My dad was a pilot, which meant he was always watching the sky with a pilot’s long-range vision. On family road trips, he could see sights his passengers never even glimpsed.
“Did you see that hawk just circle above those trees? It was right over there.”
“Is that a falcon or a crow?…. Oh, it’s gone now.”
“There’s an eagle… Whoops, you missed it. Again”
Visionary leaders have that same gift of farsightedness. And, like my Dad, they can have trouble getting others to see what stands out so obviously to them.
When your team or potential funders can’t see a map leading from the current state to the future you envision, frustration can result all around.
But creating the map simply gives your audience an outline of the journey ahead. On its own, a map offers nothing more than a two-dimensional, abstract sketch. That may be enough to get people intrigued, but it’s seldom enough to gain their commitment.
To take your audience from aware to all-in, you must bring your vision to life. This is where it pays to pay close attention to your communication technique. Here are five specific moves you can make to create a vision that leaps off the page and gets your audience excited about making your imaginary future real.
1. Use visual language
If you want people to “see” what you see, then choose language that appeals to their sense of vision. Here are some examples of words and phrases you might use:
I /we picture…
I /we envision…
In my mind’s eye…
At first glance…
We get a glimpse of…
You can take this sensory language even further by incorporating words and phrases that appeal to the other four senses too (touch, taste, smell, and hearing).
2. Include conceptual diagrams
Make important aspects of your vision more concrete by putting them into pictures. Are you envisioning a three-stage evolution of your company? What about representing that through a diagram instead of just a bulleted list? Are you suggesting a change in focus? What about a cluster diagram showing the new focal point at the center of your various business activities?
You don’t need a graphic designer to create conceptual diagrams (images that convey ideas rather than data). Just take a tour through PowerPoint’s SmartArt for a start. Here are just a few of the ready-made tools you’ll find there:
Venn diagrams (great for showing overlapping interests or pools of resources)
Cycle diagrams (to reinforce a non-linear pattern)
Process flow diagrams (to make steps easy to grasp and remember)
Org charts (for showing any kind of hierarchy, not just a reporting structure)
Nested circle diagrams (ideal for showing a ripple effect or layers of stakeholder interest)
Cluster diagrams (an easy way to show a shift in focus or a hub-and-spoke model)
3. Give an abundance of examples
We hear a lot about business storytelling these days, but not enough about the power of the individual anecdote. Yes, there’s power in presenting your entire vision as a grand story, a series of events infused with drama. But don’t overlook the value of small stories as illustrations of the possible.
People reading or hearing your vision will be repeatedly asking themselves one big question: Why should I trust the person spinning this fantastic tale of the future? To gain their trust, you’ll need to answer that question again and again, and one of the most compelling ways to do that is by using real-life examples.
Those examples could come from your own life (stories of previous accomplishments, for instance), from company history, or from other people. Seek out relatable vignettes that will inspire your audience and alleviate their concerns. Remember: it takes confidence, in you and your stories, to build commitment.
4. Watch your pronouns
So much can hinge on the difference between I and we, or between you and me. If you’re sharing your vision with a client or funder, rushing too soon into assuming that you and you audience are a we can sound presumptuous. On the other hand, presenting a vision that differentiates between you and me can place a linguistic barrier between you and your audience.
Gauge the state of your relationship with your audience carefully and choose your pronouns appropriately. Certainly, if you’re presenting your vision to your team, then you’ll want to speak almost exclusively in we and our. To get buy-in, assume shared ownership from the beginning and make sure you communicate that collaborative approach throughout your document or presentation.
5. Tease the imagination
Ultimately, it’s all about buy-in. If you capture your audience’s attention, but don’t engage them in an imaginative journey toward the future, then you’ve failed.
Two magic words will go a long way toward helping your audience see what you see: Imagine that…
Paint a compelling word-picture of what your audience’s life will be like once your vision has become your shared reality. Rather than trying to convince them to see your perspective, invite them to enter into their own imagination so they can see for themselves the possibilities that await.
Keep in mind that a description of your vision is NOT a strategic plan. The vision you convey should function as the teaser to strategic planning. It should engage your audience emotionally and imaginatively so they’re primed to do the work of strategizing, turning dreams into step-by-step actions that will lead to measurable outcomes.
For more tips on how to make your vision documents more compelling, check out my Weekly Writing Hacks on YouTube.