Friday, 21 November 2014

Visually Speaking

“We inhabit an almost entirely visual world…”

So began a talk I gave on Listening. (Way back when.)

And like a fool, I then proceeded to run a session that was full of stories, audio insights and clips of conversations. 

Without a single piece of visual stimulation.

The irony didn’t even occur to me. (Being an audio man.)

These days, I hope I'm a tiny bit wiser. 

And I use visuals a lot. Simple images usually.

Images to prompt the imagination, to help the learning to stick. To give people a visual hook on which they can hang their understanding.

I use circles a lot. Circles are my thing.

For me, they represent so much that I think is important.

Circles are intrinsically democratic. They’re equal and balanced. They're interpretable. They don't have a particular point to make. 

And they can represent anything. Or anyone. 

You can imagine the purple one is you. 

Or them.

You can make the bigger one into the person you want to have a better conversation with. Your partner. Your boss. Your son. Or your daughter's teacher.

And if you see me talk live, you'll enjoy seeing the circles moving around the screen. 

(They're a delight to animate. Another plus.)  

So – circles are great at being us

But what about the things we do

I've struggled for a while to illustrate the 10 core skills that improve the way we talk, listen and journey our way through the conversations that count most. The ones we need to have. 

And after a long time and a lot of discarded sketches, flip-charts and Keynote presentations – and the incredibly useful prompt of having to write a book about the damn things – I think I've done it.

I’ve come up with what I think are a series of useful, simple key visuals that help me to show what I mean, as well as saying what I mean.

(The book by the way came out earlier this year. I’m not going to flog it on here. It’s a book to help people at work have better conversations. It’s called Say It and Solve It. But this isn’t the right place to push things like that. For now, I'll just say it's a huge relief to have finished it. It took much longer than I thought it would. I'm really proud of it. And I think it's genuinely possible it might help people to have those tricky conversations that come up at work.) 

But I will confess to having discovered something about myself by writing a book.

Writing is not my natural form.

I spoke about this a bit at the launch. If you're really interested, you can watch it here:


Please don't say anything to anyone about me not being a natural writer.

It's a brilliant book. Obviously. 

It's had some great reviews. It was even Business Book of the Month at WHSmiths. (Crazy times.) 

And anyone who works anywhere should buy it. 

But damn it was a slog. 

More about that another time. 

For now, rather than tell you about the struggle I had writing stuff down rather than speaking it out loud, let me quickly share the series of icons I settled on as illustrations.

I did wonder if I should explain them all here, but if I have to do that, they're not working. 

So let's see if you get them. 

(I bet you do.)  

To begin with, one of the most crucial skills of all: 

(Absurd, to try and capture something as rich as Listening in a single image.)

Next up, a much easier one:  

(If only all the skills were this easy to visualise.)

Next, a more complex one: 

Go on. Tell me I can't draw for toffee. 

Okay - the one on the right is supposed to be an ear. 

If you can't guess the other two, just leave now and watch the brilliant Between Two Ferns.

There's a bit of  a background into foreground thing going on here:

This one didn't take long to decide on:

This one wasn't that hard either: 

This one is a bit trickier because it involves two ideas, keeping the conversation going in the right direction but stepping in and out of the content occasionally to adjust the way in which you're going about the journey:

Next, my personal favourite, because it's so simple: 

My second favourite.  Because it's so accurate

This one take the prize for being the most economic

And finally, an obscure one. If I'm honest I'm not sure it's right yet:

So there you have it.

My first serious attempt at visuals with the 10 core skills of having better conversations.

They may not be brilliant, but I hope they're helpful. 

They're out on the road

They're in the book.

And - if they're any good - some of them are already lodged in your beautiful minds.

(Any suggestions for improvement - do get in touch!)

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