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  • Writer's pictureAngeline

The visual project manager

Illustration by Angeline Veeneman, licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

The power of visuals

If I had to describe my project management style, one of the first words I would aspire to would be: visual. A picture is worth a thousand words, and over the years, I have become increasingly reliant on the power of visuals to take me from just sharing information to actually connecting with my audiences, whether it’s been presenting a pitch for a new project, or communicating project progress to senior executives.

We retain far more through visuals than simple verbal form, and information visualisation techniques have become widespread in many aspects of our social and professional lives. Good visuals transform abstract and complex concepts into accessible and concrete ideas. Visual thinking not only helps you engage with your audience, it also helps your very own thought process by making you organise information logically, and represent and articulate clearly what you want to say. For a Project Manager facing constant communication challenges, good visuals can tip the balance between getting ignored and noticed, whether it is through an easy-to-read project status report or a clear overview of a project timeline.

First impressions count

No matter how we would like to be fair and not judge a book by its cover, first impressions do count. That’s how we are; it goes with the first time we meet someone, the split second it takes us to flick from one TV channel to the next, the quick glance we give a CV before binning it, the 90 seconds we need to decide a home is perfect for us. When it comes to business content (and these days it’s pretty much all digital), you only have a few seconds to get people’s attention and get them hooked. Quality of message presentation (whether it is an email or a slide deck) is not only a direct reflection of the author, it also tells the audience what we think about them. If we want people to take the time and effort to read or listen to us, we have to make the time and effort to make it worthwhile for them.

Visuals are there to elevate content, not to replace it

Producing sleek slides and beautiful information design is not quite enough; they may impress at first, but you do have to show (and know) a good story. If good content can be sabotaged by poor presentation, a pretty package cannot hide an ugly gift for long. Good presentation is there to carry the message, never to replace it. Unnecessary and overworked graphics don’t only take too much time to produce, they can actually become so distracting that your audience forgets the very subject you want them to think about. Using good visual presentation does not mean turning into a graphic designer: it’s about conveying your message in a clear and simple way, and get your audience to respond to it.

It’s a balancing act: content and format go hand-in-hand and complement each other in a ying-yang kind of way, and you need to weigh in how much time you should spend on getting the format right. For instance, if it is worth investing time doing a really good project presentation (which will be used time and time again and seen by a large audience), don’t labour over making pretty resource utilisation graphs if you’re the only one using them.

A few of the people out there who know how to get it right:

The talented Nancy Duarte and her team: go to Duarte for inspiring (and free) resources such as the digital version of the popular “Resonate” book or the recently published “Slidedoc”.

The generous Mike Rohde and his Sketchnote Handbook, which has become the reference for visual note-taking (Mike has also illustrated the international bestseller “Rework” by the founders of 37Signals…).

The insightful Dan Roam, aka “the napkin guy”, and his very no-non-sense take on removing blah blah from our working lives.

Put the power back into your Powerpoints with great advice from the fresh team at Fassforward consulting. They have a great blog and lots of neat presentations on slideshare.


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