Debrief: the role of visuals in online community management

Today I was a guest of the Community Roundtable, sharing some ideas about the role of visuals in online community facilitation and management. This is the first of two such gatherings this month. The second will be in the context of online learning for the Knowplace event next week. Screenshot of shared drawing

We used my free space plus (since my visual slides created a humongous file size and I was too lazy to break it apart.) I like Vyew’s white board, simple set up and the ability to easy make every participant a collaborator with access to the white board tools.

I offered a bit of context on the general role of visuals in group processes, then some stories about translating those ideas online. After that, the fun really began as we drew together. First I asked them to draw without talking. Then there is a little tool in Vyew where you can make your cursor invisible, so people could not tell WHO was drawing what.  I asked them to activate that feature. Then we debriefed. The comments ranged from feeling free to collaborate on an image, to struggling a bit with the tools, to drawing off by oneself in a corner. Some liked the anonymity, some didn’t. Then we talked about how such exercises could be used, particularly in a work context where this might otherwise be seen as frivolous.

Afterwards my hosts, Rachel Happe and Jim Storer were kind to offer (and allow me to share) their feedback. I appreciate that in return for my time in being their guest.

Rachel’s Notes:

I thought it went very well given that most of the people on the call were completely new to the idea of drawing online or together.

The different chairs as an opener gave people a framework/context that they could relate to in order to get started.

I thought the slides plus the playing were a bit hard to fit into an hour but given that I was surprised how active people were – most people seemed to jump right in and unlike the phone, people didn’t have to take turns so everyone – even if they were not collaborating per se – could participate right away which is often really hard to get them to do verbally even if you do call on them and give them time on the call.

Intentionally cutting off talking was also interesting – kind of an odd sensation since I rely so much on getting explicit confirmation from people. Really interesting to watch how collaboration unfolds without voice.

It’s definitely given me some things to think about for our own use.

Jim – other thoughts?


Jim’s Notes

Great session! I was trying to observe and participate, which was a bit challenging. I eventually just gave in and participated. Gave me a lot of ideas on how to introduce people to one another. Since using tools like that feels a little silly, it breaks down conventions and barriers pretty quickly. I loved to see how people co-created with each other.

Too much to digest so soon… I wish more members had joined in. They would have enjoyed it.

Thanks again Nancy. I just wished I’d had a chance to tell everyone how I started following you back in 2002 (I think) when I first found your Online Community Toolkit. 🙂

I’ll return with the debrief after the Knowplace event on the 23rd!

Here are the slides:

7 thoughts on “Debrief: the role of visuals in online community management”

  1. Hi Nancy –

    Thank you so much for leading this session and your wonderful facilitation – the impact of *feeling* how collaborating visually together works is a powerful way to get people to think differently. And plus, it was a lot of fun – I highly recommend it!


  2. I participated in this, and it gave me a lot of food for thought on how I can bring a visual context into my communication with members of the community I manage. I agree with Jim and Rachel, an hour was not enough and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

    1. Thanks, Rachel and Sue. I’d love to get someone in here who can help us understand from a brain science perspective why this element is so important. I say that because so often things like “drawing together” are dismissed as silly play, but I do think it helps us see things and think in expanded ways! (And yes, it is fun!!)

  3. Hi Nancy – thanks for sharing this; I’d like to try out that tool – I’ve been on the look-out for something exactly like that for a while.

    I was intrigued by the reference to different chairs in Rachel’s notes, and in your slides. Could you expand on that?


  4. Hi Stuart. The “chairs” refers to a method taught to me by Fernanda Ibarra, where she starts out a web meeting with a slide of funny clip art chairs in a circle (there is an image of that in the slide deck above towards the last third of the deck). Then as people enter the web meeting room you invite them to use the text tool on the whiteboard to pick a chair and write their name under it.

    This does a couple of things. One, it is an easy way to get people to experiment with and get used to the white board tools which can be very useful for engagement and participation. (Which is why I don’t like web meeting tools that won’t allow multiple people to have control of the tools!)

    The second thing is it reminds us that we are with PEOPLE! Like sitting in a circle, face to face. Encouraging the visual remembrance of looking into the faces of others. Just the image can trigger that feeling. Ah, the power of visuals!

    Hm, as a second thought, it might be useful to link to some other older posts about virtual meetings:

  5. Hey Nancy – I really like the chairs idea; a great reminder that there are embodied people behind the voices and text. And also a reminder about the diversity in the group – someone else will choose to sit in a chair that did not appeal to me, and vice versa. Nice.

    And thanks for adding the awesome list of virtual meeting resources. I am getting to grips with online facilitation at the moment – learning how and when it can work. So your library of resources is great for me right now. Thanks.


Comments are closed.