Picture this – how to get your ideas across

Booked review: The Art of Business Communication – How To Use Pictures, Charts and Graphs To Make Your Message Stick by Graham Shaw

The Art of Business Communication
Author: Graham Shaw
ISBN-13: 9781292017174
Publisher: Pearson
Guideline Price: €18.99

This is an easy-to-digest book with a simple premise. It aims to teach business presenters how to draw live pictures to enliven presentations. There is serious science behind this. Images make use of a wide range of cortical skills – colour, form, line, dimension, texture, visual rhythm and imagination so they resonate more deeply with audiences. The book provides a practical toolkit on how to take advantage of this.

According to research quoted here from the University of New South Wales, the brain is not wired to read and listen at the same time. It is unhelpful therefore to present a lot of text on a presentation slide and to expect people to read it while you speak.

It is common for business presenters to use series of slides written in the form of bullet points. The problem is that lines of text on these slides look very similar. This is not helpful in terms of recall as the brain remembers things that are different more easily than things that are similar. The brain enjoys variation, it appears.

This is why drawing works and the good news is that the artistic standard is not a major issue. It is also a myth that in order to recognise a picture, all the details need to be present.


According to the author, it is very surprising how little information is required to do so as the brain is very good at interpreting very limited information and making sense of it.

A key tip is that it is actually possible to draw recognisable pictures with just a few strokes. This means that with little or no experience, worthwhile pictures can be drawn to enhance your presentations.

The book teaches some very basic drawing techniques and shows how to think in pictures rather than in words, so as to represent ideas visually. It explores how to use a number of different methods to apply drawing skills when explaining ideas to individuals or groups and highlights ways to assist teams to assist teams to use sketches to share ideas.

Finally, it presents a series of template sketches that can be used in common situations, grouped under subject headings such as innovation, communication and collaboration.

One of the more interesting sections of the book illustrates how to draw a visual map. This suggests starting in the centre with a symbol to represent the topic together with a large title.

You then draw main branches out to represent the key points. These should ideally be labelled with one word. Next, draw sub-branches and label these along the lines with capitals. The next stage involves adding simple pictures matching the key words. It is advised that you practise drawing this map several times.

The main benefit of communicating with a visual map is that people will be able to grasp the topic and its details very easily and so it is a very effective way to get a lot of information across to a group.

Creating a map will also engage people in a different way than they are typically used to. It will be a significant differentiator from electronic presentations. The low-tech approach means that other than a flipchart and some markers, no special equipment is needed.

According to Graham Shaw, the beauty of presenting a topic in this way is how people feel while you are speaking. This style of presenting induces a state of relaxed alertness which is highly conducive to absorbing information with the minimum amount of effort.

While the topic is not entirely original and is influenced somewhat by Tony Buzan and his ideas around drawing mindmaps, Shaw has an interesting take on the value of the visual approach and presents his simple ideas elegantly here.