Too much information, too little communication

Jul 06 2016 by Craig Smith Print This Article

How many times have you heard someone complain that theyre drowning in information? My clients regularly talk about how many emails they have to read through each day before they can get on with their real work. We live in an age where we are bombarded with information day in, day out. In larger organisations the problems are even more profound. Internal communications on noticeboards, intranets, in newsletters and emails all compete for our attention. But amongst all of this noise there is valuable information we need to know and act upon.

The analogy I often use is its like having a lot of jigsaw pieces strewn all over the table but with no box lid to compare them to. We know that the pieces should fit together but were confused and dont know how to put them into a coherent whole. So taking this analogy a stage further, what would it look like if we were able to see and share the lid of the jigsaw box?

An age of visualisation

I recently came across an interesting article in a copy of the British Airways Business Life Magazine. Titled The Age of Data Visualisation, this article proposed that over 50% of the human brain is dedicated to attaching meaning to visual images. It also concluded that this is something that internal communication typically fails to capitalise on because it tends to focus on communication primarily via text rather than visuals. The challenge is that text is not effective in conferring relationships between different pieces of information and takes longer for us to interpret.

Research shows that when information is communicated in a visual format using complex images and metaphor, when it is brightly coloured and well-designed, it is better understood. It also allows the telling of a compelling story behind your information. A way of illustrating this is to think of the time that we spend online and how we absorb information rapidly when we visually scan and make connections between information. Our familiarity with this type of information scanning via the Internet and mobile devices is causing the shift in the way that we take in information. This means that rather than evolving a preference for text-based communication, we are actually reverting to a more natural form of taking in information, which is visually. With over half of our brain dedicated to attaching meaning to visual cues and signals, failing to utilise visualisation for our internal communications is a missed opportunity.

Visualising your internal communications

So what tools exist for organisations to visualise their internal messages and tap into this valuable communication approach? Below are the three most powerful methods weve seen used well:

Graphic Facilitation: Graphic facilitation is a way of involving large groups in capturing and communicating their ideas visually. Using a skilled graphic facilitator, information is gathered live via paper on walls or digitally via tablets. Typically used in meetings, seminars, workshops and conferences, this output can be used to create visual record of discussions and is a powerful way of disseminating information to others.

An important benefit of graphic facilitation is that it creates much stronger recollection of what has been discussed and agreed for those involved in the process. When Ive spoken to those who have been involved in graphic facilitation sessions in the past, a recurring theme is that they can recall more of the content and conclusions than they would have done from a conventional meeting.

Learning Maps: Learning Maps are based around philosophy of the old Chinese proverb that states Tell me I forget, show me I remember, involve me I understand. Learning Maps use images, icons, metaphors, and business data to tell your organisations story in a visual way. Supported by effective dialogue and activities, Learning Maps are a structured communication device for conveying large amounts of information in a highly effective and efficient way.

Another advantage of Learning Maps is that once they are developed, they can be rolled-out across the organisation without the need for expert external facilitators. In our opinion, the level of consistency of delivery and understanding is unparalleled for conveying complex messages to large audiences.

Learning Maps require an investment of time of key people within the organisation to create the overall story and expert support from a Learning Map developer.

Videos and animations: We are all probably aware that YouTube is second only to Google as the worlds most popular search engine. Videos and animations are highly valued when it comes to transferring information. They say that a picture paints 1000 words and video can enhance this even further.

The challenge with video is keeping it short and to the point. To be impactful and concise videos should typically last no more than 60 to 90 seconds. Speaking at a reasonable pace, this equates to about 150 words when narrating such a video. Imagine trying to get your core internal message into 150 words: its not easy is it? That why so-called Explainer Videos are driving the ways that many websites are now conveying what theyre offering to an external audience. Businesses are realising that visitors would much rather watch the 60-second video than read through endless paragraphs of text in order to understand what it is that the business does.

The use of explainer videos in organisations for internal communications is less prevalent but still offers a huge opportunity. Videos can also be embedded in PowerPoint presentations and other forms of presentation or hosted on a companys intranet.

The preoccupation that most organisations have with email and other forms of written communication is one of the major reasons for todays endemic information overload. Visual communication represents a real opportunity to break out of this, but it is too often overlooked. So ask yourself a simple question: how could your organisation use visualisation to cut through the noise for your people? After all, well-informed employees make better decisions, are more engaged and more productive.


About The Author

Craig Smith
Craig Smith

Craig Smith is the founder of organisational change specialists, Flint Spark Consulting and co-author of The Bee Book, an allegorical tale of leadership and change.