BLUF – Learn to take advantage of visual tactics to quickly engage and hold your audience.
At various points of the day, if you find me in my office you’ll see me either in front of my white board drawing/redrawing my thoughts or working on a power point slide deck. Yes, the latter is a necessary evil that I have actually embraced as a favored tool. The reason why I’m often in using these tools is I find myself being a visual learner, interpreter, and teacher. Spoiler: most senior officers intake information much faster using pictures compared to words. They also intake information in 6 minutes compared to 60 minutes. Even bigger spoiler: I would argue most people intake information through visual products faster than words. This shift is probably due to the speed of information sharing in a digital format, which leaves everyone with a shorter attention span that responds to the visual stimulation of graphic visuals compared to words. Think about click-bait YouTube thumbnails or the annoying links integrated into numerous news or other text-based websites. These items are designed to draw your attention away from the original purpose you were there. Using the same technique, my goal as a mid-level manager is to develop communication products that draw and retain the attention of both higher management and subordinate audiences using easy to understand and visually compelling arguments for what I want to advance. The following are 3 tips and examples that frame my approach in developing communication products:
1. Pictures > Words
Picture: a description so vivid or graphic as to suggest a mental image or give an accurate idea of something. While words are necessary in communication, arrangement of words supported by pictures can greatly assist the audience in understanding the information being delivered. A simple tip is to use the “smart art” tool within Powerpoint, which provides pre-selected graphics based on intent (relationship, process, list, etc.). Select colors such as red for importance or green for completion to draw the attention of the audience towards specific subjects. In addition, use color palettes that complement information flow and unification of ideas. Lead the eyes of the audience through a flow of information by using an interesting route or path.
2. Bumper Stickers
Whether you are delivering a briefing in person or providing electronic readaheads, end important slides with the take-away or “bumper sticker”. This technique forces you to summarize your point and offers closure to the audience on the slide. Build the conversation towards this point, allowing the audience to go back and analyze the information presented, yet retain your original point. Bumper stickers should be two lines max. Anything more than that is too long, meaning you need to simply for your point even further.
3. Feedback and Improve
Something I first drew The slides below are what I first developed for our squadron’s newcomer’s briefing, explaining my optional leadership philosophy (I say optional because I tell them that these are the characteristics of people that I prefer to work around, but they aren’t required to adhere to them. I want them to choose to agree with them rather than say they must agree to them). I used four slides to cover my “ABCs”: Accountability, Balance, and Character.
Since then I’ve developed #DBAA, which follows the alphabetic flow and requires an update. I want to slim down my philosophy to one easy takeaway, which now looks like this in one slide:
I’m not completely sold on this graphic just yet, so I will share my draft with co-workers to see if there is improvement. I like the overall flow and color aesthetic (#voltron), but will work with the font size and add titles and bumper stickers if they make sense. By obtaining feedback from others, I can gain perspective of what works and what doesn’t. I may not take action on all feedback provided, but the information is valuable in providing perspective I may not be aware of. This cycle continues until I have a product I am satisfied with.
Just keep drawing!