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Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #8: Leverage Visual Charts as Facilitation Aids

In an effort to further the graphic recording field and support our clients in getting the most from their visuals, we present our blog series, Powerful Habits to Maximize the Benefits of Graphic Recording in Meetings. 

The tips we offer are based in context of a scenario where a meeting facilitator is partnered with a graphic recorder to serve a client, and where either the facilitator, the client, or both are new to using graphic recording. We strongly believe that graphic recordings are meant to be a thinking tool, not just a recording device 

Working visually is both a process and a product. We also believe that optimizing the use of graphic recording rests largely upon 2 factors: 1) the quality of the partnership between the facilitator and the graphic recorder and 2) their collective repertoire of strategies for engaging participants to interact with the graphic recordings in a way that produces new insights. Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #8 speaks largely to the latter.

Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #8: Leverage Visual Charts as Facilitation Aids

In our second Powerful Graphic Recording Habit series post, “Build in Reflection Time,” we explained how the content on your visual charts serves as a mirror for your group, reflecting what they’ve discussed and providing an opportunity to achieve higher level insights as a result.

In this post, we discuss how charts are also useful for the facilitator as a powerful tool to assist with actually promoting, supporting and progressing the meeting dialogue process.

On day 2 of a multi-day meeting, I review the charts together with participants so they can see how the story is building to the whole. It’s a way of getting them to see the process they’re in.

Cecelia Lynch – Focused Momentum 

“Now, what does the content on the map tell us?”

As facilitators move about the meeting space during their facilitation, they should form the habit of frequently noticing what the chart is revealing about the group thinking process and interpersonal dynamics, as well as taking advantage of opportunities to point out relevant things for participants.

Using the visual maps as a reference, a facilitator can:

  • Reflect to the group where they are in the process/arc of the meeting.

Example: “Yesterday we charted our history (past) then got clear on our current strengths and weaknesses (present). Today we transition into talking about our vision (future).”

  • Steer the topic of conversation or move the thinking along.

Example: “I notice we’ve said a lot about X, but not so much about Y. What are your thoughts on that?” Or, “We can see a vast range of ideas up here. Now, let’s begin converging on our best ones.”

  • Acknowledge or address a particular group dynamic or tendency.

Example: Noticing that safe, conservative ideas have been offered when the call has been for bold thinking. Noting a group propensity for circular discussion, or becoming mired in semantics.

The often unspoken beauty of leveraging a chart as a facilitation aid, is that the facilitator can easily give feedback to the group in a gracious, non-judgmental, and sometimes even non-verbal way.

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For instance, rather than stating to a participant who’s stuck on a pet point, “I think we’ve heard that already,” the facilitator can simply gesture and touch the chart where the comment was previously recorded. That way the facilitator can display to the participant (and the group) that the point has been logged, without a single word.

This encounter also offers the facilitator an opportunity to either:

  • Uncover why the person is so attached to what they’re trying to get across.
  • Or, ask the participant or the group a fresh question to push beyond the repeated point into new thinking. 

For our usual meeting process, we’ve developed a template to distill key thinking and group agreements throughout our 2-day meeting dialogue. This becomes like a summary chart that shows participants our progress towards the meeting objectives, and supports action after the meeting.

Cecelia Lynch – Focused Momentum

Another great way facilitators can implement visual charts as an effective facilitation tool is by having a graphic recorder prepare a template ahead of time.

A template often grounds a discussion in a visual metaphor and offers various sections or “buckets” on the map that are intended to guide and capture group thinking in a highly organized way.

When a facilitator uses a template, the group will often begin to self-regulate to some degree because the visual feedback is clear on how the dialogue is progressing.

Some other benefits of using a template to facilitate a discussion are that:

  • The group can literally see what areas of discussion are on the table, plus the facilitator has a giant cheat sheet of aspects of the discussion so they don’t need to refer to their facilitation notes as much.
  • It is visually obvious when one or more buckets starts to receive more attention while another remains empty.
  • The facilitator and group can easily notice when an idea doesn’t fit into any of the buckets, thus realizing when new buckets may be warranted.
  • Deciding which bucket a comment or idea fits into can potentially unearth valuable nuances in the participants’ thinking.

Whether you start with a template or have a graphic recorder create the map entirely during your meeting, there are a wide variety of ways a great facilitator can draw charts into their actual facilitation.

Here are 4 techniques a facilitator can practice to leverage charts as facilitation aids:

  • Move over to the maps frequently during the meeting process. Be open to the idea that a spontaneous question may pop up for you when you look at the recording through a lens of curiosity for what it might tell you. Embrace the opportunity for improvisation in your facilitation and authentically pose the arising questions to the group.
  • Periodically do a reality test. Confirm the accuracy of the information on the map from time to time with the group, especially if it’s going to be shared publically or stand as an official record. When you do, it’s an opportunity for the facilitator to evaluate the degree of shared understanding and group alignment. It’s also a chance to understand whether the group needs to drill down more in any areas, and to reaffirm that everyone is clear and in agreement on what’s been discussed.
  • Use the map to recap a segment of the conversation before moving on in the process. View the chart(s) at breaks, during lunch, or overnight and draw on your notes to help synthesize breakouts, to provide a summary, to give credit to the group for high productivity, and so forth. When you recap for your group, you also help participants who don’t have a close view or who have visual impairments, to become more familiar with what’s on the map, helping them relate to it more after the meeting.
  • Use the maps to help gauge interest/energy. A map can help the facilitator determine whether a particular topic is getting a lot of attention or energy (positive or negative) from participants during the meeting or at breaks. This is a great opportunity to discover whether the content points to underlying complexity, dissention, excitement, or if it would be valuable to the process to explore a topic further.

On the surface, graphic recording produces a product, and a valuable one at that. Still, it also offers tremendous depth as a process tool for meeting participants to help generate insight, and for the facilitator as an aid to help manage the discussion process and group dynamics.

When facilitators view visual charts as facilitation aids, they enable themselves to spot in-the-moment opportunities to leverage information in leading and guiding the group process. On top of that, it gives participants the chance to fully interact with the content to derive new meaning, exemplifying that the charts have been fully integrated into the thinking process.

As you think back over your past meetings, or plan your future ones, what are some other ways you know to really incorporate visual charts and maps into your process? We’d love to hear your ideas below!

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