The Art of Listening like a Graphic Recorder

Posted by on Sep 13, 2016 in blog, Graphic Facilitation, graphic recorder, Graphic Recording, scribing, visual facilitation

  “How do you know what to listen for?” It’s a common question I hear as a graphic recorder, and one that’s not always easy to explain! But over the years I’ve found there are key attributes to the art of listening in graphic recording or graphic facilitation. These listening skills can be applied to a wide variety of situations beyond graphic recording. Discussions between co-workers; conflicts between spouses; reading the news and wanting to understand the full perspective… strong listening promotes deeper discussions and solution-finding. So how does a graphic recorder listen? Listening starts before the meeting. Understanding the bigger systems at play – the context – allows you to listen with a broader perspective. Prior to a meeting, I research the topics being discussed, the culture of the organization(s), and the “bigger picture” beyond the meeting such as overarching goals of the organization, external pressures, etc. This pre-research forms a foundation for open and deep listening – it influences the choices I make when graphic recording, the images and metaphors I use, and the overall layouts and frameworks for the charts. Listening requires neutrality. Having said that, no one can truly be neutral. But a strong listener aims to set aside his or her personal opinions in order to be as open as possible to understanding the speaker and recognize how the speaker’s viewpoint fits into the bigger picture. I have graphic recorded many meetings where conflict bubbled – no, geysered! – to the surface. And sometimes my opinion is in direct conflict with what a speaker is saying. But my opinion doesn’t matter – I’m there to listen and organize the discussion so people can work through challenges. If I’m unable to set aside my opinions, then I should not be graphic recording the meeting. Listen beyond the loudest voice in the room. Sometimes listening to what is unsaid is more important than what is said. I once graphic recorded an executive meeting for a large company. Of the thirty people in the room, one man spent the majority of the time expressing his opinion. He had a clear idea about a direction for the company. However, it was evident through the body language around the room that the majority of people disagreed… or at the very least had opinions that were going unsaid. I knew there were ideas being held back, so I saved ample space for them on the graphic recording. Mr. Soapbox’s opinions were not captured as large and as bold on the graphic recording as his voice would have the room believe. When he said “we need to cut costs on this project,” and people shifted in discomfort, I added a question mark: “we need to cut costs on this project… ?” Later in the day someone spoke up, gently challenging him, raising a counter-argument. The space I held for the rest of the group soon filled...

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Interactive Graphic Recording

Posted by on Jun 6, 2016 in blog, Graphic Facilitation, graphic recorder, Graphic Recording, scribing, visual facilitation

Meetings can be host to a large number of participants from various industries, backgrounds, and perspectives… how do you encourage people to engage with the topics being presented instead of being idle observers? How do you capture the thoughts of 200+ participants? Or 400+? Graphic recording enhances meetings in many ways – from capturing speakers’ presentations to designing custom graphics to help guide a discussion. But graphic recording can also be interactive, even with a large number of participants! Gathering Group Ideas This spring I was invited to Toronto to graphic record IBM’s conference on HR and the Cognitive Era. With three hundred participants, IBM wanted to gather key themes and ideas on this “new age” of business – how artificial intelligence influences work in HR. We set up the engagement graphic recording in a common area where people could reflect on it over coffee and lunch. Throughout the day, participants submitted their ideas on a note card, which were then sifted through and organized into key themes. We weren’t looking to capture every last comment, as many ideas overlapped or could be consolidated into one. Over the course of the conference, I filled in the graphic recording until we had a clear overview of people’s thoughts! Graphic recording by @drawingoutideas: How does cognitive HR change the purpose of your work? -AG #HR #PowerUpHR pic.twitter.com/tEYkgN5xLa — IBM SmarterWorkforce (@IBMSmtWorkforce) May 17, 2016 Hands-On Approach Pretio Interactive is a Victoria tech start-up known for their innovation and creative approach to work. Last summer they hosted a networking event, Spring Into Start-Up, for the Victoria tech sector; about ninety people from various tech backgrounds were invited. Pretio approached me about having an interactive graphic recording… something people could physically touch and engage with while showing the “big picture” of the local tech scene. Our hands-on approach was a huge hit! Each attendee first took a polaroid of themselves (holding their favourite tech-themed object!). The polaroids were then attached to the border of the graphic recording and ribbons were used to connect the person to different parts of the tech landscape. The resulting 4ft x 10ft graphic was an impressive perspective on the tech landscape. People were excited to see how their ribbons overlapped and sometimes surprised by who shared their connections. A true networking event! (I was also honoured to be selected by Tectoria as “Tectorian of the Week” for my work at this event!) Tips for a Successful Interactive Graphic Recording Prepare prompt questions in advance — “what excites you about ____?” “what are you concerned about?” Know what information you want to gather from people and have these questions displayed on the graphic recording or on a sign board next to it. This helps focus participants when you want to curate feedback from a broad audience. Assign a Helper — the graphic recorder’s strength is in synthesizing the information and organizing it into...

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How Graphics Facilitate Strategic Work

Posted by on Feb 16, 2016 in blog, Graphic Facilitation, graphic recorder, Graphic Recording, scribing, visual facilitation

There are two general terms for translating a meeting discussion into visuals in real-time: Graphic recording – the meeting is captured by a graphic recorder, who is dedicated to listening, synthesizing, and organizing the content into visuals and text. Graphic facilitation – the meeting is facilitated by one person who simultaneously uses graphics to help guide the discussion and organize action items. Often pre-designed charts are used – these large scale templates help focus the group. I operate as a hybrid of the two – graphic recording the discussion, and closely involved in planning the graphic templates that will help guide the discussion. For example, most of my work is strategic planning with boards and executive teams. This includes working through complex discussions around mission, vision, values – intangible items that at first seem simple, yet are so crucial to the direction of an organization and difficult to pin down. Which is why a hybrid of graphic recording & graphic facilitation is the most valuable to strategic planning work. This hybrid approach means I’m working closely with the meeting facilitator in the weeks leading up to a strategic session. We plan the best way graphics can support the meeting depending on the objectives, the stakeholders in the room, and the difficult discussions that might come up. There are numerous templates that can be used to help guide the group and ensure the focus remains on the “big picture.” Planning layouts for a strategic session — these rough sketches are refined with input from the meeting organizer and/or facilitator. A simple template used to help a group focus on concrete actions during the coming year. The above template is free for download and use in your next meeting! Of course, graphic templates are designed for what will work best for the group. The same approach won’t work for a multi-million dollar pharmaceutical company as it does for a small non-profit organization (see my recent blog post on designing metaphors for strategic planning). The meeting benefits greatly from this hybrid approach. The facilitator is supported by carefully selected graphic templates, and he/she can focus completely on guiding the group through their work. Meanwhile, the graphic recorder is dedicated to deep listening & synthesis of the discussion, but has a much more involved role because of the pre-planning with the facilitator and customized graphic templates. As one of my clients recently remarked, “it’s the difference between tacking on graphic recording last-minute and getting a “pretty picture” at the end of the meeting, versus having the graphic recorder deeply involved in the objectives, with a keen understanding of the issues. I was floored by the difference this made in our strategic...

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Metaphor and Graphic Recording

Posted by on Jan 19, 2016 in blog, Graphic Facilitation, graphic recorder, Graphic Recording, scribing, visual facilitation

Strategic planning is a complicated process that takes time and deep discussion. It’s not easy for an organization or company to step back from itself and see the big picture or grapple with intangibles like vision, mission, and values. This is why developing an overarching metaphor to frame the discussion can be so effective. Stories are the most powerful form of communication and learning. We surround ourselves with stories: blockbuster movies, novels, news articles, plays. The most successful movie franchises all have a powerful story at their core (Star Wars, Harry Potter, Toy Story).  And it goes beyond entertainment – stories allow us to step outside our day-to-day lives. They teach us about ourselves and open our minds to new perspectives. Re-framing the work It’s not easy to reflect on a company’s challenges or opportunities when you’re working day-to-day “in the trenches.”Metaphor frames the strategic planning as a story and allows people to take a step back and gain new perspective. It’s a neutral and safe place to have tough discussions. For example, mountain climbing is a common metaphor used when graphic recording a strategic session. What small peaks can we reach on the way to Everest? What tools and climbing gear are needed? Who is leading us to the first peak? What are the avalanche conditions and how can we prepare for them? Example graphic recording using mountain metaphor (confidential information has been removed or blurred). Tailor to the group Some people may be skeptical of framing the work in this way – they may feel it’s juvenile, a waste of time, not the “real work.” Of course, metaphor can be overused and it’s important to strike the right tone with the group you’re working with. Some groups are more receptive to working this way; others prefer a lighter touch of metaphor. However, the power of metaphor is undeniable. It’s a non-threatening way of assessing a company’s strategy and it’s surprisingly effective at pulling the nay-sayers into the discussion. Anchor the intangibles Finally, metaphor anchors intangible items like mission, vision, values, and quarterly actions into an engaging visual that everyone is more likely to review in future. It allows people to see interconnections between team members, how resources support the yearly goals, and gets people excited about their work. I’ve used a variety of metaphors in graphic recording – from the traditional mountain climb, to canoeing down a river, space travel, sailing, and building a house… just to name a few! Try it at your next meeting and see how metaphor can transform strategic...

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Research & Cultural Sensitivity in Graphic Recording

Posted by on Jul 2, 2015 in blog, Graphic Facilitation, graphic recorder, Graphic Recording, scribing, visual facilitation

I was graphic recording at a recent scientific research conference and a woman remarked to me: “How do you know what to draw? You must really know our industry!” It’s a question I’m asked often — how do I choose the right images? How do I follow along with a complex industry discussion? What if I offend someone with what I’ve drawn? Research There’s a school of thought among some facilitators that it’s best to go into a meeting “knowing just enough to be dangerous.” In other words, doing just enough research before a meeting to have a basic understanding of the topic. All meetings are pretty much the same, right? Knowing “just enough” before going into a meeting is like an architect knowing “just enough” about a company’s needs before designing their building. Prior to a full-day meeting I spend 2-3 days researching the topics being discussed and the people in the room. Having a fulsome understanding of the discussion topics allows me to move quickly with the discussion and make connections between ideas when I’m graphic recording. I’ll have a strong sense of what stakeholders are struggling with and what their goals are. Research also ensures I understand the industry terminology (especially if it’s a technical conference for engineers!).  The graphic recording should be an authentic reflection of the industry and work, so including accurate imagery and knowing how to spell specific terms and acronyms makes a difference in people connecting with the graphic recording. Cultural Sensitivity Every organization or community has a culture and I adjust my graphic recording to align with it. Often this means working closely with the meeting planner to understand their organization’s culture and what may or may not be appropriate to draw. For example, I worked with an environmental organization that uses a lot of data and statistics to back up their work. They needed a graphic recording that was accurate, in a straight-forward layout (see “Layout Preparation” below), with clear text and not too image-heavy. This isn’t an organization that would respond well to a graphic recording that is whimsical or overly playful — it’s not their organizational culture. I’ve also been honoured to work with many BC First Nations (Haida Nation, Tk’emlúps, Kitsumkalum, Hagwilget, Gitanmaax, to name a few), and it’s important to respect that each community has their own unique culture, perspective, and history. First Nations art and storytelling is very visual, with an emphasis on metaphor and respectful listening. Graphic recording at its core is about listening and reflecting on a discussion, and using metaphor (often nature or land related for First Nations discussions) to amplify ideas. Layout Preparation The final cornerstone in preparing is the planning of layouts for the graphic recording. This is especially effective for strategic planning meetings where the group intends to develop a vision, values, or action plan. Utilizing a layout to...

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