After returning from marathon graphic-recording sessions in Boston, I had some friends ask me how “all that doodling” went. So, I thought I’d just use photos to explain what the heck graphic recording is and what is involved in creating one.
A graphic recording is “documenting a group’s conversation and key ideas in real time on flip charts, large poster paper, graphic templates, murals, tablet PCs, and other visual media. Also known as ‘scribing.’” The definition is from the prestigious The Grove consultancy.
Before each event (for this post’s example, the event was “A Spirited Debate: Conversion Acquisition vs. Customer Development”), I prepped a very large foam board and put it on three easels lined up in the front right corner of the room (and riiiiight next to a loudspeaker).
The board needs vital components:
- the name of the presentation
- speakers’ names
- the date
- the name of the company putting on the event
- the name of the graphic recorder on the bottom right (In other graphic recordings, I ended up putting my Twitter handle because folks were snapping photos to tweet and asking me what my handle was.)
Once those elements are drawn, you then know how much space you have for the presentation itself, what size your lettering should be for subsequent images, etc. And the title can be a little more detailed and attractive than the session’s quick on-the-spot drawing.
My four-foot by eight-foot board looked like this at the beginning of the presentation:
My supplies were on a bar stool beside me. For the graphic recording, I used Sharpies flip chart markers (perfect for lightweight foam boards) and Sharpie highlighters. (I used a white label on the Sharpie flip chart markers so I could just grab one without having to read it or look for the label on it.)
Oh, I also had a cat sit on the bar stool. Yep, my daughter added the cat to my suitcase as a reminder of the family while I was on the road. So, Boston Cream Pie the Cat was near me to remind me to have fun, be playful, and relax.
After I got everything set up for the graphic recording, I said a couple of prayers, chugged water, fidgeted, and then made sure to hit the lavatory a hundred times because of all the water I chugged.
And I waited for the room to fill up. Which it did.
Images on My Mind
Because I knew the topic of the event, I had in mind several images for phrases that were bound to come up. (Having images in mind for key words and phrases help prevent freezing up in front of people.)
For example, conversion acquisition and customer development were the topics for debate, so I knew what I would draw for those words.
A Spirited Debate
Finally, the presentation began.
I immediately forgot about the crowd (and I assumed the audience forgot all about the black-clad gal in the corner and just listened to the interesting debate).
You can’t get self-conscious when you are focused almost completely on other people. You can’t think about the people in the audience when an almost blank board is in front of you.
And the graphic recording itself feels very close, intimate almost, like people whispering to one another in a crowd.
I felt like that because my mind was focused intently on Sam Fiorella and Jeff Wilson of Sensei Marketing. More than just using bionic hearing, I was in hyperlistening mode—listening specifically for rich, flavor-packed, image-inducing words and expressions, such as “You can only draw once from that well…”
And the importance of “balancing technology with your humanity….”
Listening is huge, absolutely huge, when graphic recording. Everything you will draw comes from what you hear.
As Sam Fiorella debated with Jeff Wilson, I felt so attuned to their words, pauses, phrasing. With the loudspeaker beside me, I felt like they were talking directly at me.
Meanwhile, I drew the key points, not stressing about perfection but focusing on engagement. I drew and drew, thinking in colors and fun and brightness and fonts, trying to make the words pop from the page.
My mind worked in the past, present, and future (just like the TARDIS). As the speaker debated a point, I’d sift through the words, grab an idea, and draw it. As I drew, I was still listening and sifting, and would grab another idea and hold it. It was like having a queue for “Important Points to Draw!”
When you are creating a graphic recording, you use every part of your mind. You have to think logistically (“How can an hour-long debate fit on this eight-foot board?”), artistically (“Do I have enough white space around the image so the color pops?”), critically (“Is this idea worth keeping in my notes?”) and even, in a sense, spiritually (because listening, as Sunni Brown said in a talk, is honoring the person, paying homage to the human spirit).
Taking visual notes in front of a ginormous, crowded room also teaches you to live in the moment. You have to expel the inner critic from your mind and just enjoy the entire process. You have to be like a kid at the art table, unfettered by criticism and just delighting in the experience.
Heck, I even considered the folks in the room as other kids who are listening to a fantastic story, too.
After the presentation, a Q&A took place.
Now, a presentation is different from the Q&A, though it requires the same skill set. A presentation follows a narrative, but a Q&A is more random. It jumps around without thought to symmetry on the paper or linear thinking. The Q&A’s lack of structure makes it exciting, and you get to fill up some empty spaces and balance out the board.
(And if you’re challenged by the exact image—say, you realize a chicken is difficult to draw—you can always write the words so the folks will see it and think, “Ah, chicken!” not “A sort of cardinal-y kinda bird.”)
I listened some more. Drawing. Sifting. Listening. Balancing. Creating.
The event ended.
I stepped back, studied the wok, filled in what needed to be filled in, looked at it and tried to view it as an attendee. Is the work filled with good food for thought, colorful images, and clear points? Is it something you want to take a picture of to remember the talk?
Fortunately, the answer was “yes.” Attendees came up and snapped photos of the visual sketch notes. Some folks talked to me about the graphic recording, and those moments were just brilliant. I loved hearing people’s take on the importance of visuals and doodles and the lost art of listening.
Best of all, speakers Jeff Wilson and Sam Fiorella were so wonderfully enthusiastic about the graphic recording. (The fact that their debate was engaging and helped immensely.) They spent time looking at the graphic recording to see what specific points of their debate I had captured in doodles.
The final graphic recording looked like this:
And that, my friends, is a peek into graphic recording.
(Special thanks, a beer, and an extra bowtie to Rob Larkin for the photos.)