Essential Elements of Graphic Facilitation

February 12, 2018

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ImageThink, heather willems, graphic facilitation

Graphic facilitation has the power to energize and focus meetings through meaningful visual support.

Visualizing a More Effective Meeting

The terms “graphic recording” and “graphic facilitation” are often used interchangeably, but there are some key distinctions to be made between the two. Whereas the former involves capturing conversation in visuals, the latter employs visual tools to actively structure and lead the conversation. Both employ a similar skillset—real time synthesis of information, drawing, and visual communication—and graphic facilitation requires a level of experience that builds on graphic recording as a foundation.

At ImageThink, over a decade of experience in graphic facilitation and meeting design has led to a clear understanding of what it takes to lead a meeting towards a successful conclusion. Whether you are looking to boost your graphic facilitation prowess, or need some way to evaluate which graphic facilitator to hire, read on as we review 7 key elements of graphic facilitation.

ImageThink, graphic facilitation, heather willems

ImageThink co-founder Heather Willems uses graphic facilitation to lead meaningful discussion.

1. Next Level Synthesis

Any graphic recorder worth their salt is an expert at synthesizing complex content into succinct points. But graphic facilitation requires taking that skillset to the next level. That’s because graphic facilitators are not only responsible for capturing information—they reflect that information back to the room, using it to ask relevant questions and to move the conversation forward. Beyond recognizing key insights, graphic facilitators must have the ability to identify gaps in discussion that still need to be addressed.

Just as importantly, graphic facilitation requires recognizing when a new concept warrants further investigation, even if it means revising the meeting’s agenda in real-time.

That aptitude only comes with extensive experience in strategy, brainstorm, and ideation sessions, and it’s indispensable if the meeting is to be a success.   

2. Ability to Read Group Dynamics and Corporate Psychology

There are many factors that feed into a group’s unique dynamic. Who’s in the room? What is the size of the group? Is the subject matter at hand sensitive or confidential? What is the context for the meeting? A conference room filled with c-suite executives, for instance, will create a very different kind of discussion than one hosting a mix of upper and lower management. An ideation for new product design will likely be much more animated than one examining why a product or project has been unsuccessful, which may carry more tension.

Experienced graphic facilitators know what questions to ask in order to anticipate the group’s dynamic, and to arm themselves with the proper tools to ensure the meeting goes smoothly. That can be anything from templated boards to keep people on the same page, to inserting themselves into the discussion as a mediator if conversation gets heated or a single voice begins to dominate. It’s arguably the most difficult task of a graphic facilitator, and perhaps the most important as well.

3. Agenda Design Prowess

Successful graphic facilitation begins long before the meeting does. At ImageThink, we collaborate with our clients to create nuanced, tailored agenda plans to make the most of the time spent in the meeting room. While certain elements can be carried from meeting to meeting, each agenda requires a thorough understanding of the client’s needs and objectives. When designing an agenda, it’s crucial to understand how one topic will flow into the next, how to maintain participant engagement, and how to balance attention to key needs while leaving space for unanticipated ones.

imagethink, graphic facilitation, templates

Graphic facilitators use a variety of tools to enable creative problem solving, including pre-populated templates.

4. Knowledge of Templates and Creative Exercises

Over time, graphic facilitators develop a mental toolkit of interactive exercises, visual templates, and creative problem solving techniques for any topic or situation. But it’s not enough to know how to create a priority map or stop/start/continue chart. Graphic facilitators must have these tools in their back pocket and just as importantly, know when to use them and how to tailor them to the client’s unique objectives.

Many graphic facilitators also have backgrounds in education or public speaking, which they can use to give clear and concise directions for the exercise at hand.

5. Grace Under Pressure

Materials don’t arrive in time. Key speakers call out sick. Technology fails. No matter how carefully you’ve planned and prepared, hiccups do occur, and it’s the graphic facilitator’s job to not only roll with the punches but quickly improvise a way to bring things back on track. ImageThink co-founder Heather Willems likes to say it’s our job to be the calmest person in the room. It’s more than confidence; it’s a mental agility that allows for quick and creative problem solving. For some, it’s an innate quality. For most of us, though, it’s only learned with years of experience.

imagethink, graphic facilitation

It’s crucial that the graphic facilitator and the meeting leads understand how they will best collaborate during the session.

6. Full Integration With the Meeting Team

Graphic facilitation is usually carried out in support of other components of a facilitation package, and it’s not unusual for a graphic facilitator to collaborate with others.
An adept graphic facilitator will clarify what his or her role is within the context of a team, articulate what support they can provide during different parts of the day, and ask questions related to the goals of the meeting. There should be an active and ongoing level of presence in the room, marked by curiosity and the ability to be flexible as the dynamics of a meeting may change.
At the core of ImageThink’s approach to graphic facilitation is demonstrating that we are invested in the best outcomes for our clients’ strategy and ideation sessions.

imagethink, graphic facilitation, infographics

Graphic facilitators collaborate with clients to produce post-event infographics, calendars, and concrete game plans for next steps.

7. Knowing What Comes Next

A meeting is only as successful as the next steps it generates. Graphic facilitators ensure that by the time the meeting wraps, concrete action items are identified and if possible, assigned owners and even due dates. They might see an opportunity to help move their client’s organization forward with a post-event infographic or session summary, or might simply take the time to share their observations as a third party with the client. Only by taking time after the meeting concludes to give a client the tools to carry key learnings forward, can a graphic facilitator ensure lasting impact. 

Need help organizing your next big meeting?

Learn more about our graphic facilitation services, and how we can empower your team to reach tangible results here. Or, get in touch with our account manager today!