Loa Baastrup explains how visual skills can help you become a stronger communicator and collaborator, and gives tips on how to create effective visual aids
What was your last drawing of? You might not remember because it’s been ages since you drew anything. Or perhaps you stood by a whiteboard or flip chart yesterday and tried to explain something complex to peers, clients or partners and ended up using visuals, models, icons or templates. Either way, this article is for you. It is about how you can use simple visual tools and techniques, including a basic drawing that you and anyone can learn, to strengthen the way you communicate and collaborate.
As an actuary, you are at ease when juggling figures. You have strong analytical skills and know exactly how to use data to analyse past experiences in order to predict the future. That level of complexity doesn’t scare you, because you master it. However, that may not always be enough.
You probably need to be able to explain why, how, what, when and where to others – in a way that is so simple they can easily join in the conversation, collaborate with you or take actions with your guidance. It takes strong communication and interpersonal skills to work with a diverse audience and ensure that your findings are easily understood by others. You may think this is old news, as these skills have been ranked among the top 10 most important skills for more than a decade. However, the world is changing rapidly, and the data we collect and process is more complex than ever before. Even strong oral communication or writing skills may not be enough for those wishing to thrive as an actuary, or for the professional who produces and consolidates data in the future. The world needs people who can bring the bigger picture into view, showing how things are related and affect each other. Drawing does exactly that, and when we draw and visualise together, we promote collective understanding and memory.
Most of us haven’t done much drawing since primary school besides sketching a graph on a whiteboard during a meeting, but there is a quick way to become skilled so you can take your meeting sketches to the next level.
How to get started
Start by practising combining these basic shapes: a dot, a line, a triangle, a square, a circle and a wave.
With these, you can quickly sketch, for example, data, balance, analysing or key accounts.
Drawing with basic shapes is an easy, rapid and intuitive way of visualising. You only need to illustrate a fraction of what the eye sees to aid recognition and understanding in others. Practise drawing easy objects and you will see the world through a lens of basic shapes while expanding your visual vocabulary along the way.
Think of a word you want to represent visually and draw it as simply as you can. Or think of a complex actuarial concept that you often find yourself explaining to non-actuarial parties; how would you draw it? Does it contain people, places and processes? If so, you may want to learn The Seven Elements:
This system helps you create a visual language for meetings, processes and projects, whatever their content. Combine the Seven Elements into larger visualisations that are relevant for you. Use the Seven Elements and the basic shapes to create icons or templates that are easy to draw at your next meeting, helping others to see what you mean.
An example could be to draw Figure 1 at a meeting with a new stakeholder, to explain the risk a typical life insurer is exposed to. This helps you shape the conversation and the other party to start mapping out risks visually.
Another example could be to draw a simplified representation of the Solvency II internal model (Figure 2) when collaborating with peers on the calculation.
When we draw or use visual communication, we:
1 Promote memory
When we hear information, we are likely to remember 10% of it three days later. Add an image and we’ll likely remember 65%
2 Create clarity
A drawing can challenge, adjust and refine original understanding because the content of the drawing is made concrete
Tips and Tricks
Learn to draw the seven elements
Visit academy.biggerpicture.dk and watch video tutorials that take you through drawing exercises step by step
Use your drawings in a PowerPoint presentation
Get yourself a pen computer. Some are cheaper than others, but most Windows OS will have free software such as Journal or OneNote, enabling you to draw while being connected to a projector or to embed your drawings in a PowerPoint Presentation. Tablet users can download a simple drawing app such as Procreate
Save and share your ‘Post-it’ sessions
Download the Post-it app
Collaborate online with your global team
Mural is a digital workplace for visual collaboration, enabling you and your team to draw together in real time
Loa Baastrup is co-author of the award-winning book 'Visual Collaboration: A Powerfull Toolkit for Improving Meetings, Projects and Processes' and the managing partner at Bigger Picture. Download the first chapter of Visual Collaboration for free, or download the tools of the book, at visual collaboration.site