Visual Meetings: How graphics, sticky notes & idea mapping can transform group productivity

Today I’m reviewing Visual Meetings by David Sibbet. First things first, before we get into the content, whether you should buy this book, how I found the approach and so on, I have to talk about the actual book itself. It’s in a usual layout, 7 x 10 inch landscape, so when closed it’s about the size of an iPad (only thicker). As the author mentions, it allows for panoramic spreads for bigger illustrations and ideas. Sounds neat!

Okay, so now open the book, it’s the size of two iPads hinged together, makes for pretty awkward reading, and as for the panoramic spreads – there are only four or five that really make use of the space. It seems more like a gimmick to make the book stand out on the shelf, rather than anything else – and as most business books today are bought online, what’s the point? Anyway that’s all I’m going to say about that, even though every time I picked the book up and turned a page (using both hands with a friend holding the book down!) I was reminded of its quirky layout.

Visual what?

So what’s the book about? The title makes it really clear – visual meetings! The book’s focus is on how you can apply visuals to meetings (any meetings) and make improvements to the outcomes and engagement of your meetings.

The book aims to show how anyone can pick up a magic marker and make their meetings more visual – allowing the meeting to become more engaging and productive. The book does this, and has lots (and lots) of example of how to make meetings more visual and engaging. The book can be pretty simplistic at times, spending a fair bit of time helping the reader to draw dots, straight lines and circles, so I can imagine some readers being put off by this, and there are no amazing revelations either.  You’ve probably heard and seen the techniques before – but the way it’s put together and the examples definitely makes the book useful, even if it becomes more reference than thrilling read.

It’s actually laid out quite nicely too – with lots of callouts and examples with, as you’d expect, visuals to accompany the text.

The book is set out in five sections:

  • Just Imagine
  • Engaging Groups & Building Rapport
  • Graphics for Visual Thinking
  • Graphics for Enacting Plans
  • Seeing it All Come Together

Taking you through the process drawn out on the front cover of the book.

Imagine the possibilities

So the first part of the book is all about exposing the reader to lots of different ideas about visuals in meetings and getting you thinking about meetings in a new way. This section also explains some of the basics of drawing, so how do I draw a line? Or how do I hang a piece of paper on a wall? Now this may sound a little too simplistic – but I personally liked the building block approach Sibbet takes with introducing concepts and topics, and he’s on hand with lots of real life examples to give the reader practical applications of the methods – driving the imagination of the reader into what they could achieve by applying the principles.

The key to this section is getting the reader primed into the idea of visuals, and being prepared to give them a go. Not all of us are artists, and Sibbet is quick to point out that it’s not about pretty pictures, but about getting your message across and having people engage in your meetings. One of the simplest examples, is to record the meeting by sketching notes. Letting your audience see this happening lets them know you’re listening. It’s these simple ideas that start to engage your brain in to thinking in a new visual way for meetings.

How to win friends and influence people

Part two is all about getting people involved and energised in your meetings – how can adding visuals get people to sit up and take notice, and actually make your meetings productive? Again the book is full of anecdotes from Sibbet to help add substance to the ideas presented and there are lots of examples to apply to your own meetings. The suggestions made are actually things you can do – it’s not wishy-washy high concept stuff – Sibbet is all about giving you the tools to use. However a lot of the tools are pretty basic, and I’d be surprised if you hadn’t heard of them already (using sticky notes to organise information, voting by using colour dots). The book is engaging though and actually makes you think about using the ideas in your own meetings. An engaging meeting is a conversation and most people would prefer that to a lecture. Add visuals to that and you have something quite interesting.

Toolkit for success

Further into the book we get to the main reference portion (it’s also the largest section) – giving the ‘keyboard’ of visual approaches (poster, list, cluster, grid, diagram, drawing and mandala). You can then, depending on what you want to share in your meeting, choose from the keyboard to develop the right approach. Use a poster to grab attention, cluster information from the group to start to organise the information (you get the idea). Again it’s pretty basic stuff, but I’ve sat in plenty of meetings where you just get lectured at and switch off – so anything that helps people move away from ‘old style’ meetings can only be a good thing.

This section also gets you – as the meeting organiser – thinking about your meetings and what you want to get out of them – and using the visuals forces you to plan your meetings and get outcomes. Again basic stuff is included here, like room layout and using thicker lines for your titles, as well as interesting prepared templates to help run your meetings. Overall the ideas would definitely help someone starting out in a facilitation role.

If you’re after more practical tips on how to use visuals effectively, check out this post on hierarchy and order.

Visual planning

Sibbet also shows the best way to use visual meetings to work towards your goals. There are more examples of which visuals work and why – check out our visual philosophy here. For example, using simplified Gantt Charts to show the progress of a project. It’s pretty simple stuff, but it’s backed up again with excellent anecdotes and graphics that keep you reading, even if by the end of it you haven’t learnt anything new.

All coming together

The final part of the book is really a call to action for the reader. There’s a nice panoramic graphic of how to get started from simple beginnings making meeting notes in a sketch book to teaching others in your new visual thinking.

Sibbet also talks about the future of visual meetings, using new technologies, such as tablets and smart boards, to run meetings. With the explosion of the iPad and other tablets – it seems a no-brainer to facilitate your meetings with them. I think many people just haven’t got to grips with the idea of visual meetings, let alone using newer tech to run this type of meeting. The book does a lot to help people understand the value of the visual approach, and a visual conversation on the iPad would be realisation of this.


Although Visual Meetings is fairly basic in what it teaches, I think the approach it takes and the way the information is presented works really well. I’d imagine that an educator, facilitator or trainer would benefit from taking a look and as there are so many exercise examples it would make a great reference resource.

Should executives read it? There’s an argument to say yes, although it’s pretty basic there’s no doubt a visual meeting that has everyone contributing is more productive and engaging than your typical business meeting where one person talks and asks for verbal responses. Imagine a sales meeting where the prospect talks and sketches more than the sales person? They are definitely engaged and interested!

I think the real question is why aren’t people having visual meetings already? Are visual meetings too time consuming to prepare? Are meeting organisers not confident in their sketching ability? Are organisers worried their meetings will look unprofessional? If you can look past these issues/fears then you’ll have more successful meetings.

However, you need to be careful. Just because you’ve pinned up a piece of paper, or whipped out the whiteboard, it doesn’t mean you’re suddenly having a visual conversation. If you want good outcomes, you need to put the time in. If you don’t have the time to figure this all out – take a look at our approach, especially visual conversations.

P.S. If you take the plunge and decide to buy the book, opt for the Kindle version!

Click to discover more of our reviews and interviews with industry insiders!

Leave a comment
Written by

Karl Parry

Operations manager

View Karl Parry's profile

Related articles

    Leave a Reply

    Join the BrightCarbon mailing list for monthly invites and resources

    Tell me more!

    I wanted to make sure I send you both a HUGE thank you for making this story come to life and creating amazing graphics to help. We really appreciate BrightCarbon for stepping up our presentation game massively!

    Sarah Walker Softchoice