Best Practices: Thinking Visually While Training

John Ward calls himself a “visual thinker.” He draws visual representations of meetings, and therein lies an idea for any trainer lucky enough to have graphics and sketching skills—or a friend or colleague willing to provide them in a training workshop.
Ward’s techniques were on display this week during Sonoma Learning Systems’ Redefining Leadership Development Best-Practices Forum in Walnut Creek; presenters included training gurus Jim Kouzes (co-author of the recently released fourth edition of The Leadership Challenge) and Roy Pollock (co-author of The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning). Ward’s tools were a set of felt pens in various colors; large blank sheets of white paper posted on a wall; good penmanship, design, and cartooning skills; great listening skills; and an ability to engage in improvisation.
As each presenter spoke, Ward created a visually attractive and cohesive mural comprised of multi-colored words, symbols, and simple line drawings to summarize what the audience was hearing; by the time he and the presenters were finished, the audience could see—and more importantly, walk away with the memory of—a striking visual representation designed to make the lesson stick. For Pollock’s part of the presentation (“The Road Map for Optimizing the Impact of Leadership Training”), Ward sketched a bridge and arced key words and phrases above and below the bridge at the top of his mural-in-progress. The phrase “bridging the gap” formed the arc above the bridge; the words “optimizing the impact of leadership training” flowed in an arc directly below the bridge; and the words “learning” and “doing” were anchored on either side of the bridge to illustrate how they were linked by the speaker’s presentation.
The result: a simple, charming, and memorable representation of a first-rate presentation which might not have been as easily remembered without Ward’s illustration.
“It’s about being sensory,” Ward noted after the presentation. By hearing the speakers, seeing the illustrations, reading the key terms on the presenters’ PowerPoint slides and seeing the graphic and colorful reproduction on the mural, participants see interesting lessons become memorable ones—which increases the possibility that the lessons will have a lasting impact when attendees return to their workplace to apply what they have learned.