I've never had particularly strong spatial abilities; I nearly flunked geometry in the ninth grade. Even today I probably couldn't find my way out of an origami-folded paper bag.

You too?

Meet Visio, the Office program that provides all the shapes, templates, and connectors (and all that stuff) so that you don't have to be geometrically or spatially inclined, and yet you can create drawings and documents that make you look like you are. People use Visio for a variety of projects, including network diagrams, calendars, flowcharts, office layouts, floor plans, and more.

Of course, you do have to learn a bit of the lingo, and here are some of the terms that I needed to learn before I could even get my feet wet.

## Shapes & stencils

A shape in Visio is like the cell in Excel: It's the building block of your drawings, your diagrams, your charts, and whatever else you're creating in Visio. It's a ready-made image that you drag onto your drawing page (the canvas where you work—like the document in Word or the spreadsheet in Excel). In fact, I like to think of the shape in Visio as an actor: It's designed to play a part, programmed to behave (act) a certain way depending on its context (the play, the production).

There are thousands of shapes available for you to use in Visio, not to mention countless ways to use them, and this course will help you get started: Shapes I: Introductory basics you can't live without (online training about shapes).

When you think about stencils, perhaps you think about tools that enable you to make better drawings. A Visio stencil is simply a container for all your shapes; it's a collection of shapes, and all those shapes in a particular stencil have something in common. They can be a collection of shapes that you need to create a certain type of diagram. The image above shows some of the shapes in the Basic Shapes stencil.

For example, the Basic Flowchart Shapes stencil contains common flowchart shapes, the Backgrounds stencil contains a variety of backgrounds, and the Arrow Shapes stencil contains (oddly enough) a variety of arrow-shaped shapes.

## Drawings & diagrams

Okay, sure, we all know what drawings are (although not all of us can make them so that others can actually identify them—that'd be my stick drawings). In Visio, however, there are many different sorts of drawings, but they all start with a simple four-step procedure: 1) Pick a template (a flowchart, a floor plan, or an engineering template, for example); 2) add shapes from the template stencils to it; 3) add text to the shapes; and then 4) connect them in the ways that illustrate the point you're trying to make. Then show it off and make your point.

A diagram in Visio is basically a drawing. You use shapes such as triangles, squares, rectangles, and arrows to create drawings for any number of activities and processes you're trying to explain visually. You open a template, you drag your shapes onto the drawing page, and then you build your diagram by adding more and more shapes. As you build and fine-tune your diagram, you can rearrange, rotate, and resize your shapes; add backgrounds and colors; and so on. Here is a partial list of the types of diagrams you can create using Visio:

• Brainstorming diagrams
• Electrical engineering plans
• Maps
• Organization charts
• Process engineering plans
• Web diagrams

Consider a roomful of people about to embark upon a project, people who need to get their ideas on the table. What used to pass for a brainstorming session (which included a whiteboard or a legal yellow pad, not to mention many pairs of resentful, glazed-over eyes staring at you) is now pretty much obsolete. We now know that there are better ways to work together. Of course, every person has his or her own idea of how to get this project going. Luckily for this unique team, Visio's brainstorming diagrams offer a variety of ways for people to get their ideas on the table. With the shapes that the brainstorming diagrams offer, your session can incorporate the freewheeling, free-association thinking, round-robin brainstorming style, as well as the confidential, let's-write-it-down-on-our-own-pads-first-and-gather-later method. Any sort of diagram has the potential to be a conversation starter.

Create a diagram

This is really just the very beginning of what Visio can do. If you want to know more...I'll send you to more, but first take a look at what my cohort, David Salaguinto, does with Visio: He creates the Office OFFline Comics.

— Crabby

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