How To Communicate Clearly Through Vivid Thinking

Most church leaders, especially the senior pastor or teaching pastor, rightfully view their skills as a communicator to be one of the most important aspects of their position. From the weekly sermon to regular leadership meetings to training and development presentations to special, one off events, the spoken word is of paramount importance to church leaders.

But what if you realized that, by communicating only through words, you are effectively ignoring one of the richest methods of communication that draws on the most powerful part of your brain – your visual sense?

To be the most effective communicators we can be, leaders must learn to use the simplicity and immediacy of images to help clarify our ideas for both ourselves and others.


THE QUICK SUMMARY – Blah Blah Blah: What to do When Words Don’t Work by Dan Roam

Ever been to so many meetings that you couldn’t get your work done? Ever fallen asleep during a bullet point presentation? Ever watched the news and ended up knowing less? Welcome to the land of Blah-Blah-Blah.

The Problem: We talk so much that we don’t think very well. Powerful as words are, we fool ourselves when we think our words alone can detect, describe, and defuse the multifaceted problems of today. They can’t – and that’s bad, because words have become our default thinking tool.

The Solution: This book offers a way out of blah-blah-blah. It’s called “Vivid Thinking.”

In Dan Roam’s first acclaimed book, The Back of the Napkin, he taught readers how to solve problems and sell ideas by drawing simple pictures. Now he proves that Vivid Thinking is even more powerful. This technique combines our verbal and visual minds so that we can think and learn more quickly, teach and inspire our colleagues, and enjoy and share ideas in a whole new way.

The Destination: No more blah-blah-blah. Through Vivid Thinking, we can make the most complicated subjects suddenly crystal clear. Whether trying to understand a Harvard Business School class, or what went down in the Conan versus Leno battle for late-night TV, or what Einstein thought about relativity, Vivid Thinking provides a way to clarify anything.

Through dozens of guided examples, Roam proves that anyone can apply this systematic approach, from left-brain types who hate to draw to right-brainers who hate to write. This isn’t just a book about improving communications, presentations, and ideation; it’s about removing the blah-blah-blah from your life for good.


According to author Dan Roam, our default method of communication is words. Even when verbalizing a thought, we attempt to string words together in meaningful ways, because it’s the best way to share an idea. We also believe that the ability to speak well is the primary cornerstone of intelligence.

In reality, defaulting to using only words quickly leads us down the path of blah-blah- blah.

Roam defines blah-blah-blah as:

  • Complexity – which kills our ability to think.
  • Misunderstanding – which kills our ability to lead.
  • Boredom – which kills our ability to care.

Blah-blah-blah is the overuse, misuse, and abuse of language – anything we say that interferes with our ability to convey ideas.

The reason we are talking more and saying less, hearing more and listening less, learning more and knowing less is simple: We’ve moved off the center of balance between focusing on details and seeing the big picture.

The reason for all the blah-blah-blah is that we’ve simply forgotten how to use both of our minds. As we’ve become increasingly enamored of and reliant upon words, our verbal minds have become heavier and heavier, while our visual minds have gotten lighter and lighter. Now that we are facing some of the most difficult challenges of all time, we suddenly realize that we’ve lost half our minds.

Getting our balance back on center is simple: All we have to do is take a half-step back from our unshakable belief in the power of words and at the same time give our visual mind a kick in the pants. That’s what Vivid Thinking does.

Vivid Thinking stands for visual verbal interdependent thinking, which means actively forcing our visual and verbal minds to work together when we are thinking, leading, teaching, and selling.

It’s so simple to get our verbal and visual minds working together again that Vivid Thinking really has only three rules.

Vivid Thinking Rule No. 1: When we say a word, we should draw a picture (and vice versa).

Vivid Thinking Rule No. 2: If we don’t know which picture to draw, we look to vivid grammar to show us the way.

Vivid Thinking Rule No. 3: To make any idea more vivid, we turn to the Seven Vivid Essentials.

Dan Roam, Blah Blah Blah: What to do When Words Don’t Work


To help you learn to practice Vivid Thinking, use the techniques below developed by author Dan Roam.

Rule 1

This is at the same time one of the easiest to understand and most difficult to practice. The next time you have an idea, instead of just talking about it, draw it out.

If you say, “ball,” draw a ball.

Learn to actively engage your visual mind each time your use your verbal mind.

Rule 2

“Grammar” may be a dreaded word to many people, bringing back early childhood memories. Yet the fact you are reading this sentence means it worked!

Grammar helps us use words to form sentences, then paragraphs, then pages, which can become a one-page article or a 500-page book. In the same way, Vivid Grammar is the set of rules used to compose a visual idea from a small set of pictorial elements. Learning to use this tool means that when you say a word, you will know which picture to draw to accompany the word.

  • When you hear a noun, draw a portrait.
  • When you hear an adjective of quantity, draw a chart.
  • When you hear a preposition, draw a map.
  • When you hear tense, draw a timeline.
  • When you hear a complex verb, draw a flowchart.
  • When you hear a complex sentence, draw a multi-variable plot.

Rule 3

Words are abstractions – the ultimate mental shorthand. When you know what they mean, words instantly call to mind ideas, images, feelings, and memories. However, we know that the words we use are distinct from the things they represent, and if we are unclear about what they mean, our audience certainly will be.

Roam suggests that you walk your idea through the Vivid Forest:

  • F – Your idea has Form.
  • O – Your idea can be expressed with Only the Essentials.
  • R – Your idea is Recognizable.
  • E – Your idea Evolves.
  • S – Your idea Spans Differences.
  • T – Your idea is Targeted.

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<

>> Purchase prior issues of SUMS Remix here<<


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