Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Psychoanalysis of Presenting

Newsflash: You have an ego.

And this ego acts like my namesake from Othello: Jago. The one who appears to be your closest friend, but is in fact your biggest enemy. Your ego is fueling you with thoughts like these:
"I need to succeed!"
"I need to be better!"
"No let's rephrase: I need to be the best!"
"I need to beat the competition!"
"I need to be loved!"

In short, your ego is needy, relentlessly needy - it never stops. The positive disguise for the word "ego" is "ambition", but don't be fooled. The ego is only in it for the sake of the ego - it's completely narcistic. Because truly, who do you need to best? And why do you need to be loved? Turn those things around: you don't need to best the other and don't have to be needy of someone else to love you! Don't fret about what others are doing to you, but what you can do for them!

Open up.

It's the same with presenting. We always start from our ego: "Let me think.. What am I going to say?". Wrong! "What does my audience need to hear?" should be your starting point. You are merely presenting to facilitate your audience, not for soothing your ego. When it comes to presenting your ego will always want to take the spotlight, will want to show them how good you are at what you do, will want to rub under the nose of every member in the audience: "I know more than you!". Yes, you probably do know a lot. Yes, you probably are good at what you do and yes, that is why you were asked to stand on that stage - but that is all irrelevant. The only purpose for you standing there is to tell what your audience needs to hear.

So stop thinking with your ego and start focusing on your audience - you and them will benefit greatly from it.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Axes of Visual Thinking

Ok, so we chose water as our metaphor for illustrating "What is Visual Thinking" but other groups did have some interesting insights as well of course.

One was of particular interest, and entailed two axes:
Text vs. Visual and Support vs. Guide. The gliding scale between text and visual got everybody nodding. We were all agreed that text itself wasn't the great Evil we needed to battle. In essence text is visual and abstract thinking to the max: arbitrarily chosen symbols which represent sounds and images! Some situations ask for text, visual thinking isn't the Holy Grail - it has its uses, but also its limits.

More interesting however was the juxtaposition of Support versus Guide. It resonated with the discussion we had in our group: when you give somebody an image, the image because 'real' in that person's mind. This can work for you and against you. Take for instance the water metaphor our group used. It was very powerful, so powerful indeed that it was very difficult to shake it off. Everything kept coming back to water! We saw water everywhere: oceans, drops, cubes, vases, pools, thirst, drowning, swimming, sailing, rain. The image of water and its mental schemas were completely guiding our thinking. Instead of being a spring board or a support to more associations and ideas, the image became the focal point. That can be the power of visuals. But you need to ask yourself the question: do I need the visual to be a support or a guide?

Or: do I want to tantalize and trigger or focus and steer? You need to think carefully on this every time you start to use visuals and metaphors.

So, go ahead and place your mark on the spot where you need to be for your next visual thinking bout:

VizThink NL and lots of water

"Cool!"

Is what first comes to mind when I think back on last night, the first gathering of VizThink Netherlands. Some 30+ professionals from all fields in media came together at JAM visueel denken to muse on visual thinking, get to know each other and rant on about our different passions and work.

Part of the deal for such a night is of course a break out session. Flip charts, markers and post-its were provided - now get down to it! "What is visual thinking" was the obvious central question. Thing is though, that for me, a question like this begs for an answer - but is that what we wanted? An answer? Because visual thinking "is" a lot: a practice, a state of mind, a business, a tool etc. This became very clear within our little group: everybody had a different background and came with different uses and views on visual thinking - diversity all around. Of course there were themes that resonated with everybody, but getting to the very fabric of visual thinking was, well.. bull shit to us :D

So we conjured up the metaphor of water.

There is a lot of water. It flows in rivers, in oceans, in creeks. You can find it frozen in glaciers, ice rinks and the cubes in your freezer. It steams from your tea and the Turkish bath. Water is everywhere. And so it is with our knowledge, ideas, thoughts, associations, concepts, basically: our content. It's all over the place, we are filled to the brim with it!
And that is why it is important to remember that like water, content faces you with the danger of drowning: if you can't swim, you drown. Oftentimes we have so much to tell, so much content to spill, that we make ourselves (but more often our audience/customers/clients/friends) drown. Like a waterfall your content flows on and on with no restrictions or boundaries.

With visual thinking you canalize your content, you provide containers for your content, you visualize where you want your audience to go to. It makes you stop and look at your own content. Visual thinking can provide the glass, the vase, the shore that contains your content and enables you to take a clear look at it.

And by doing so, visual thinking also asks of you to think about the audience you want to communicate to. "How much of my content do I need to pour in to this audience? How much can they contain or swim in? Are they even able to swim or do I need to teach them?"

Do they need:
Visual thinking helps you to swim through your content, to pour it out of you in containers which hold the thoughts, ideas, concepts you want to communicate. Do you need it in cube-size? Small, manageable chunks. Or in pool-size, so you can jump right in the middle of everything and traverse the lengths and widths of your content? It's up to you!

By making your content visual, you also invite others to join your swim, take them on the journey, test the water, try things out, offer them the pool and see who jumps in first. Or visual thinking can offer some hard needed solace from a quenching information thirst, or for that matter: relief from those hard to stomach, completely dried out text biscuits we are offered all day long!

So in short, I am not sure what visual thinking is exactly, but I do know it is quite a lot!