You will be hard pressed to find a marketing conference, corporate summit, or innovation-oriented gathering these days that doesn’t include an artist, toiling away behind an oversized canvas, trying to translate the thoughts and ideas being presented on stage into an illustration or makeshift infographic. The idea behind creating these visual summaries is that the core concepts will be more easily remembered, shared, and applied to work that begins after the summit, conference or gathering ends. Does it work? How many people do these wonderful creations actually reach? How do people change their work, or their thinking, when these visual thought products are hanging on their wall (or whatever)?
I attend a lot of conference and events, so I have collected my fair share of visual summaries over the years. But I have never received one without directly participating in an event. Nobody ever forwarded a set of visual notes to me via email. I have never seen visual notes show up in my news feed. If the idea behind creating these visual summaries is that the core concepts expressed at some conference, summit or gathering will be more easily remembered, shared, and applied to work going forward, and they were performing as intended, then I would expect to see the visual summaries everywhere. I would expect that people would reference them more – or at all – in their work, across social media… anywhere. That simply isn’t happening.
I am starting to think that visual summaries are just a form of performance art – potentially interesting and thought-provoking if you happen to be watching it unfold in real-time, but of little value if you aren’t in the right place at the right time. The summits, conferences and gatherings that employ these artists suggest that one of their goals is to promote ideas, drive innovation, and influence how people work and behave with some larger business or social purpose in mind. But for those goals to be realized, the ideas and thoughts must spread, they must be referenced, and they must be absorbed into our work and thinking in ways that influence how we operate – and change our behaviors. If visual summaries aren’t able to produce that kind of reach, we should find another way to capture and communicate out the information we need and want.