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Episode 197: Wowing Your Clients with Concept Illustrations—with Jade Miller

Deb Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So, on this podcast, we're going to talk about a way that you can wow your clients and do something unique in your market that's going to make you stand out. And that is by using graphic illustrations in the work you're doing with your clients, and also as you're doing outreach and marketing yourself. So, I brought on the person who does this for me, Jade Miller. And she has done wonderful things that have completely blown the minds of some of my clients. And so I had her come on, and we're going to talk about what that means, how you can use it, all the different ways you can amp up some of your communication, as well as get into some of the communication trends that we're starting to see and you need to know about and pay attention to as you progress in your consulting business. So, let's get started. Hi. I want to welcome to the show today, Jade Miller. Jade, welcome to the show.

Jade Miller: Thanks so much for having me, Deb. It's so great to talk with you.

Deb Zahn: So, start off, tell my listeners what you do.

Jade Miller: OK. So, I'm Jade Miller. I am a visual communications expert. I help and support people to simplify their complex scenarios into visual communication. And that can happen in a variety of ways through graphic design, or through sketching and illustration. But I'm really obsessed with helping people and seeing people use more visual elements in their communication. So, that's my shtick.

Deb Zahn: Oh, well, and you know I love your shtick because I've hired you twice to do that on behalf of my consulting clients who have been completely wowed by it. So, that's why I wanted to have you on the show is I want other consultants, we're going to talk about what some of the visual elements can look like, but it is an opportunity for other consultants to hire you or someone like you who can just take the work they're doing up a notch.

And I mean, clients just get giddy over this type of stuff. And it's a significant differentiator, which is why I wanted to talk to you about it. And I wish for the folks who are going to be listening on audio, you can't see it, but if you go on LinkedIn as we're promoting this, we're going to have some examples up there so folks can see what we're talking about. But the first thing we want to talk about are the scribing, the visual summaries that you do. So, can you say what that means, since we can't show people, what does that actually mean?

Jade Miller: Yeah, so when I create a visual summary, what I'm doing is capturing, whether it's a keynote speech, a podcast, or it's somebody's paper or research they're done, it's taking those key elements and creating a visual version of it that just has the really key messages. And it's communicated in a way that's really accessible and easy to understand, and quick. I think that's part of the thing is making it really fast for people to comprehend and understand because we process visual imagery so much quicker. So, it doesn't mean that there's no text elements. There is often text elements as well. But I sort of use text in a visual way. So, plenty of space around it and capitalizing some things and using different fonts. So, yeah, there is both drawn parts and text parts. But overall, it's a visual summary of a complex or a detailed piece of communication.

Deb Zahn: And I learned you did this by surprise. And I think you will remember how we met, is I was giving a talk, I believe, on pricing in a group that the ever-fabulous Leanne Hughes has. And you were in that. And you surprised me afterward by doing a scribe, a visual summary of what it was that I shared. And you nailed it and you had fun imagery. God, I remember there were cupcakes on it, which I just thought was such an innovative way to get across what I was saying for folks who are more visually oriented and the words maybe weren't enough, or maybe this really drills it home because now they see visuals that's attached to it.

But that's how we met. And as soon as I saw it, I was like, “Oh my goodness. This is so, so, so good.” So, what do you think, when you're talking to people about this, and I've experienced it so it's easy for me to understand, but oftentimes if someone's doing a report, or they're doing a slide deck, or they're trying to communicate something and it's all words, words, words, words, words versus words, but thought of creatively plus illustrations, what does that do that a simple written summary doesn't do?

Jade Miller: It can be hard to convince people that it's worth it. But when somebody's engaging with your material and you've just got words, words, words, words, especially in presentations, these visual summaries are so good for presentations. If you're still using PowerPoint, having visuals instead of just those big paragraphs of words for people to look at. People are going to engage with your material much easier. You're going to get your key messages across so much faster.

Like you said earlier, people just really love these drawings, and the illustrations and the ways that we can demonstrate just even little symbols or whatever it is that you put in amongst your texts and in amongst your words, people just really engage with that. And I think it's because especially the illustration style because it's a break from reading a 20-page report that's just words. It's a break from these really long paragraphs of really great content on LinkedIn, but people are just writing walls of words and it doesn't break it up. And people just scroll right past, and they're not consuming what you've got to say. Where you break it up with something visual, that your eyes are literally stopping and looking and stopping and looking, and taking in what you've got there when you start to mix these things in with your work.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And the other thing that I notice is people also have an emotional response to it. I think of an example of when I hired you to do something for a client, and we were talking about a group of folks within the organization that were being, I'm going to say this without giving the client away, but held accountable to really strict standards for productivity, how much they got done in a certain period of time.

And we could put that up there, and they would say, "Yeah, I hate that," but you did an image of someone on a hamster wheel. And that had such emotional resonance with people because they said that's exactly how it feels. And that is more than what we could do if we just had words on a page. So, people were able to take it in and feel it really on an emotional level. And since we know a lot of people, we are sort of wired as human beings to make decisions largely based on our emotions, that's actually really helpful. And that's an example I think where it was just like if we had just had the words, we wouldn't have hit it the way that we hit it.

Jade Miller: Yeah, that's right. Because even if you are using words often, especially in the corporate space, the words themselves are really corporate, and it's really hard to get that emotional connection with something that's really disconnected from human emotion. So, having that imagery. And especially using analogous kind of imagery as well, I think that helps. You're sort of telling a story. The hamster wheel is a story about people who feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work that they have to do. And you know that when you see it immediately. It connects with people. So, yeah, the emotional connection part is definitely an important element of it. And I think there's different ways you can do that, whether you do an analogy, whether you do it very directly, whether you do it with symbols, people get that much quicker.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Agreed. And I'm going to give an example in a moment. But if you were talking to a consultant, and you wanted them to start to think about what are the different ways that they could use this in their work to really augment their work, and again, knock the socks off some of their clients, what are some of the ways that they could use it?

Jade Miller: Yeah, so I mean, there are so many ways. A few things that I have enjoyed doing is taking, for example, thought leaders have models, models of let's say leadership, empathy for leadership. And they've got this great content, but it's just words. And putting that into a visual that you can repeatedly use over and over again will help people connect with what you're doing and be engaged with it more rather than just, this is what I do as a consultant, I do empathy and leadership. Having those visual elements, again, it's that emotional connection with it demonstrating, well, what does empathy mean, and that it's going to help people connect with what they're working on.

Yeah, so there's IP, there's research papers. People want to demonstrate the amazing outcomes that they've had through research or whatever. People spend so long on this amazing material, but how can you get across those key points really quickly to your next round of funding, or wherever you want that research to go, to policymakers. Having some summaries and some visualizations of things like that, it just really drives home and stands out from just being sent a research paper, for example. So, that's a couple of things.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And one thing that we also did is there was this big, somewhat complex concept, and what we did is showed the overall concept, and then we broke down every image within it. And so instead of having a whole bunch of PowerPoint slides that had bullet points that explained all of the different elements, we just showed that bit of the illustration, and then we talked off of it. And so people were more engaged because they weren't sitting there not really listening to us because they're reading a slide deck. They were looking at an image, getting the feel for it while we're doing a voiceover for it. So, that was super powerful.

But one example I will give, and I'm going to be really honest because you fixed a failure of mine, and I was delighted that you did. But one of the things that we worked on together with a group of stakeholders who were trying to design something new. And we were trying to show how the pieces went together because we had been designing a bunch of different elements, but you had to see the totality of it. And I, in my sad little world, hooked to PowerPoint because, yeah, I don't know, and I grabbed circles and I grabbed squares and I grabbed arrows. And I used the primitive tools that I had at my disposal, and I tried to visually depict what it meant. And I looked at, I'm like, yeah, that sort of nails it. And then I put it in front of people and they're like, what? It didn't make any sense. It didn't have any emotional resonance at all with people.

And so I remember I thought instead of me going back with my little sad squares and arrows and think that I'm going to somehow do this better, let me go to someone who really knows how to depict concepts visually, which was you. And you did an illustration that showed the concept, but also showed the heart behind the concept, and people loved it. They loved it from point one. They never wanted to see my silly squares and circles and arrows ever again, and I vowed to never do it again. But that was a really good use of that is we were trying to show something that was relatively complex, and an illustration did it better than any other type of visual that we were actually trying to create.

Jade Miller: Yeah. I think with that example, it was the structures, and we played around then with how that structure looks. Traditionally, you could do a top-down structure. But because we could do this custom illustrated version of it, we were able to move those pieces around, play around with showing the people what this structure was about. So, not just a structure in itself, but showing faces and the diversity of the people that were involved in the structure, who they were serving. Yeah, I think there's so much that, I mean, you can draw anything. You can create anything. So, having somebody who can visualize is super helpful for stuff like that. I guess creating what's normally quite corporate, and could be a bit boring, turning that into something that's warm and engaging and really represents what you're trying to do in a much more powerful way.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. And it did. And to this day, people still refer to it because it captured it so perfectly. So, I got to give you credit for that. And I do think that it gives consultants a competitive edge because you're also showing up with something that other consultants aren't showing up with. So, trust me, I know you make me look good when you're part of the process.

So, if a consultant were to say, "Hey, I need you to join me on this project," or a client says, "We want you to do some scribes for us," what does that process typically look like?

Jade Miller: Yeah. So, I just have an initial meeting just to get a sense of what the content is, what the goal is, who you're talking to, what you're trying to get across, and really trying to distill what those key messages are. That's one of the biggest challenges is people have a lot that they want to put into something small. It's trying to fit an elephant into dice or something. It just doesn't all fit. So, you've just got to get the key numbers, and just put those in and the key things. And by having an understanding of who you're talking to and what you're trying to achieve, then we can do that. We can really pull those things down.

And then whatever those things are, then we come up with visuals for each of those items. So, this would be in a visual summary of, say, a keynote or a report or something like that. I think the challenges that I enjoy doing, I like doing a bit of sketching while we're talking so people really get a sense of what it is that I can offer and how it can impact and be different and stand out. I think that's the key thing is that, yeah, like you say, it really helps consultants to stand out. It looks different. There's not that many people doing it. It's becoming more popular. I think the visual elements are becoming more popular, but it definitely stands out in the crowd, I think.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. Well, even you did one of a podcast that I did, and one thing that struck me is, even for consultants, like consultants, having you as part of the project team to do something special that the client isn't otherwise going to get, I think is very helpful.

But even if I were a consultant and I was looking for business, and I was just on someone's podcast, of course you're going to promote it on LinkedIn or Instagram, or wherever it is that your clients are, but a lot of it looks the same. But if you did an illustration that captured the key points, that's going to leap off someone's feed. And they're probably going to pause and look at it more than they would anything else.

So, it's also an opportunity, I think, and I know I sound like your agent here, but I can't help it. I just love your stuff. But that's also an opportunity for self-promotion, for promoting what you do. If you're on a podcast or you do a keynote or something like that, and you want to use it in your marketing materials, or even use it in a proposal or something like that, I mean, goodness, that's going to leap off a page. Those are other sorts of creative ways that I think consultants can think about using the type of work that you're talking about, the visual elements, to just stand out from the crowd. Because you're right, it's getting a little more popular, but it's not so popular that people are going to easily ignore it.

Jade Miller: That's right. Yeah. And even if it was more popular, it's great because it means that people are communicating more effectively, in my opinion. But yeah, you're right. I think actually a great way for consultants to use this service, I guess, is to have a summary of your services and offerings and about who you are and what you stand for. You could do that on a one-page visual and include that in your proposals so that people get more of a sense of what you're about and what you have to offer. That's a great idea.

Deb Zahn: Yeah. I think about past proposals I've done. I remember one, they were asking about how we engage with stakeholders, and we had a very clear point of view of how we did that. If I were to go back and do it again because it was a significant seven-figure engagement, so it was worth spending a little money to stand out from the crowd, and it was highly, highly competitive. And we got it.

But if I were to go back and do it again, I would have taken that piece of it, and I would have you do an illustration of it. And I didn't know you at the time, but I would've had you do an illustration of it because that would've made us stand out more than anybody else. And it would have the same feel and sort of vibe as what they were asking us about, which is really how do you bring people together. In an illustration, you can literally show how you bring people together in a visual way. Ooh, I'd love that.

So, this isn't the only thing that you do obviously, and we're going to talk about some of the other things. But you recently put out a really great thought piece on the future of communication. Give us some highlights of that. When you're looking in your crystal ball about where things are headed for communication, what are some of the things you're seeing?

Jade Miller: Yeah, so I came up with a few, what I see as challenges in the backdrop of communication and the way that we move forward. We need to be very cognizant of where we are, I guess, and the challenges that we've had. So, some of the things that I've been thinking about is just how we're settling into a hybrid work life. That is challenging for people. It's challenging for employees, it's challenging for bosses. I think that there's sort of this great desire and almost resistance against going back to very normal 9:00 to 5:00. And people are talking about quiet quitting. And some people are like, "Well, they're just lazy and they just need to work." And I just think that's garbage actually. I think that people are choosing life. People don't want to be a cog in a machine. They want to have a balance of working. Yes, we all need the cash, but also maybe I want to put on a load of washing in between Zoom meetings, and is that so bad? And maybe I want to finish a little bit early and do some hours later at nighttime when I want to enjoy some daylight this afternoon, and I'll finish my work later on tonight. I think knowledge work doesn't fit in the 9:00 to 5:00. And people are starting to really understand that and realize that. And whether it's quiet quit or they're actual quitting, or whatever it is, there's movement in this space.

Deb Zahn: You know what's funny about it, as you're describing it, almost sounds like they want to enjoy the perks of being a consultant. And consultants are two things. We have more freedom and flexibility, and two, we don't do work we're not paid for. Which is, when I see quiet quitting, and I've seen people write about this, it's that means that I'm not going to do all of this extra work that you're not paying me for. And that's kind of what consultants are. That's what any consultants who work with me say is, "I don't do unfunded type of work." But I agree. I think that that's what I'm seeing for employed people is they're saying, but we showed that it works, so why go back to the rigid way we were doing it before?

Jade Miller: Yeah. So, I definitely think that is a challenge for especially internal communications and organizations. It's a challenge for leadership. And I think other things that come out of that is sort of trust issues, trust between employers and employees. But along those lines, there's other trust challenges that we're having with data breaches. Major companies, somehow people are getting hold of people's personal information, and it's going on the dark web. And we don't actually know the extent of what that is going to do yet. I don't think there's certain areas of mistrust.

There's a little bit of mistrust with the AI stuff that is really exploding right now. I think that's a massive thing to consider for communication, and especially communication jobs and roles. And you can type into ChatGPT, give me a social media schedule for visual communication. And it will give me the schedule, and add a column for the copywriting, and I've got the copy there. These things, they're creeping up on us, and I think we just have to embrace it a little bit and we can't resist it. It's going to weave its way into the way that we work, the way that we communicate.

So, saying on top of that is a hot tip from me. I think just keeping an eye on how that is. And it's actually kind of fun. ChatGPT, I don't know if anyone, we could put a thing in the show notes, a link, but I mean you can ask it anything. It has a very diplomatic way of sharing information with you. It has some great life advice. It's very fun to play around with.

Deb Zahn: Yeah, I've heard from a few others, I mean have many of the same issues that people have talked about with AI in terms of some of the biases that get baked into it, some of the unknowns about once you get into machine learning, you don't really know what it's doing. But I have seen people play with that and have a good time. And of course, everybody did the thing that did the illustrations of... I saw yours. That's how I looked at... Mine were awful. I don't know who it thinks I am. So, I shared nothing. It was awful. But it is part of reality, and it does offer some benefits that consultants can certainly consider. And you still have to pay attention to it because your clients are potentially paying attention to it. I mean, I'm in healthcare and folks are paying attention to AI.

Jade Miller: Yeah, definitely. So, I think we have all these challenges, but there is ways that we can combat them. I think with the things with trust issues and settling into hybrid work life and all that kind of thing, being mindful of our communication. Being empathetic, and I mean, this is always what I harp on about, but putting people in the center of whatever it is that we're doing. And thinking about who you're talking to and thinking about what their needs are, and where they're at. Considering that we're all in this sort of, it feels crazy times. We're all in this time together. So, being more community-minded and connection-minded and empathetic, and including that in the way that you communicate, relaxing things a little bit and not being so corporate speak.

Deb Zahn: Oh, please, please. Can we bold and italicize that? I think that would just be awesome. Because particularly, and I want to say this for consultants who are trying to get business, I mean, I think it's true for anybody. You're trying to get business, turn off the consulting speak. Clients hate it. Hate. I mean, corporate world has its own speak. I understand that. I used to be in it. We made a bingo card for it. But they want to hear you use plain language because they want a person-to-person connection. And you talk about that. You talk about, not networking but relationships. And nothing will distance people faster than using jargon that is meant to distance.

Jade Miller: Yeah. And I think people just don't get it. If you know you know. But people just don't quite comprehend that what they are serving up is really unpalatable.

Deb Zahn: It doesn't taste good.

Jade Miller: It doesn't taste good at all. You want something tasty and warm and delicious and friendly, not cold and sharp and harsh.

Deb Zahn: Well, and clients want that. They find it refreshing. I've actually had clients say to me, "I love the language you use because it's the language I use." And so I refuse to say level set. I refuse to say all of the terms that I guess consultants are supposed to say when we come off the assembly line. But you want to differentiate yourself and show up as a human being.

Jade Miller: That's right. I can really feel some synergies happening here, Deb.

Deb Zahn: Oh my gosh. Yeah, exactly. From 30,000 feet up. I'm probably dating myself because that was even a phrase 20 years ago when I was in the healthcare space, and I was just like, I cannot talk like that. It drives me crazy. I remember being on a call when I was on the employer side with a consultant, and he used nothing but jargon. And I'm really smart. I had no idea what he was talking about. I recognized those as words, but I didn't recognize how you put them together such that you wanted me to understand. So, it was very much he was trying to, I think, establish himself as somebody who knows because he's using insider language, but he didn't recognize he was talking to someone who is not an insider, and really just wanted to comprehend what he was saying. Needless to say, he did not get the gig.

Jade Miller: Yeah, fair. I think it's just a bit, it's like words, but no meaning. What is your meaning? What do you actually mean by KPIs and synergies, and all of that jargon stuff? What does that really mean? What does that mean for a human?

Deb Zahn: Oh, humans. Always put humans at the center and you will do very well as a consultant. I like that.

Jade Miller: Absolutely. Absolutely.

Deb Zahn: And we're going to put a link to the show notes to this overview you did of communication because I actually think it's really important for consultants to think about communication because it's how you get business; it's how you do business. It relates to everything that we do. But what are some of the other things that you do? So, you do these really cool illustrations that put the heart and meaning into what people are trying to describe. What else do you do that helps people communicate?

Jade Miller: Yeah. So, I can help facilitators to capture the outcomes of workshops. So, I can capture notes by scribing. And then people have, at the end, or during the process, there's something of a centerpiece for people to have a look at. People are very engaged. Like you say, they love it. They love looking at it. It sparks discussion. So, if you're facilitating a workshop, I think it's hard to facilitate and be engaged with the people as well as capturing accurate and really meaningful outcomes. So, I'm sort of a support person for someone who's leading and facilitating. And I think that is invaluable. That gives people something tangible after the workshop. It gives talking points, it sparks conversations, and further discussions, and then embedding whatever it is that you're trying to achieve. So, that's something that I do as well.

And then I run workshops, creative workshops for people. I love getting people creative. So, it makes me really happy to see people happy when they're doing something like painting. So, I do paint and sip workshops or drawing workshops, things like that. People always say, "I can't draw." They always start off with this, "I'm not creative. I don't have a creative bone in my body." And I'm like, "Nonsense. No, that's not true. I will get it out of you." And then by the end, people are drawing and they're having a good time. And even if they're not, I try to just get people to leave their expectations and just play. Just have fun. And it does something within people that brings joy, and it just awakens something up. Yeah, I really enjoy doing that. It's fun.

Deb Zahn: I love that. As someone who likes to play with paint, I completely understand that. I mean, talk about a great way to refresh yourself. And the beauty of a hybrid virtual world is, you were talking about helping facilitators, is they don't have to be in Australia where you are to be able to do that. That can happen anywhere.

Jade Miller: Yeah, that's right. I can do it digitally on a Zoom call. I can be on the Zoom call with the camera on and capturing notes. Or I can just be there to capture notes, and then present afterward whatever outcomes come out of it. But also in person in Australia, I'm available to do that. Based in Brisbane. Yeah.

Deb Zahn: Because it's a big country.

Jade Miller: Yeah, it's huge. Yeah.

Deb Zahn: That's great. So, where can folks find you?

Jade Miller: Yeah, so And I'm on LinkedIn, if you search Jade Miller. I'm sharing quite a bit of stuff on LinkedIn, trying to increase a bit of a profile there as we do. And on my website, yeah, there's contact details. Or you can message me via LinkedIn. I'd love to hear from you.

Deb Zahn: That's great. And I will have all of that in the show notes. And I will also have a link again to the future of communication that you spelled out because I thought that was fabulous. So, let me ask you my last question. All this fabulous balance you have in your life, how do you get that? And we know each other, so I have to ask it that way.

Jade Miller: I don't really think that balance is real. I don't think it's possible. So, this year I've decided that I'm going to write a book. So, this week I've been investing in coming up with a structure and really putting a lot into that, which means other things drop off, like the cleanliness my house, or I didn't go for a walk. You just have to shift your energy from thing to thing. And I have a lot of things that I shift my energy in between, so there's no way I can juggle them all at the same time. I just have to try and focus on one thing at a time.

But the struggle is real. And I think actually, a thing that keeps me maybe balanced or grounded is just connection with people. Having really good friends to vent with, to share ideas with, to help as well. Sometimes I'll be in a bit of a funk, and someone will need me, and that will get me out of my funk and I'll go and help someone else. So, I think that community and connection is probably a really good foundation for finding any sort of balance if it exists.

Deb Zahn: I love it, and I'm really excited to read your book. So, yes, don't worry about the dishes, get the book so that I can read it. That sounds great. Well, Jade, I want to thank you so much for being on. And again, we were talking about visual elements. So, in the show notes and on my website and when we promote this on LinkedIn, we'll have examples so people can see it. So, you can be as wowed as I am, but I want to thank you for being on the podcast, but I want to thank you for making me look good in front of my clients. That's priceless.

Jade Miller: Anytime, Deb. Anytime.

Deb Zahn: Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up in a lot of other great content and I don't want you to miss anything.

But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is, one is if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those. And then the last thing is, again, if you've gotten something out of this, share it. Share it with somebody you know who's a consultant or thinking about being a consultant, and make sure that they also have access to all this great content and all the other great content that's going to be coming up.

So, as always, you can go and get more wonderful information and tools at Thanks so much. I will talk to you on the next episode.

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