Thanks to everyone who shared their thoughts on effective strategies for sharing mind maps and avoiding “map shock.” This was a lively discussion, with many excellent insights. It generated so much interest that it actually spilled over into the MindManager Yahoo discussion list. Based on your input, here is a summary of the best strategies for sharing mind maps:
1. Manage expectations: Prepare your audience for the journey. Tell your group that they are going to see something that will be initially confusing to some of them but that by the end of the exercise it will make sense to them.
2. Explain the idea behind your mind map, its implied structure and how to read it to your audience. Don’t assume that because they have used a map before, they know how to use them. If there is an implied structure and way to read the map, share that info with your audience.
3. A hybrid approach: Put a mindmap on one side of a page and the linear list on the other side. That way, each person can choose what works best for them. This approach works particularly well if you’re making a presentation to a group that has both linear and visual thinkers. Another approach that works well is to provide your audience with a traditional written report, but which utilizes mind maps as supporting elements. This allows you to ease them into the world of visual mapping, without overwhelming them, and gives them some valuable context for the map’s contents.
4. Consider alternate map structures to convey information: Rather than using a radial layout for a mind map – which is confusing to some people – select a right or left facing map style, where all the branches come out on one side and stack above each other in the proper order. It has the visual appeal of a traditional mindmap but also provides a linear experience similar to an outline that may be more palatable to some of the people you’re trying to communicate with. Let the content of your map drive its structure. A timeline, for example, is better expressed from left to right (in an org chart type of map) or top to bottom (right or left facing branches) than in a radial map.
5. Don’t fight the dominant thinking preferences of your audience. Several readers referred to the Herrmann Brain Dominance Instrument (HBDI), which shows thinking preferences in a quantitative way. About half the world prefers information in a linear style – it’s the way their brains are wired, and you need to take that into consideration when sharing your maps with others. For best results, deliver the contents of your map in the manner which the recipient prefers.
6. Co-create maps with your audience: Getting your audience engaged in building the map as a group will increase their buy-in and understanding of the map’s meaning. This can be done face-to-face or via a collaboration environment like GoToMeeting or Mindjet Connect. Begin your conversation with your customer or prospect with a map containing a number of main topics, focused on key questions or points to be addressed. This shows that you’re well prepared for the meeting. As you ask the questions and discuss the issues, add their responses or priorities to the map. Chances are, they’ll be amazed as they see their thoughts, ideas and concerns displayed on screen.
7. Good map organization is essential: Placing too many main topics around the central topic tends to overwhelm people. Keep it as simple as possible; 4 to 6 main topics is a good guideline.
8. Number your topics: If you’re sending a map to someone, to whom you won’t have an opportunity to explain the implied order of its topics, numbering them will help others understand how to “read” the map – in which order they should view its topics.
9. Minimize topic text and use high-impact words: Too much topic text tends to make mind maps difficult to read and causes your audience’s to glaze over – just like they do when they see a PowerPoint slide that contains a large number of words or bullet points. It’s information overload! For best results, use meaningful, concise words or phrases. This takes some work. Consider having a thesaurus by your side or on screen, so you can select words that convey the maximum amount of meaning in the minimum amount of space. Place details into topic notes or sub-topics, once again to “hide” them from your easily-overwhelmed audience.
10. Contract your map’s topics before presenting it: When presenting a mind map, make sure the map is fully collapsed initially. If you open a branch, only one level should show at a time. Expose the contents of your map incrementally, through the expansion and contraction of the various sections. This gives you the ability to control how much information is on screen at any given time, and reduces the possibility of information overload.
11. Minimize visual distractions in your maps: Hide extraneous elements – task info, images, markers, text tags, links, labels and comments – before presenting your mind map. This will make the map easier for your audience to digest. If it’s not relevant to your audience, don’t show it. You may even want to have two versions of your mind map: One that contains all of the background information and your thinking process – which you can use for your reference – and a simplified version that you present to others.