences of more than 25 people – they may not be able to see the board unless your writing is extremely large.
- Separate your lines with alternating colors
- Purposely never talk while writing on flip chart. Your voice won’t reverberate effectively and you’ll sound like you are mumbling.
- Don’t use more than 2/3 of the chart paper. Leave some open space at the bottom
- Pre-cut masking tape strips so that you are not fumbling around with the paper and the tape to post them on the wall.
- Beware of hotel restrictions for hanging your flip charts on their wallpapered meeting rooms or on their artwork or furniture
- Consider pre-doing your flip charts
- Leave blank sheet between pages
- Ear mark end of the pages
- Pre-draw your content in light pencil beforehand
- Drawn images, even if imperfect, can be compelling
- Don’t play with marker caps. Put them down.
- Be prepared. Know what equipment is in the room. Ensure that your easels are sturdy, while being easy to move about the room.
- Test the markers in advance. Throw out old ones.
- Save transcription time by taking photos of your important flip charts and send them out as records of your key discussion points. (See examples from an actual presentation)
Put these ideas into action
Experiment with your visual thinking skills this week. Rather than jumping on your laptop or showing a PowerPoint slide, try something different like drawing or writing out your ideas and information on a piece of paper, back of a napkin or a flip chart or white board. Observe how other people are more engaged with you when you are doing something visual, rather than just looking at a finished piece. The act of creating something in real time can be very compelling to people. Remember, it doesn’t have to be perfect to be effective.