4 Alternatives to Verbal Visualizations

This post originally appeared on Lane Change Consulting. Lane Change Consulting is a visual facilitation and team development consultancy based in San Francisco. They design and facilitate strategic, collaborative conversations that create clarity, focus and engagement in organizations.


By: Nevada Lane

I just got back from a coaching workshop where we did a number of guided visualizations over the course of the 3 days. I love the idea of visualizations, and I firmly believe in the power of visioning in general, but frankly, I’m terrible at them. Despite lots of practice, I’m usually not able to generate compelling mental images when someone uses verbal cues to guide me through imagining my future self, the vision for my life, etc. I personally find active and visual approaches to be more effective and have noticed this is also true for many people in the teams I work. I’ve developed a number of alternate approaches to the standard guided visualization, four of which I’ll share below, that you might consider trying yourself or adding to your mix of team tools if verbal visualizations aren’t working for you. 

All of approaches below begin with considering one or two powerful prompt questions. Here are some possible prompt questions for envisioning the future as examples:

  • What do I/we want life to look like in 2 years?

  • Where do I/we want to be in 5 years?

  • It’s 5 years from now. I’ve/we’ve created a wildly successful life/organization that has exceeded all of our expectations. Look around you, what does the world look like?

Sit with the question(s) you’ve selected and breathe deeply, which will help you naturally connect with your body and intuition. Then, choose any of the options below to start building your vision. You can do any of these individually, or with a team:

1. Images Cards:

Take a variety of images and spread them on a large table or work surface. I have a fabulous stack of of images called the Visual Explorer deck (from the Center for Creative Leadership) that I use all the time and love because of the variety of images included. In silence, select images that resonate with you. Don’t overthink it. Once you have your images, lay them out and start telling the story of these images. What do they mean? Why did you pick them? What do they represent about the future you want? If you’re working alone, I encourage you to speak out loud as you do this. It might feel awkward, but verbalization is a critical step. As you speak, your brain continues to make meaning out of what were often very intuitive selections. Record yourself so you can replay the recording and identify key themes that came up and then pick the images and ideas that are most important to your future vision. In teams, allow time for each person to share the images they picked and why they picked them. After you hear from everyone, identify the key themes and agree on the vision. Don’t forget to take a picture of the cards the team selected! 

2. Collage

Have a wide selection of magazines available (I love National Geographic for this) and use your intuition to choose images that resonate with you in some way. Again, don’t overthink the selection of images at this stage – just pick them out and start cutting away. Glue your images onto a sheet of flip chart paper or board, then step back and start speaking out loud about the images you chose and why they’re important. As mentioned above, the storytelling aspect of the visioning proces is important because your brain will breathe meaning into whatever images you chose as you speak, imbuing the images with additional meaning and building critical internal resonance. With teams, you can create a collective collage, then allow each person to speak to what the images represent to them. Assign one person to capture themes that emerge on a flip chart, then review and agree on the vision.

3. Quotes and Images from the Future

This approach works best using a prompt question like the last one in the list above that sets you up to imagine you’re already in the future and you’re looking around you at what this ideal future state looks like. Feel free to expand upon the prompt question and flesh it out in a way that makes sense for yourself or your team. After sitting with the question for a few breaths, imagine what people might be saying about this future world and write those quotes from the future on sticky notes. Be sure to note the source of each quote on the sticky note. Is it you? Your partner? Your customers? Your employees?

Next, imagine what you might see in this future world and draw simple (and I mean SIMPLE) images from the future on sticky notes. It’s not important that the picture is “good,” just that it represents something important to you. As long a YOU know what the picture means, you’re golden. Step back and look at the quotes and images and identify the key themes of your vision. For teams, you’ll want to provide everyone an opportunity to share and then identify and agree upon the key vision themes.

4. Visual coaching and facilitation

Working with a visual coach or facilitator is a bigger than investment than the previous options but can be extremely powerful. If you’re on a team, the approach also has the benefit of allowing everyone on the team to actively and equally participate without having to worry about managing the group process. After sitting with the prompt questions, you can start speaking about your future and the visual facilitator will capture your vision in words and pictures on a large piece of paper or board. Throughout the process, he or she will ask you powerful questions to help you gain clarity on what you want and how it connects to the other aspects of your vision, values, etc. At the end of the session, you’ll have a large graphic detailing your vision for the future.

If guided verbal visualizations aren’t your friend, don’t give up on articulating a compelling and energizing vision! Try one of these hands-on approaches to help give shape to your vision. You and your team deserve it.

Bright IdeasNevada Lane