Picture yourself entering a room. There’s a bar stool in the middle of the room. A basket filled with fruit rests on the stool. There are two pears, a mango, and a bunch of bananas in the basket. There’s a picture of dogs playing poker against the far wall.
How vividly can you imagine the scene?
It took me 49 words to describe it, and it took you roughly 12 seconds to read it. If I had spoken these words at a normal speaking pace of 130 words per minute, it would have taken me 21 seconds to say them.
Allow me to ask you a few questions about the scene: Can you tell me the color of the walls in the room, if there is any furniture other than the bar stool, or how many bananas are in the basket?
The answer is no, you can't!
Now imagine I flashed a photo of the scene before your eyes for one or two seconds. You would immediately grasp the entire picture with all its details, colors, and nuances. This short exercise demonstrates the relationship between two fundamentals of communication: verbal vs. visual.
In a fraction of the time, we’re able to process infinitely more from visual information than we are from verbal information. But more than that, it allows us to gain context — something that any manager or executive will tell you is integral for achieving team alignment.
You need effective communication to get people aligned. Without clear and contextual communication, we, as managers, will keep believing that everyone is on the same page when in reality, they’re not even on the same chapter.
In this article, I’d like to introduce you to an effective method for getting your team rowing in the same direction — a method I call visual baselining. But first, let’s go back in time.
Flashback To The 7-38-55 Rule
In his 1967 study on communication, Dr. Albert Mehrabian determined the 7-38-55 rule. His findings concluded that communication is made up of 7% spoken words, 38% voice and tone, and 55% body language. This amounts to 45% verbal and 55% visual communication.
We don’t have to dig deep to see that Zoom calls make it virtually impossible to convey 55% of visual communication through body language, resulting in frequent misunderstandings, back-and-forth meetings, and employee burnout.
According to Aternity's Global Remote Work Productivity Tracker report, between March 26 and July 9 of last year, productivity among North American remote workers decreased by 14%.
The questions companies are now facing are: How can we solve inefficiencies caused by the “new normal”? And, more crucially, what can we do to make sure our teams are on the same page?
Visual Baselining: The Solution To Misalignment
Here’s the short answer — ensure your employees have enough context to at least kick things off from the same starting point. And as we learned in the earlier exercise, the surest way to achieve context is through visual understanding.
For your next meeting, take a little extra time to prepare a visual-aid that represents the base camp for the journey ahead.
We call this visual baselining.
Developed with one of our Big Four consulting partners, this method has demonstrated a near-miraculous transformation in our team’s ability to align. Visual baselining provides a way of ensuring that everyone can start on the same page and return to the base camp in case things get blurry.
Just as a picture is worth a thousand words, a short explainer video that shows the goals, strategy, and tactics is worth much more. A video gives everyone a solid reference point to start from and always go back to. Another effective practice involves showing short videos or visual content at the beginning and throughout various points of a meeting to get teams and clients engaged, focused, and aligned.
Today, many tools out there are designed to make the creation of videos and visual content extremely easy for any employee or team. All you have to do is import existing images, slides, PowerPoints, or templates if you don’t want to start from a blank piece of canvas.
The Four Functions Of Visual Baselining
Images, infographics, and presentations are all great mediums for visual baselining. Having said that, in the YouTube and TikTok era, we’ve observed short-form video to be the most powerful form of visual communication because it serves four important functions:
• Because a video engages both the visual and auditory senses, it acts as a powerful pattern disruptor, signaling to an audience that they should focus on this meeting and leave other things behind.
• It engages an audience for up to 90 seconds, so it’s the perfect medium to convey essential information, explain a problem and introduce the main benefits.
• It also serves as an attention-lasso, drawing everyone back to the proceedings when their attention wanders.
• It acts as a reference point to go back to and watch at a later time.
You can work wonders in aligning your team using the visual baselining method, peppering your meetings with visual content to create reference points that everyone can rally around.
So here’s my parting advice: If you want your team to grow in the same direction, add visual baselining to your arsenal of tools when seeking to align an audience. Use a simple image, Venn diagram, or slide as a visual aid, but if you take the time to make a 45- to 90-second video or screen recording that can later be referenced, you will achieve astonishing results.
Regardless of whether you’re communicating with team members, colleagues, or clients, harnessing visual content bridges gaps in understanding like no other medium. And as we know, better understanding leads to better alignment, which is the key to better results.
Ilya Spitalnik, Founder and Chief Executive Unicorn of Powtoon