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Karina begins the backbone of thoughts from a break out session re-cap. She worked quickly and filled it in with colors and images as we talked. Photo Credit: Emily Troisi

Topic: Meetings / Events Type: Tools / Resources

A Different Kind of Note-taking: Using Art to Capture Conversation

Authors: Emily Troisi

In June I attended the Resilient Communities pre-conference in Boulder, Colorado. While there was great conversation, learning and networking, one thing really stood out to me from the day: the graphic recorder. Karina Mullen Branson of ConverSketch stood up front and center, drawing and coloring as the participants exchanged ideas. As someone who spends a good amount of time taking notes at meetings, I really appreciated this creative way to capture conversation.

“Graphic recording is a way to tap your group deeper into the content they’re listening to or discussing because participants are not only hearing the information, but also seeing it emerge right in front of them visually,” said Karina. Graphic recording also synthesizes and shows connections between ideas, which illuminates what is most important to the group.

An incomplete recording from the first session of the day. Later on it served as a great reminder of the concepts we talked about as we went through the day. Credit: Emily Troisi

An incomplete recording from the first session of the day. Later on it served as a great reminder of the concepts we talked about as we went through the day. Photo Credit: Emily Troisi

When asked about the benefits of using a graphic recorder, Karina explained, “research shows that using two or more learning modalities increases the amount of information that is retained, and if an emotional connection is made, even more of a memory is formed. With graphic recording, we’re using visual, auditory, written and kinesthetic modalities, and I try to incorporate humor as much as possible…”

I was completely captivated as I watched Karina use words and pictures to record what was being said. As she explained to me, a graphic recorder can help people see how their ideas fit into the bigger picture, and which ideas keep coming to the forefront of the discussion. “This has two advantages” she said, “people feel validated and know they have been heard, therefore feeling more engaged with the conversation; and seeing ideas in front of them allows participants to let go of remembering who said what and focus on drawing connections and seeing systems instead.”

I was curious if all graphic recorders take the same approach, but Karina said it really depends on the artist. “On the surface, each person has their own particular style, so the colors, brightness, or level of detailed illustration will be different depending on the individual(s) doing the graphic recording,” she explained, but noted that, “any good graphic recorder should be able to listen and synthesize key themes regardless of familiarity with the content.”

I asked Karina for a few tips for working with a graphic recorder, and she gave me some helpful advice:

  1. Make sure that a graphic recorder is right for your event. “Graphic recording is great for presentations, panel discussions, question-and-answer sessions, report-outs and group conversations ranging from strategic planning to brainstorming. It’s not as helpful when report-outs are rapid fire, groups already have a list of ideas on a flip chart, or content is already covered in slides (although it can be fun to compare slides with what a graphic recorder comes up with).”
  2. Decide if you want a recorder who knows your context. “If you have someone who is familiar with your field or organization, they will more easily be able to pick up on internal lingo or understand organizational structure more deeply. However, having someone who is not familiar with the field can be beneficial, depending on the goals of the meeting, because they’re able to surface underlying assumptions, do not know about politics in the group, and are a fresh set of ears and eyes to offer different ways of looking at ideas or information.”
  3. Work with the recorder to structure your agenda. “A pre-event phone call is often very helpful so the graphic recorder can understand your goals and expectations for the event, and to answer any questions you may have. Putting together a process that includes breaks in new content for the graphic recorder [will] allow them to spend some time illustrating and adding to what they’re capturing during report outs and discussions. Small group break outs that come back and report are very helpful.”
  4. Make sure your recorder can be seen. “During the event, it is strongly encouraged to have the graphic recorder set up somewhere they can be seen by the entire group. Remember, what they are doing is reflecting what is discussed, so it is not distracting participants, but fueling them with more ways to engage with the content and other participants.”
  5. Make sure you have the space for them. “Graphic recording is done LIVE and LARGE, so it’s helpful to have a smooth, flat surface at least 10 feet long and 4 feet tall for the graphic recorder to set up on. Many graphic recorders will have portable walls they can use in a pinch.”
  6. Have fun with it!

I walked away from the meeting with a picture of the conversation in my head and super-excited to share the photos I took of what we had talked about that day. As opposed to note-taking on flip charts, “another benefit of having a graphic recorder is that a really interesting and beautiful summary of the event [is] created.” Karina noted that with this technique, “participants can easily share what they learned with others after the event by talking them through the graphic recording. This carries the momentum created at the event forward and builds a sense of ownership and continuity long after the time the graphic was created.”

Writers note: A huge thank you to Karina for taking the time to talk with me about graphic recording and letting me share images of her work at the Resilience pre-conference.

6 thoughts on “A Different Kind of Note-taking: Using Art to Capture Conversation”

  1. Rebecca Samulski says:

    On our way back from Santa Fe’s FAC network conference, we were talking about the possibility of enhancing our vision by developing a graphic vision. I’ve participated in graphic visioning processes before, but this makes me excited about the idea again. I can see how this would be helpful for other meetings, but I’ve only ever seen it for visioning. Thanks for sharing the inspiration.

    1. Emily Troisi says:

      Thank Rebecca! I was so excited the whole time. I thought it was such a neat technique for enhancing meetings. I could see it being useful for specific exercises like visioning as well.

  2. Bill Trimarco says:

    What a great way to share ideas! I’ve heard of it before and hopefully the idea will spread. Not to mention how much this could benefit some of our “starving artists”.

  3. Brett Holt says:

    One of the principals of a planning firm I use to work for put out a book on meeting facilitation and, specifically, this technique of graphic design to help facilitate the meeting. They would teach us how to do it, even how to hold the markers in your hand so you could easily access them throughout the meeting. When used correctly, this is an excellent way to engage your audience. I’m sure there are other books on the topic, but this is one I know of:
    http://www.amazon.com/Meeting-Minds-Guide-Successful-Facilitation/dp/0944661300

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