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Go visual! – the most important tool to improve communication

The guru of non-verbal communication, Michael Grinder says that “go visual” is the most important non-verbal tool you can use to be an effective communicator

Efficient and effective communication of messages and improved ability to influence is vital. Often as communicators if we just give information verbally we need to repeat the message, or the message is not heard or lost. For example, this is especially the case, when medical practitioners communicate with patients. The doctor who shows the patient the result on a computer screen, draws a diagram on a whiteboard, or notes a few words on a scrap of paper will produce much higher comprehension and retention of that information in the patient. The patient whose doctor simply tells or explains the diagnosis will retain at best about 10% of the information.

What is Go Visual?

To “go visual” means, you display your information visually as well as verbally (and sometimes even instead of verbally) to the people with whom you are communicating.

There are many ways to do this: from using whiteboards, PowerPoint sketching diagrams, even using you hands and fingers as “marker” points.

When you go visual, it allows the other person to be more autonomous and if indeed they were not paying attention they can ‘catch- up’ on the message by seeing it written. It equalizes the power relationship between the parties and objectifies the information, so both parties are responding to the information and not each other.

This is especially important when giving an instruction, explaining a tasks and for meeting agendas.

Benefits of going visual.

Visual communication allows for,

  1. Faster processing – For a long time the world of marketing has known that “a picture paints a thousand words”, and more research is showing that our brains process visual images thousands of times faster than text
  2. Less ambiguity – Visual communication allows for clearer communication that is less open to interpretation
  3. Better retention – A Wharton Research Centre study has shown that the retention rate of verbal only presentations is approximately 10%. However, when you combine visual messages with verbal communication, you increase the retention rate to nearly 50%.
  4. More control of group attention – As a meeting facilitator, having one visible agenda (rather than individual copies of agendas on paper) allows you through gesture and body movement to get attention and have more control over the group and hence keep the meeting on track.
  5. Reduction in volatility / emotional responses – When there is information to convey that is difficult or may result in an emotional reaction, having the information visible – on a whiteboard, flipchart of screen in a group, or on a piece of paper, whiteboard, document or screen for individuals it gives you several advantages and provides the person or group with a degree of psychological safety. By keeping your own eyes on the visually displayed information (could be dot points, a diagram / sketch, report etc) and directing the listener’s eyes to the visual information helps make the issue objective rather than personal and allows you to maintain low breathing by reduced eye contact.

Jill Tideman

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