Presentation Skills: John Ward and Thinking Visually

January 1, 2010

John Ward calls himself a “visual thinker.” He draws visual representations of meetings, and therein lies an idea for any trainer lucky enough to have graphics and sketching skills—or a friend or colleague willing to provide them in a training workshop.

Ward’s techniques are always well displayed, and a presentation he completed a few years ago through the Sonoma Leadership Systems’ Redefining Leadership Development Best Practices Forum in Walnut Creek still remains worth citing. Presenters included training gurus Jim Kouzes, co-author of The Leadership Challenge, and Roy Pollock, co-author of The Six Disciplines of Breakthrough Learning. Ward’s tools, as always, were a set of markers in various colors; large blank sheets of white paper posted on a wall; good penmanship, design, and cartooning skills; great listening skills; and an ability to engage in improvisation.

As each presenter spoke, Ward created a visually attractive and cohesive mural comprised of multi-colored words, symbols, and sketches to summarize what the audience was hearing; by the time he and the presenters were finished, the audience could see—and more importantly, walk away with the memory of–a striking visual representation designed to make the lesson stick. For Pollock’s part of the presentation (“The Road Map for Optimizing the Impact of Leadership Training”), Ward sketched a bridge and arched key words and phrases above and below the bridge at the top of his mural-in-progress. The phrase “bridging the gap” formed the arc above the bridge; the words “optimizing the impact of leadership training” flowed in an arc directly below the bridge; and the words “learning” and “doing” were anchored on either side of the bridge to literally demonstrate how they were linked by the speaker’s presentation.

The result: a simple, charming, and memorable representation of a first-rate presentation which might not have been as easily remembered without Ward’s illustration.

“It’s about being sensory,” Ward noted after the presentation and subsequent presentations I’ve attended. By hearing Ward, seeing his illustrations, reading the key terms on Pollock’s PowerPoint slides and seeing them graphically and colorfully reproduced on the mural, participants see an interesting presentation become a memorable one—which increases the possibility that it will have a lasting impact when attendees return to their workplace to apply what they have learned.

N.B.: An earlier version of this article appeared on Infoblog.


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