By Julie Stuart, Graphic Facilitator

As facilitators we’re challenged with pulling people together to make strategic, consequential decisions. To find consensus and a way forward. To design meetings that keep participants engaged. And to leave our clients with a tangible road map of where the group has decided to go.

What if there was a way to help you do all of that more effectively, creatively and elegantly? Maybe even without PowerPoint?

Graphic facilitation may be your answer.

Graphic Facilitation

Bringing Sessions to Life

Graphic or visual facilitation is a great tool for engagement. It never fails to “wow” participants because of the power of seeing their ideas as they share them, in real time.

What I, as a graphic facilitator, do in the room with these murals humanizes people’s experience of information. It is reassuring to see complexity depicted in simple, colorful shapes. To see words hand-written. It’s like poetry in action. In this world of technology, that’s deeply comforting and sustaining.

Clients are left with a visual map that lives on, long after the meeting, guiding and directing the course of action.  The map can be shared with people who weren’t there which is incredibly useful.

Graphic Facilitation

A Color-chromatic GPS System

As a graphic facilitator, I help clients weave the parts into a coherent whole.  I listen, as a journalist would, for the themes and highlights in the story, organizing the information spatially, instinctually finding the structure, giving visual emphasis and hierarchy to the conversation as it emerges on the paper, all the while paying attention to where the group needs to go next.

Like cave painters who recorded the pertinent information for their tribe’s survival (where the hunts were good, the kinds of animals that were found, key details about the weather) as a graphic facilitator, I help clients see the crucial elements of their terrain so they can plot their course ahead.

Here are a couple examples on how organizations have used graphic facilitation.

Graphic Facilitation

The Power of Seeing You’ve Been Heard

I teamed with the American Institute of Architects’ Communities by Design project on the Miami River. They go in to specific communities to re-envision a specific place, gathering information and viewpoints about what people want to see happen.

My favorite part was a public dialogue meeting where individuals from the community who cared about the river were asked to share their vision for the future of the river corridor.

We talked about the ways it was currently being used, what the impediments were to making it a wonderful place, and then created the vision of what it could be.

My part was pivotal because as I wrote and drew the ideas people shared, their vision flowed through me and onto the paper so they could see how wonderful, special and significant the river is in all its facets. It was all right there in big gorgeous Technicolor.

The most important part: they felt heard. In fact, the team got an email later from someone at the public meeting commending them for really listening.

Visual Maps Keep the Ideas Alive

It tickles me when I walk into the office of a client and see one of my visual maps hanging in their office.

Or better yet, to see that one of my maps has been scanned, re-sized and printed (with my copyright permission) multiple times into posters and hung all over the building, which is what one client did with the 20-year history map I created for them in 2009.

Clients can turn the meeting artifact—the visual maps—into a living document, something they continue to refer to for inspiration and to chart their progress.

A corporate client was in the process of re-imaging one of their brand lines. I spent a day with their marketing team capturing consumer research and the resulting conversations in six 4×8 foot maps. At the end of the meeting, they decided to set up a “war room” with the maps so they would have a physical place to be with the ideas as they continued to have discussions and make decisions.

When the team, including others who weren’t at the initial meeting, met again to review the research findings and continue their work, they simply had to look at the murals to get the essence of the ideas that were generated earlier.

If you think graphic/visual facilitation might be right for an upcoming session, please contact us for more information.

About the Author: The revolution will not be televised—but it could be visually mapped, laminated, “overnighted”, mounted on a wall, and used to ignite a movement once Julie Stuart gets involved. Recognized in Harvard Business Review for her graphic facilitation work before anyone could agree on what to call it, Julie has facilitated high-stakes meetings for such clients as Accenture, GE Energy, the American Institute for Architects, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Part strategist, part business truth-teller, part idea taxonomist, part champion of insights, Julie combines the right questions with a few well-placed scribbles to envision what’s really possible for her clients—and to map out how to make what matters happen.


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