Reading time: 30 minutes

Tom Hallett: Hi guys. Welcome back to the Learn Grow Succeed podcast.  

We’ve got something a little bit different planned for you today with a new instalment of the conversation series that we’ve had running on the podcast for about a year now.  

These podcasts are where we talk to subject matter experts from the Excel Communications network to draw their knowledge and insights and expertise from the worlds they operate in and to share it through our podcast. 

Today, we have a real, real treat for you. Someone who has been a long-term friend to Excel back before virtual programs were even a thing. Someone who is probably best known for having the 11th, you hear me right, the 11th most-watched TED Talk ever. I did check that this morning, we are in October 2020. He has in excess of 33 million views and with only people like Bill Gates and Simon Sinek above him. 

Our guest today is also the author of two best-selling books with his latest, The Speaker Coach being included on the 10 most inspirational business books for 2020. On top of that, he is also a presenter, facilitator, and works with clients all over the world on their advanced communication skills.  

Without any further ado, welcome, Graham Shaw, to the Learn Grow Succeed podcast. 

Post-Covid Catch-Up 

Graham Shaw: Morning, Tom. Great to meet you and thank you for inviting me. 

Tom: It’s an absolute pleasure. Graham and I, well, we’ve known each other for quite a long time now, Graham. A good few years and we’ve worked together for that time, and we’ve worked on some programs recently. Just for full disclosure for the podcast, we are friends as well as work partners. Aren’t we, Graham? 

Graham: We certainly are. 

Tom: Awesome. How are you today, Graham? Are you good? How have things been going through lockdown and all that kind of stuff? 

Graham: Yes, I’m very well. Thank you, Tom. Yes, things have been going pretty good actually. I was very fortunate in that despite the fact that all of my live speaking engagements were immediately cancelled, so suddenly, I had an empty diary.  

One or two of my clients decided that I might be able to convert what I was doing to virtual. Of course, we’ve done some work in that regard too. I’d be very fortunate to be able to translate what I do into virtual sessions. 

Tom: Awesome. You’ve been keeping busy and out of trouble throughout the COVID situation? 

Graham: That’s it. Yes.  

Tom: Awesome. As well as just being the major TED speaker that Graham is and a friend to the business and myself. We have brought him onto the Learn Grow Succeed podcast for a very important reason. What we’ve titled this podcast is How to Deliver Messages with Impact and Add Some Fun to Team Communications. The reason for bringing it onto the podcast today is, we often talk about communication skills in a leadership and management setting. 

The Art of Delivering Visual Messages  

Now, more than ever in this move to the virtual like, Graham, you were just talking about then, we don’t just want boring communications. In turbulent times as a leader, you need to really understand effective ways to communicate with people and different ways to communicate with people, and that is Graham’s speciality. That’s what we’re going to explore further today. Before we get into the real detail of it, Graham, where did you develop these communication skills from? What’s your background, and how did you get into this world? 

Graham: Well, my background is in teaching, Tom. I was a primary school teacher. I actually used to draw while in school, while teaching. In assemblies, I would tell a story. I was the deputy headteacher of a school, so I was often taking assemblies, and I would sketch on the stage on the old acetate on the overhead projector, tell a Bible story or whatever it was or any story. 

And the pictures would come up on the screen. I used to use it then. I’ve always drawn since I was young, always loved cartooning. That’s how I got started on that. Then I moved to British Airways in the ’90s and got involved in leadership and management development programs. I naturally just now and then every time there was a management concept to explain in a training course, I might sketch an idea on a flip chart, so it started a little bit informally really. 

Tom: When you moved into that corporate development experience, you really thought, “Maybe they’re missing a trick here by not using sketching and visualizing” what you’re talking about? 

Graham: Yes. It was a very immediate way to capture attention. I wouldn’t draw all the time, but I might have a session of an hour or something, and I would do the main idea, the main concept that we were learning, I turn into a cartoon or a visual just to capture attention really. 

Tom: Obviously, that started in acetate back then, and it evolved, I imagine over the years. It’s moved to virtual today, but I guess the fundamental skills and the ability to communicate is still what it was the whole way through. 

Graham: Yes. It’s exactly the same, Tom. I found the more that I used it, the more I could use a metaphor or a story, or perhaps explain a simple model on personality types, the way people have different styles socially and I could turn them into pictures, and people would get it. Also, it’s very immediate because it captures attention if you do it live. 

That’s the big distinction, really.  

Catching Peoples Attention  

It’s one thing to have a PowerPoint slide or something already on the screen, but if you can actually sketch something while people are watching it, it just hooks attention and curiosity. 

Tom: Wow, that sounds really interesting. I wonder; the listeners of this podcast, Graham, are generally leaders in the businesses they’re in. They’ll always be looking for different ways to communicate with people. I wonder if you could just elaborate on that slightly on how people can use the sketching and image visualization skills in different scenarios that they find themselves in. 

Graham: There’s obviously the straight sort of presenting. You might be explaining a concept or a project to a team, and you could be doing that live in a room, but increasingly now, virtually. Nowadays, with the technology, you could use possibly something like an iPad or Jamboard is one commercial product available or Miro. There are a few that you can get free, and you can have Teams on there. 

You could occasionally sketch a graph; you could sketch a project. You might even get a team to collaborate. Again, with some of this technology, you can have different people either typing post-it notes, but also sketching symbols. Presenting, training, problem-solving, putting all the ideas up, it’s very easy to do once people have got the confidence to have a go. 

Tom: It’s a lot more than just a little bit of fun. When people think of drawing, sometimes they think, or maybe they’re thinking about their kids and things, but it’s a lot more than that? 

Graham: Well, it is. I wouldn’t underwrite the fun. It is a lot of fun drawing. When I run workshops corporately for people on applying these skills to business, we have a lot of fun drawing a few cartoons, some symbols, metaphors, that sort of thing, and people love it mainly because it surprises them that they can, in fact, do it. Underlying that, there’s a deeper message about the way that that image can be absorbed and how people can recollect it. 

If, for example, you draw a mountain with a little man on the top or a lady on the top waving a flag, you could talk about success. You could turn that mountain into a journey, draw a landscape, and put an X on the landscape and say, “We are here, we’re a long way from success at the top of the mountain.” 

You could draw some hurdles and say, “What are the hurdles that we need to get over?” You could turn this into a powerful metaphor and also engage people because once you start making a mark on that page, whether it’s virtual or not, people can’t take their eyes off it. 

Challenging Our Own Beliefs  

Tom: Absolutely. As someone who sat in your programs, Graham, they are so engaging. You start with your jaw drop to say, “How can you draw these things at the drop of a hat?” Then once you start to realize that you can do it yourself, it’s quite an incredible skill to have. I wonder, Graham, a lot of people, when they think of drawing, I immediately go take a step back, go back into the shelves a little bit and maybe think, “That’s not for me. I’m not the creative artist type.” Is that true or is that something you see a lot? 

Graham: Well, I do see a lot. When I did that first, that talk in Hull, that was the, you mentioned about the Ted Talks, and that was at TEDxHull in 2015. I was in a theatre, and I asked the audience how many people thought they could draw, and hardly any of the hands went up. In a room of 10 people, you might get one or two. 

Most people really don’t believe they can, but what’s terrific is that the way I try and get them drawing within a few minutes, I’m not saying they draw like Michelangelo, but they draw well enough, and this is the key point. I’m not saying you’re going to draw like Michaelangelo or Cezanne or David Hockney or something immediately, but you actually– everybody can draw well enough to get an idea across because the evidence is there or that simple symbols will stay in the memory. It doesn’t matter whether they’re fantastically drawn or not. 

Tom: Yes, it’s interesting. Yesterday, I was on a storytelling workshop with one of our clients and slight digression, one of my specialities, but we were in the storytelling workshop, and we were talking about what makes a story memorable. One of the key ingredients to making a story memorable is engaging different senses for people and invoking emotions in people. 

When I think about the work you do with people to visualize concepts, ideas, and stories is exactly that, you’re engaging a new sense by creating a sketch in front of people, so you’re engaging visuals, not just talking to them auditory. Those, I guess, you can use those sketches to invoke either senses or emotions into things to make things a lot more memorable. 

The Power of Imagery  

Graham: Absolutely, yes. A simple sketch really can do so much, and metaphors are very powerful because they contain such rich information. Most things in business can be turned into a story. A case study really is a story. I did some work with a client, and they’re quite big. Well, a very big company. What they do is they, one of the things they do is store information for clients, for their clients in the cloud. 

I was working with a group of presales team who would work with a client on discussing what they can offer. I said to them, “Look on the whiteboard; see if you could draw a metaphor to explain what you do.” A couple of chaps came up with; they draw castle. They drew a very simple castle with a drawbridge on a little strong room at the top and all the rest of it and a moat. They used that castle to explain as though it were to a client, how they keep their information safe. 

We can lift up the drawbridge; nobody can get in. We’ve got a special locked room in the centre of the castle up here, which is really, really sensitive information. They use that metaphor as a way of explaining to a client what they do and showing it on a whiteboard. When you’re telling a story like that or explaining what you can offer, a simple picture would stay in the mind of the client. 

Tom: Yes, absolutely. Great example. You’re talking about a business there where your average Joe, you or me don’t really understand cloud computing in detail. Actually, distilling it down into that castle metaphor makes me understand it, and it makes me remember them. It can be really powerful. 

Graham: Exactly. This way of doing something, Tom, is very low tech, but high impact. This isn’t great technology, but it’s just really simple. When I was at British Airways, I was organizing a leadership program. We had a speaker come over, and he was going to do dozens of programs. I was in charge of this program, and I asked, I sent a message to say, “What equipment did you need?” He came back he said, “I need a visualizer,” which I didn’t know what that was, but basically, it was a plinth with a video camera above it. He said, “I’m going to draw on a bit of paper, and it will project the image onto a screen.” He drew things; he wrote sayings. He did rough diagrams, sketches, graphs. He really engaged this audience of 100 British Airways managers every day through this method. Now, we didn’t necessarily give out all those rough bits of paper to people, but that you can turn some of these things into professionallooking diagrams and all the rest of it. The point was, in the moment, he really had their attention. That’s where this is helpful. And like that client with the castle, you can really get people’s attention when you’re doing something like that. 

Tom: Just to build on that, you would recommend that this is this ability to sketch and visualizing. It’s not just a when you’re preparing for a meeting, maybe having that beautiful castle metaphor to present to people, but it’s about doing it live as much as well? 

Introducing Images into Your Training  

Graham: Yes. There are a few options, really, you can have it all totally prepared, which is fine. At the same time, I think you’re missing a trick if you don’t do at least some of it live. If it was something quite complex, you could have part of it already drawn and add things. That’s a good way of doing it, but if you can manage to carry off something live, the moment you make a mark on that iPad, or flip chart, even in a virtual meeting, even if you weren’t good at technology. 

In the room I’m in now, I’ve got a flip chart, or I’ve got a whiteboard, you just point the camera at it and sketch there. I’m not saying draw all the time, but people, it will really grab their attention when you do the occasional thing like this. 

Tom: My mind’s now rushing back to the last time I was in one of your workshop’s, Graham. My next question was going to be, what are your tips for people to get to do that? I think one of your openers a lot of the time is around just drawing a line on a piece of paper and going from there. You can probably explain it much more succinctly than I. 

Graham: One of my tips, my biggest tip is, just practice it first. If you keep it simple but practice it first. It could be something like you’ve got a project you want to explain, that’s going from January to March, practice it first. Work out, you’re going to write January on the lefthand side of the page, March on the right, and work out what you’re going to draw and what you’re going to say. 

It might be the project kicks off in January, you might think, “Oh, I’ll draw a little stick man kicking a football or a stick woman kicking a football.” That’s the kickoff. You might say, okay, “During that month, we’re going to speak to customers.” Again, I teach people, little symbols for people, and you can write the word customers. 

My tip is to do a picture and write the words, not just pictures because when you get the two together, people really get it. Then you might say, “We’re going to do a global survey.” You might draw a circle to be a globe and write the word survey above it. You could make that up, create it in advance. 

My biggest tip is then to practice it because when you practice it, you know you can carry it off. Seriously, you don’t have to practice it much. Just to make sure you don’t run out of space. I’ve done something where I haven’t practised it, and I’ve run out of space on the flip chart. Also, the other key tip is, it really doesn’t have to be perfect. It has to be good enough. Anybody can do it if you plan it in advance. 

Tom: Yes, definitely. I was thinking as you were talking, the images that I’ve seen created in your workshops, they don’t have to be perfect. As long as you can get the general point across, that’s all that matters. 

Using Images in Virtual Workshops  

Graham: Yes. You said it yourself, Tom, and not long ago, we did a virtual workshop, which you kindly were involved in helping me to facilitate with a client who had a group of young future managers on a program from all around different countries in the world and hadn’t actually met each other. The objective was that they should have some fun, meet each other, but also be able to get into their project teams and share their strengths and their development areas in order to do an actual project which is coming up. 

As you’ll recall, I was teaching them how they could do these simple sketches in the first hour or so, but then in their breakout groups, even with just those few, what I call elements in their visual toolkit. What I try and do is get people to build up a range of symbols they can use that can mean different things. You’ve got a mountain, you’ve got a target, you’ve got a book, you’ve got a building that can all represent things. 

Then getting to that group. We gave them a little bit of time just to prepare, didn’t we? In break time, just to prepare what was essentially a simple mind map that would show their strengths and their development areas presented pictorially. Then they had to in their breakout groups virtually present them to their colleagues. I think you’d probably agree; they were, I have to say, they were bowled over how successful day where. 

Running Workshops  

Tom: Yes. I completely agree. It was a fantastic workshop, and we had a number of objectives, didn’t we, Graham, to that? It was giving people these visualization skills to communicate with impact. It was the things you say there about getting people to understand people’s strengths and weaknesses. A lot of the feedback from that session was, how much more memorable different people in the room or in the virtual room I should say. I’m doing inverted commas, even though you can’t see me, work because it was done in that visual way. It really, really had an impact. 

Graham: It did. The thing that I major on really is getting the people who are involved to do it. It’s one of the things that if I said to myself, you have to be a bit careful of is, drawing things that look just to flash and difficult for people to do. I could spend the whole session sketching stuff, but that’s not what it’s about. It’s about saying to the group; you can do this well enough. 

A bit like that first Ted Talk at Hull, it was saying to the audience, “Actually, you can do this.” The other massive benefit and that’s what that first Ted Talk was all about, the other massive benefit, of course, as a huge byproduct is the belief change in people. When people go from, “Oh, what’s this guy doing? I can’t possibly draw them. I haven’t drawn anything; I can’t even draw a stick man.” 

When people go from that to drawing something and holding them up in a virtual workshop on the screen and seeing how well they’ve done, then if they are that their beliefs, in my opinion, are shifted. I’ve lost count of every week; I get people write to me because they‘ve seen that talk online telling me how delighted they are that theyve learned, they can actually learn to draw. 

Tom: Yes, absolutely. I guess that, again, comes back to the versatility of these skills and the workshops that you run is. There are many of the listeners on the podcast will be familiar with sort of an iceberg model where you have a lot of things above and below the waterline and above it is the stuff you can see, the skills – which is the ability to sketch and to visualize. That really powerful, underlying and hidden benefit of going through this workshop is it challenges their beliefs. 

Graham: Well, it does. If you think about it, challenge, that’s it, Tom, it challenges their beliefs. Of course, where that goes once people think, “Well, hang on a minute, 15 minutes ago, I didn’t think I could possibly learn to draw. I’ve now drawn some actually pretty acceptable sketches.” That the brain kind of goes, “Well, I wonder what else I can do?” 

That was my challenge on that talk in Hull was to say to the audience in the theatre, “Well, actually, 15 minutes ago, you couldn’t draw. Now, you’ve discovered actually that, you’ve made a good start and perhaps this is something you could learn, you can draw to a reasonable extent. What else are you thinking you can’t do? What else, what other limiting beliefs do you have?” 

Especially in business for managers, this is a very, what looks like a lightweight exercise sometimes even as an icebreaker but can have a massive impact. I’ve lost count of the number of times I do talks. I’ve done several since locked down about four or five keynote speeches in motivational speeches for corporate organization, for their conferences on these skills. One of the big things they wanted me to do on each occasion is to make a big point about this idea of beliefs. It’s a very simple but very powerful way of getting people to challenge their beliefs in a business organization. 

Building Rapport with Images  

Tom: Yes, absolutely. Then going back to that program we ran together, all the different outcomes we had for that, we challenged people’s beliefs and their ability to draw. You mentioned icebreaker there. One of the challenges we’re all facing around the world with the move to virtual is you don’t have those coffee machine chats, the water cooler, whatever you want to call them. That was also one of our objectives, wasn’t it, for the workshop the other week? It was just a slightly different way to bring a group of people that didn’t know each other before together. 

Graham: It is. Certainly, I wouldn’t underestimate the icebreaker, Tom, and the value of that because you create the rapport, you create the fun, the sense of fun. In this instance, many people, when they’ve learned that character that I created, Spike, when they’ve learned how to draw this character Spike, who featured in that Ted Talk, just getting colleagues to do that is such a jaw-dropping thing that it’s a fabulous icebreaker and, and I’ve known people who’ve learnt it from me. 

Then they’ve gone on and said, actually, I was running a training program, nothing to do with drawing. They might be, for example, running something on finance for non-financial managers. It’s a group of people in the room. Half of them are thinking, Oh, I’m hopeless at finance, and they can save them. Look, this is all about finance today. You may not be experienced at it. Would you prepare to do a quick activity for three or four minutes? 

The group will probably say begrudgingly, some of them, well, you’d go and then yes. All right. Okay. How many people can draw? Hardly anybody. Have a go at this. Then they draw Spike and everybody goes, “Oh, wow. Actually, I’m quite impressed with me. I’m drawing even.” They could relate that to their business topic of finance then. Then you say, “Well, a few minutes ago, you didn’t think you could draw anything. Likewise, you thought learning finance was going to be really difficult.” 

Actually, it is something that you can do when we do it in the way that makes it easy for you and that’s what we’re going to do today. You can link that icebreaker to the learning of finance or project management or computing or anything. It’s just a small thing that could have a really big impact on people’s ability to open their minds for the learning in that workshop. 

Tom: Gets you, you warm up to do an exercise. It’s almost like warming up to learn something by bringing in a very simple new scale that you didn’t think you could do. 

Graham: That’s it. The warming up is really important in these situations, Tom. 

Tom: You mentioned different types of organizations finance, project management. Is there a niche for this or have you worked with across the board? 

Which Organisations Can Benefit from Using Imagery Workshops in Training? 

Graham: Yes, I’ve worked with all kinds of organizations. Some of them wouldn’t hopefully mind me mentioning them, but I’ve worked from South. Well, we did some work, Tom. You asked me to work with some ophthalmologists in Holland, in Amsterdam. I don’t know if you recall that. They were fascinated by this. One of the doctors there came up me, and she said, as an aside, she said, This is absolutely brilliant. 

I said, What do you mean? She said, “Well,” she said, “I could sit down with a patient quite often. I have to explain something like why they’re taking drops for their eyes. She said, With this technique, I could be sitting at a table with them and just with my pen, I could sketch the eye. I could draw arrows to show the pressure buildup going out on the eye and making it hurt. That’s why it hurts and these lines going out, pushing on the eyeball, creating pressure. 

She said, Then I could draw, the drops going in there, and then I could draw the arrows going the other way and the pressure being relieved. She said with just a quick sketch on a bit of paper at a desk, in front of a client without the need for a PowerPoint slide or anything, and they can hook attention and people will get it. That was a great example of when you’re explaining something one-to-one 

Tom: A great example for the medical audience, which is traditionally often quite data and detail orientated. Yes, we’re doing something like sketching, which is all about chunking up their messages. 

Graham: Absolutely, Tom. This doesn’t, she was working just one-to-one, but she could be explaining it to a group that doesn’t preclude her from having a fantastic set of PowerPoint slides that the whole audience is going to get. What the skill of the rough sketch is, it’s not about thinking, “Oh, this isn’t good enough to give out because it doesn’t look professional at the end.” The rough sketch captures the attention in the moment, and that’s what she was doing. 

I’ve worked with all sorts of other organizations. Optician’s chain store, that’s got chains around the world, stores around the world where they’re in-store trainers, where they haven’t got often time to create whole fancy PowerPoint slides and have a slideshow and stuff. They’re doing a bit of in-store training informally. 

I’ve worked with design thinking facilitators in Google, for example, at two conferences, on helping them to be able to use sketching skills as part of their design thinking. There’s all sorts of organizing. Banks, the first one I worked for, was HSBC Bank. Run lots of programs for them for their trainers. Trainers, particularly like this. Teams of trainers love this. They’re sort of prime candidates really. 

Tom: Well, obviously, you very kindly run a workshop for our entire training organization here at Excel. We’re constantly being bombarded with cartoons and things being included in liveaction and stuff like that. If anything, I will give out one morning here on the podcast, and that is if you watch Graham’s TED Talk on YouTube, or indeed what work with Graham at any point, people get completely addicted to drawing and find themselves doodling all the time. It’s that sort of an impact on people. I’ve had a member of my team, and I had to say, “Can you stop doing some drawings for two minutes?” 

Graham: I had a lady on a workshop once she wrote to me, she went back to Devon on the train after the workshop in London. She wrote back to me to say thank you. She said, “I was drawing all the way home on the train. I couldn’t stop drawing.” She said, “When I got home, I showed the drawings to my daughter.” I remember the actual sentence she wrote. She said that to her mommy. She said, “You couldn’t have drawn those, mommy. That must have been the man on the course.” 

Tom: Amazing, I bet you get all sorts of reaction from people in the audience. Obviously, that’s a daughter saying what mom’s done. I bet you get some awesome reactions, live in workshops as well with people. 

Graham: You really do, especially when if you’ve got a room full of people, and they hold their drawings up and show each other. Or even virtually, when we were working with a group recently, you recall that they’re all on the screen. People are all on the screen there unless it’s a huge thing with too many people. When they hold the drawings up and see what each other have drawn, they react very positively. Yes. 

Covid-19 and the Challenge of Training Programmes  

Tom: Amazing. We talked there about the power of visualization and that kind of thing in these workshops. People can sketch ideas and make it clear. I wonder, Graham if I can just pick your brains a little bit on the current climate that we’re in. It’s so undeniable, we’ve moved into this virtual world at the moment with COVID-19 going on. Through all the programs you’ve been running the last six months, I wonder how these visualization techniques can support people in the current climate? 

Graham: Yes. Different ways. If I think of some examples, most of this stuff is done virtually in the current climate. I think it’s helpful to think about the applications. How they can help people is the client’s not interested in drawing cartoons. They want an outcome. In the case of the work that we did with the client that you mentioned, their outcome was that people to get to know each other, to have a great time with learning about the team, but specifically to learn each other’s strengths and development areas so that they could apply them to a project. That was an outcome. We managed to do the drawings and apply to that outcome. 

When I’ve worked with different organizations, I’ve worked with two now, who the outcome, one live and one virtual. The outcome they wanted was, at the end of it, they wanted people to be able to sketch their objectives of the year. I was invited back, I’ve done two live sessions before, this was way before lockdown for this organization. They invited me back two or three years later, at about 30 people in the room, and they applied the skills in the room on the day. We did a couple of hours. They wanted people to draw their objectives for the year and represent them pictorially. That worked. I thought that worked fine. 

The same client came back to me a couple of years later and said, “Okay, what we want to do, we’ve got some new members in the team now. We’ve got about 40 people. We’d like to run a similar thing again.” As part of a day, they were doing some other stuff as part of a day. They got me in for a couple of hours. They said the reason we’re getting you back is; people kept those pictures on their walls throughout the year. We looked at them again, and we were amazed at how many of the things that we drew, we’d achieved. It’s that power of having something in front of you a bit like when people have a vision board, something that subconsciously works on the brain and reminds you of where you’re headed. Those are two examples, and that’s apart from clients like– I had a client in the states recently, they won’t mind me mentioning, Adobe. They were talking about; they wanted to be able to use these drawings in all sorts of ways, like presenting ideas, explaining projects, all sorts of things. 

How it helps people, I think, in this current climate, is to have an activity that gets people together to learn a new skill to have a new skill in that kit bag that they can apply in that specific way, but also, they can apply in numerous ways afterwards. Those people we had in that workshop who were applying this with you, Tom that were applying the skills to describing their strengths and areas for development. Of course, they’ve got a skill now in their toolbox that they can use for all other things. Much more, if you’d like bang for your buck than what we just do on the day. 

Tom: Yes, absolutely. I think one thing you touched upon slightly in that as well, is the power of creating a vision. People talk about visions all the time yet, miss the link between vision and visuals, is that visions are very powerful, and they’re done pictorially. Visions, I think, is something people maybe have not as focused on, as we’ve gone through this COVID situation because people have been in the fight mode to get through all the change and trials and tribulations they’re facing as a business. 

Turning Visuals into Visions  

As we look to 2021, and businesses are looking at how they can have a sustainable business going forward in this new normal we’re operating. Being able to create a vision as a visual, it’s been proven time and time again that that’s a hugely powerful thing to be able to do. 

Graham: Well, it certainly is. I’ve got countless visions that I’ve drawn over the years, and you look back and see that certain things have come true. It’s amazing how powerful they are. Interestingly, years and years ago, there was a piece of research, and I can’t remember it, word for word, but it went something like, there was a study done many years ago where they took a group of students from our one of the universities and looked at how well they’ve done in their careers. Not that it’s the only measure, but one measure was how well they’d done financially. 

They did a piece of research to try and find out what these people did that others didn’t. It was one thing they found that virtually all of the people who, 10% of the people add more wealth than the rest of the 90% put together, something like that. What they found was, there was something that those people did that the others didn’t. The most common thing that they all did was they wrote down their goals. Now, if you ally that to actually drawing them and either creating a vision board, sticking pictures of or sketching things yourself, like in a mind map or something, whether it’s personal goals, financial goals, contribution goals, health, it’s very powerful. 

Tom: Yes, huge. I guess also, having visual is something you can put in front of you on your wall, and you can see it at a glance. You don’t have to read the words. You can just, I don’t know, see that you’re standing on top of that mountain and obviously, you got one entity. 

Graham: Absolutely. It reminds you of what you’re aiming at. It gives you that focus. Obviously, that’s not all you’re going to do; you’re not going to just put that up and leave it there. It does give you that focus because we get what we focus on. The brain seeks meaning, doesn’t it? It filters out things that aren’t useful for us, but when you’ve drawn down something that I’d like to write a book, or I would like to do this, I would like to do that, I’d like to achieve this target in a year, it actually reminds you, and then you begin to see things that would help you with that. 

Grahams Top Recommendations  

Tom: Yes, well, it is an amazing skill, this ability to visualize and how it can drive you forward. Back at this in your intro, Graham, we talked about how you’ve got a couple of bestselling books out there as well. How did the YouTube book support this journey? The visualization and the ability to communicate? 

Graham: Well, I think the first one, The Art of Business Communication, really is a book that– I don’t necessarily think when we say a best seller, I think they’ve both won awards, which is great. They’re not going to beat JK Rowling, but they both, fortunately– I was very fortunate in that the publisher Pearson entered them for awards, which they both got into the final of and were commended. That was great. 

The first one, The Art of Business Communication, that actually takes people from start to finish right through the sorts of things that we would do on a workshop. You can actually learn it from the book. Actually, you could learn it from the book and watching the first TED Talk at TEDxHull is a great one to watch to get your drawing. 

If you also watched the one I did at TEDxVienna, called How to Draw to Remember More, that was the second one I did. A bit more niche, the one that’s just about how to draw at Hull, everybody loves to learn how to draw. It’s a bit more niche to learn how to draw to remember, that’s a niche skill. 

The book actually takes you through from start to finish, how you can sketch things and then also how you can present. It gives tips on not only the sketching but gives tips on if you were standing in front of a flip chart or a whiteboard and really how you can explain things to people. That’s The Art of Business Communication. 

The other book is The Speaker’s Coach. It’s subtitled 60 Secrets to Make Your Talk, Speech Or Presentation Amazing. Actually, that is full of cartoons too, but it’s not particularly teaching people to draw cartoons, although that a couple of other sections do. It’s actually giving all the best tips I can think of, from my years of coaching people on speaking what I’ve learned from others. Each one is illustrated. 

It’s a book that you can dip in and out of. It’s ideal for anybody who’s got to prepare a talk, whether it’s virtual or whether it’s live. It can teach you all the skills of preparing, planning a talk, practising it and then actually performing it actually how you deliver it. It’s the whole range of skills in 60 little snippets really. 

TED Talks and Worldwide Acclaim  

Tom: People are listening to our podcast today and thinking, yes, I definitely like to up my game and the ability to visualize, but also as a leader, as a manager, wanting to improve how they present to people, then obviously, there’s the TEDx Talks they can listen to. Also, those books will take them through that journey as a self-directed way to gain those skills. 

Graham: Absolutely. Those some TEDx talks, Vienna and Hull, are great because they’re free. You just go on there and really learn the principles and get some skills. Then if people are interested, then the books obviously, are a helpful supplement to really get into it. 

Tom: Absolutely. Then I guess the next step is, once you’re inspired by all those is then to reach out and see how we can support businesses and teams, in person as well. Which, obviously, is it something you and I, Graham, work a lot on at the moment? 

Graham: That’s right. The best thing always is to be in person with people because you get the chance to listen to their particular needs and find out what they want to apply these skills to. The skills themselves are enjoyable, and it’s great fun drawing, why not just do it for its own sake? In a business context, we need to recognize that if people are going to invest their time in learning these skills, that they want an outcome, that’s a tangible outcome. 

When people find that they can apply them, that’s the key thing. To work with people directly is really the best way to do that. 

Tom: One question I’ve been going to ask, Graham, how did you get into doing your TED Talk and why do you think it is the 11th mostwatched TED Talk up there with esteemed people like Bill Gates and Simon Sinek? 

Graham: Like most things that I’ve achieved, mainly luck, actually. It’s like the first book I wrote, one of the commissioning editors from Pearson came to me and said, “We’ve heard about the work you do with the sketching, and we think there’s a niche for a business book, a niche book in that market because we haven’t actually seen a book on the shelves for business that talks about how you do just this sketching to get ideas across.” That was luck, sort of thing. 

As was the second book is that they asked me to write. With a TEDxHull, I was just so fortunate. One of the organizers of TEDxHull, a lady called Helen Bisset, happened to be a member of the group that I was teaching on a course called cartooning for trainers. It was an open course; she’d signed up for it down near London. I think I must have done about an hour and a half or something, we got to the break time, and she came up and introduced herself and said, “I’m an organizer of TEDxHull. Would you like to come and speak?” Immediately, she knew, and I knew what I could do in that talk. 

That was the first one. Then to answer your question about, why was it so popular? Personally, I think why it’s so popular is what I picked was something that the vast majority of people think they can’t do and is universal. It’s a bit like I can’t sing. You can either sing or you can’t. It’s drawing, people go, “Yes, you’ve either got it, or you haven’t.” I knew that. 

Also, I knew from my experience of just doing it in workshops, what a jaw-dropper it was when people found they could. In fact, I created Spike. It wasn’t my idea to run workshops on drawing skills in the first place, but somebody saw me when I was running an NLP program, somebody saw me sketching, and said, “Can you come and teach this to our volunteer– we’ve got a voluntary group of trainers, come and teach it to them.” 

I created Spike, then, although I didn’t name him as a simple cartoon to start them off. I knew that if I did that on this talk at TEDxHull, that people would really like it, but I didn’t ever believe that it would be that popular. I knew it would– I thought, if I got 50,000 views or something, I thought that’d be fantastic. I didn’t think it’d be that popular. 

Actually, the next one I did in Vienna, I was asked, because the curator of TEDxVienna, a chap called Vlad Guzman, he’d seen the whole talk and then asked me to speak in Vienna. The talk I did there was called how to draw to remember more. That’s more of a niche. That’s got a couple of million views, but that’s niche. 

It hasn’t got such wide appeal because it’s about how we apply drawing to learning and memories has been more of a niche topic. To answer your question, I think I just happen to stumble over something that had very wide appeal. I think that’s why it’s so successful. Yes. 

Tom: Yes, well, it’s a fantastic watch. From those 33 million views, there’s probably at least 10 of them which are me because I’ve watched it quite a few times. Highly entertaining. To anyone listening, that should be doing your self-directed learning pathway is popping over to YouTube. If you just search, TEDx Graham Shaw, it’ll pop up. You’ll see it’s the one with the most views by a long shot. Awesome. Graham, I think I’ve got to the bottom of my question list, but with one exception. Do you think there are any questions I should have asked you that I haven’t? 

Graham: Wow. That’s a good one. Well, one of the things that sometimes that people think about is well, what’s the evidence that drawing helps you? We could see it, I can see it, we know it, actually, anecdotally, and it happens. I often when I run corporate programs, talk about evidence. It’s interesting in terms of drawing, helping you to remember because we’ve talked about now how drawing to help explain things to others. 

The History of Using Imagery to Learn  

The evidence of drawing to help yourself, there was a study I talked about in TEDxHullTEDxVienna, rather, from the University of Waterloo in Canada. They did a study on how drawing helped people to remember lists of words. They basically got people to remember list of words in different ways. One was to just write out the words. The other one was to spend probably about 30, 40 seconds, drawing a picture of each word. 

If it was balloon, they drew a simple balloon. What they found was after they gave them a surprise memory test on those, their results were absolutely staggering. They found that where people drawn a symbol or a picture for the word, the word they remembered virtually on average, doubled the number of words in a test than if they hadn’t doubled. 

They even compared that with three or four other methods of learning the word. Compared them with describing the words, writing out the characteristics of the words, visualizing the words. They had about three or four other methods in every case drawing beat the others. When they were just looking at why that is, there is a lot of evidence that drawing creates a stronger memory trace in the brain than any of those other methods. I’m not a brain expert, but in order to transfer a word into a picture, you have to do a number of things. You have to have some elaboration in your mind; you have to picture what it could look like, you create some physical characteristics of it. 

You have to create a visual, so then your hand has to move. You’re doing. We learn. We know we learn through seeing, hearing, saying, doing, using the different senses, but you have to do something. Then once you’ve got an ear, but you’ve got something to look at. 

There’s quite a lot going on there that enables people then to remember those words. Again, I often have used things like mind maps for students in learning and people in business. I’m using drawings for self for their own memory. If you look at the research just plainly on pictures, in years ago in Scientific American, there was a gentleman called Ralph Haber, showed people 2,560 pictures, at tensecond intervals. 

It took a long time. It took a long time. I was on end, but then over a day. Then an hour later, he started to show people two slides side by side, and he would ask them which of these have you seen before? And had to say, on average, they got between 85%, and 95%, correct. 

Tom: From the total amount? 

Graham: Yes. I’ve seen this one, but I haven’t seen that one. I’ve seen that, but I haven’t seen this. He wondered if it made any difference how long you showed them the picture for so he started to reduce the amount of time they saw the picture from 10 seconds getting down to just one or two seconds. 

Guess what difference it made to the results? It made absolutely no difference at all. Whether people had seen it for two or three seconds or 10 seconds, they still remembered most of them. If you thought that was impressive, that research was built upon by a gentleman called Ray Nickerson and his study was published in the– The first one Ralph Haber study was in Scientific American, Ray Nickerson was in Canadian Journal of Psychology. He showed people, firstly, 600 pictures, but ultimately 10,000 pictures at the rate of one per second but with a difference. Ray Nickerson made sure that the pictures were striking, vivid, memorable. 

Pictures that you thought they might remember, something that stood out. In Ray Nickerson’s results, he got results of over 90% and quite often around 98%. The moral of the story is that in the quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, a gentleman called Lionel Standing commenting on that research state, “The capacity of recognition memory for pictures is almost limitless.” Almost limitless 

Tom: Yes. That’s some staggering statistics there. 

Graham: The moral of the story is not to use pictures in your talks or presentations; it’s missing a huge trick. If you do use PowerPoint, use more pictures than list of words. Then on top of that, the ability to do a sketch where people see it live is just building in a whole new thing when you hook attention, rather than have the picture fully created the style, so there’s a wealth of evidence around, Tom. 

Tom: Yes, absolutely. I’ve never heard those statistics even though all the time we’ve worked together, and that’s quite incredible. Just a minor thought on that last point around creating visuals live is, some people are probably listening to this thinking, ‘Yes, but we’re all in this virtual world now. It’s so much harder to do visuals live.” 

Drawing Technology  

We mentioned that are the technological solutions to doing that, like Google Jamboard, but I know when we’ve worked together, Graham, a lot of the time you still do it on a piece of paper, you can hold it up to the camera and it’s still just as powerful. 

Graham: I know, you can. You could be in a virtual meeting, it really– Low-tech is the answer, and you’ve got a clipboard with a piece of A4 paper on it, and you lean to one side, hold the clipboard up, and you draw the graph that you wanted to explain to the group. 

Tom: In fact, with the client the other week, we spent hours doing the researching technological solutions for doing this. We came to the conclusion that we should just ask everyone to have a pen and a pencil. 

Graham: It’s amazing, really, but it’s very immediate and very engaging. 

Tom: Awesome. Well, Graham, is always an absolute pleasure to talk to you. I think from today, what I’ve taken, what I hope everyone listening has taken is the absolute power of being able to visualize to make things memorable for people to remember messages that you’re trying to get across. That can be done by anyone, anywhere, with some very simple skills. 

I just tried to write down the benefits of the visualization. We are challenging people’s beliefs by showing that anyone can do a sketch or a drawing. It can explain things more simply; it can make people remember things more. It’s fun and can be used as a great icebreaker to bring groups of people together to understand each other better. 

You can use it to create these powerful visions, which mean, people will achieve more so as leaders listening to this podcast. I’d like to think you can walk away from this podcast thinking we have to figure out how to do some more visualizations. 

Graham: Absolutely, and anyone can learn it. Anyone can do it. 

Tom: Yes, absolutely. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy day to join us on the podcast today, Graham. Like I say, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. We will be hosting the podcast as usual; we will also put some content onto the website at so that you can look at maybe if you should sketch this on there. Also, we’ll put some links to the TED Talks as well as Amazon to be able to buy Graham’s book and things like that because I can’t recommend them enough. Thank you for joining us on the podcast everyone listening, and I really hope you’ve enjoyed. Thank you so much, Graham. 

Graham: Thank you, Tom, and thank you, everyone, who happens to have listened in. I’m delighted that you took the time to do so. 

Tom: Thanks, Graham. Speak to you soon.