Using visualization tools to “whiteboard” during virtual meetings

A picture is worth a lot of meetings. Remember the days when we held meetings in conference rooms with whiteboards? Spontaneously, one person would stand up and draw a diagram, apologizing for their chicken scratch, but still able to get the point across.

In today’s preponderance of virtual meetings, gone are the use of whiteboards. Sure, Teams and Zoom have whiteboards, but it’s not the same – it requires a level of digital dexterity to move and write with a mouse that few of us have, and then what do you do with the image file? There is another tool that can take its place for now: Visio.

Visio is a Microsoft visualization tool used to create diagrams, flowcharts, and other visualizations essential for documenting processes, mapping activities, sharing network diagrams, and the like. A plug-in for the Atlassian ecosystem (Jira, Confluence) called Draw.io has similar functionality, and there are other cloud-based options as well.  All of these can be used as a whiteboard replacement.

The value of using Visio during a meeting is significant. Visualizing the process together in a virtual meeting allows attendees to see the process, interdependencies, order of operations, and groupings. As the diagram starts to take shape, you are activating the visual cortex of the attendees. A diagram makes comprehension more efficient because attendees don’t have to map it out mentally and remember it individually – the visual representation does that collectively. This is a big deal – our brain’s ability to process images is much, much greater than words and this enables a deeper and more engaged discussion.

If you are new to Visio, spend 30 minutes and get up-to-speed on Visio by going over this simple Visio tutorial. Be sure to select a cross-functional flowchart template. During your meeting:

  1. Use the basic flowchart shapes to document your process and use connector lines to establish dependence or precedence
  2. Add swimlanes for groupings
  3. Facilitate the discussion by engaging your attendees and validating the elements of your diagram as you build the diagram.
  4. Don’t forget to save your work! You’ll come back to it often and refine it.

Engaging meeting attendees visually is not only a more efficient use of their time but allows for a more meaningful discussion. Our brains are wired for visuals so let’s engage it. You just might find the output is worth a thousand meetings.

by Malcolm Hooper, COO

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