Seven Power Tools for Vivid Visual Communication

My team and I seem to be using more and more words, yet communicating less and less. 

Today more than ever, we live in a visual society. Especially in the online world, everyone relies on the power of photos and engagement of video.

While researching a project recently, I was struck by three surprising data points from visual communicator Dan Roam:

  • Research from IBM found that 90% of all data collected in history has been generated in the last two years.
  • Research from Cisco found that 90% of all data transmitted online today is visual.
  • Roam’s experience indicates that 90% of leaders have no idea how to effectively use visuals in their business.

90%-90%-90%. We’re generating more data than ever, that data is overwhelmingly visual, and most of us don’t know how to use images. No matter what business you’re in, the future of your business is visual.

As a church leader, it is incumbent that you get better at using visual images in your communication.

Whether drawing them, looking at them, or talking about them, visual communication adds enormously to your listener’s ability to think, to remember, and to do.

Visual imagery is, in itself, another whole language. Being fluent in that language gives us mind-boggling power to articulate thoughts, communicate those thoughts, and solve problems in ways we otherwise wouldn’t be able to.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Visual Leaders, by David Sibbet

Visual Leaders explores how leaders can support visioning and strategy formation, planning and management, and organizational change through the application of visual meeting and visual team methodologies organization wide—literally “trans-forming” communications and people’s sense of what is possible. It describes seven essential tools for visual leaders—mental models, visual meetings, graphic templates, decision theaters, roadmaps, Storymaps, and virtual visuals—and examples of methods for implementation throughout an organization.

  • Written for all levels of leadership in organizations, from department heads through directors, heads of strategic business units, and “C” level executives
  • Explores how communications has become interactive and graphic and how these tools can be used to shape direction and align people for implementation
  • Brings tools, methods and frameworks to life with stories of real organizations modeling these practices

Visual Leaders answers the question of how design thinking and visual literacy can help to orient leaders to the complexity of contemporary organizations in the private, non-profit, and public sectors.


The power of an iterative, creative process that maximizes the use of visuals cannot be overstated. People learn, grow, and contribute when they “get” the dynamics of complex issues from a variety of perspectives, and they get it best when they can visually see it.

As a result, to most effectively lead, regardless of our organization’s life stage or current issues, we must consistently build skills to facilitate using different visual tools and formats.

To master a new way of thinking you will need to do a lot of visual note taking and playing around with ideas. But it is possible to “reprogram” your brain. Writing, drawing, diagramming, and visualizing are direct ways to do that. There are seven tools which can help lead to new levels of awareness and upgraded mental models, and then to more effective responses to situations.

Seven Essential Power Tools for Visual Leaders

Metaphors and Models – Connecting your vision with compelling imagery and mental models that leaders can use to keep their organizations focused on the big picture while working on the details.

Visual Meetings – Engage people and create an environment where your people feel comfortable working visually.

Graphic Templates – Providing light, intellectual scaffolding for critical planning meetings, reports, and other visual communications gives visual leaders a chance to guide the attention of the organization in productive ways without having to draw themselves.

Decision Rooms –When decisions need aligned commitment it helps to have everyone understand the big picture as well as the choices being made. Staging panoramic meetings is a direct path, online as well.

Roadmaps and Visual Plans – Visual time lines are as useful in organizational work as itineraries are on vacations. People need to know the big milestones and channels of activity.

Graphic Storymaps – Leaders who show up and communicate authentically are the drivers of effective, aligned organizations. Visual maps and murals make it much easier to do this and provide ways you can stand out from the deluge of information everyone is trying to deal with in contemporary organizations. Storymaps uniquely link plans to culture.

Video and Virtual Visuals – Video is as common as email for younger people and many organizations that are keeping pace with technology. This and other communication tools are allowing organizations to work effectively in distributed formats.

David Sibbet, Visual Leaders


During your next leadership team meeting, identify one church-wide challenge or opportunity that has the potential to radically impact the future.

Step 1: Have team members work individually and take 15 minutes to reflect on the phrases, metaphors, and stories (include Scriptures that come to mind). Consider phrases and stories from the history, creation story, or ongoing interactions of your church that might highlight the vivid future behind this challenge or opportunity.

Step 2: Place individuals in teams for sharing of their top two entries for each of the Treasure Chest columns.

Step 3: Ask each group to put their top three vivid descriptions on a flip chart and then present to the rest of the group.

Step 4: Decide and Commit on the most powerful imagery to use in your next communication piece.

Raise your team’s awareness of metaphors by: having each member listen for metaphors used in their ministries, drawing sketches of metaphors, underlining in leadership articles, and clipping strong imagery from other magazines.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 55-2, December 2016


This is part of a weekly series posting content from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix Book Summaries for church leaders.

SUMS Remix takes a practical problem in the church and looks at it with three solutions; each solution is taken from a different book. As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

Subscribe to SUMS Remix <<

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Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I am a senior citizen who has lived in many areas of the US, the farthest south being Virginia DC area. There are several church plants in the area--some failed, some doing well. One of the sadist failures was a plant in NW Washington near a large Presbyterian Church (I had been an elder in the church, so I knew the area) where changes in church doctrine was driving many away from the PCUSA churches. There were many mature Christians who lived in the area who were very willing to participate and give generously to the church. Its failure was a loss. The pastor and his wife lived in a VA suburb, wanted something that would appeal to their tastes, which included "praise music". There was a professional piano teacher and several people who had sung in choirs in the area. Their suggestions were completely ignored. Forget that there was joyous participation in singing hymns and silence by many for the praise music. The experienced church leaders that were attending were expected to seek the wisdom of the pastor who did not live in the area rather than have any role in leadership. There is another church plant in Northern Virginia that seems to be going the same way. My take: the pastors should get past their high-school and college days culture and get to know and appreciate the people of the community. Do not try to reproduce Intervarsity or Campus Crusade. Hymns are not a sin and "uneducated" (never graduated from college) should not be ignored as uninformed or stupid. People who have served in and/or live in the area are needed in leadership and not just to serve coffee and give. We all need to pray together and serve God in the community in which there is to be a plant. Glenna Hendricks
— Glenna Hendricks
comment_post_ID); ?> I like it Mac and do agree with your opinions on the matter. Thanks much
— winston
comment_post_ID); ?> In this era, we have the opportunity of professional church staff today who utilize their gifting to shape the image and atmosphere of the church organization. But the 100% real impact on the church visitors is genuine evidence of changed lives by the gospel and the active growing discipleship (just as it was in the first century church). One demonstration is financially rich believers ministering equally together with poor believers (how odd, and incredibly miraculous; all humble and bow at the foot of the cross.). It is the awesome contrast of church members vocations, race, gender, age, maturity, gifting, humility that demonstrates to visitors "there is a Spirit in the place". That first-time guest list of 10 are "physical excuses", not spiritual excuses. Those don't tell the story. The condition of facilities and publicly greeting people have zero to do with it. The power of God in and through believers lives dedicated to impact other people with their relationship bridge-building of acceptance of the lost around them. Empowered believers are infectious, loving, helpful, giving, self-less, dynamic, compelling, bold, Christ-filled. As I have been in many church settings domestically and internationally, the facilities can be poor, and yet the fellowship can still be rich. We need to operate with first church humility. People come to Christ on His terms, not on our human abilities of hospitality. A huge catastrophe in a community, disaster relief brings lots of people into churches – many come to the church in those terrible conditions no matter the physical condition of the local church. Off the condition of facility, and onto the condition of God's people (living stones).... and everything else will grow.... and the other physical issues will be corrected by the staff.
— Russ Wright

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