To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing

In this second post on the same topic, I will deepen my answer to the question “How to start with an empty blank page when taking live visual notes?

In my previous post “How to use space in graphic notes“, I explain what you can do to prepare yourself before an event to feel more comfortable with the practice of taking visual notes.

Much before the drawing skills, the logistic, and before any other practical aspect, what will really influence the outcome of your work is the quality of your presence and the quality of your listening.

Presence and listening

Quality of your presence

You really need to be fully present when taking live visual notes at an event. Firstly, this means that you have to be connected as much as possible with all of “you”, with who and with what you are. Simplifying it a little bit, you need to access both sides of your brain and let them work together. Or – I prefer to say it like that – let the two sides of your brain “make love” in you. You need also to be connected with the surrounding world. This last point seems obvious but if your focus is on the choice of the marker’s color or on your space consumption on the paper sheet….you risk to not being connected with what is happening around you, and with what is said.

What is said? What is really said and what do I hear?

Quality of your listening

Like with traditional text notes, how you listen and to what you listen will bring you to very different results. Except that with visuals, the difference will be felt even more than with just text.

I recommend the following material from experts to know more about “Listening”:

4 Levels of Scribing

Listening is good for you: Four steps to mastering active listening

A better presence and a better listening

The quality of both your presence and your listening will greatly influence your ability to take visual notes and, finally, your outcomes. Therefore it is worth to prepare yourself a minimum before you start. Some minutes before you jump on your markers, take the time to do some exercises of meditation, or mindfulness, or yoga, or relaxation. Whatever can help you is welcome. And if nothing comes to you, just try to close your eyes, breathe slowly and deeply, and have at least 10 of these breaths.

Last but not least…

The more you will practice, the better!

My last recommendation is to start to practice as soon as possible, then to practice and to practice again.

I would like to conclude with two quotes. First is this Pablo Picasso’s answer to the question whether ideas come to him “by chance or by design”:

“I don’t have a clue. Ideas are simply starting points. I can rarely set them down as they come to my mind. As soon as I start to work, others well up in my pen. To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing… When I find myself facing a blank page, that’s always going through my head. What I capture in spite of myself interests me more than my own ideas.”

Then – to keep you from believing that the Picasso’s reference implies that we treat art here – this Mike Rohde‘s quote applicable to all visual notes in general:

“Sketchnotes are about capturing and sharing ideas, not art. Even bad drawings can convey good ideas.”


Related post: “How to use space in graphic notes


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How to use space in graphic notes

Sketchnotes How to organise space in graphic notes
There are no magical rules to succeed! Only practice will help you to capture the essence of a speech, a presentation, a training, in… a short amount of time and space!

The practice consists in listen for key ideas, then recognize verbal cues that best identify these ideas and quickly replicate them through drawings and visual elements.

Preparation is key! What can you do in advance?

  • Get as much information as possible on…
    • the agenda: timing, talk points, breaks, etc, everything is precious
    • the speaker(s): background, photo, speaking style and pace
  • Prepare a library of possible icons and visuals on the subject by drawing them on a piece of paper from internet or Bikablo books
  • Prepare your sketchnotes:
    • Title, date, place, name of the speaker, twitter account/website, etc
    • You can sketch the speaker from a photo, the location (Paris, Bxl, NY), etc
    • Any footer with your signature?
    • If you are sure, you can already draw lines with a pencil to divide the available space in sections

Before the start

  • Choose a strategic place:
    • To have a clear view [then not the back of the room, nor the first row]
    • Comfortable enough to have your bloc-note and pens handy
  • Like an athlete before a competition, put yourself in the right mental condition:
    • Connect with yourself, with all your means, with your imagination and your fantasy
    • Don’t be afraid, your role is not produce a full transcript [minutes takers are there for that, or not, not you]
    • You can miss elements, don’t worry, your intuition will support you
    • Breathe calmly and relax you
  • Divide your paper in sections corresponding to the schedule but be VERY CAREFUL with that:
    • Speakers are unpredictable:
    • It’s better to capture what they really say, instead of anticipating what they had planned to say
    • Don’t numbered in advance their points, they can skip a point to stay in time or they can forgot to mention it
  • Remember that no law requires that your work is to be confined in one single page

Let’s go

  • Depending on your skills/mood of the day, you can prefer to work in monochrome or using more colours (a maximum of 4 colours is recommended by Brandy Agerbeck). You can also postpone full colourisation for after the event and use my guide How to colour your drawings in 10 steps
  • Depending on your preparation or intuition, you can opt for one of these models:
    • Linear which is the most common, easiest, more secure. It can spread on several pages with a typical start from the top-left corner, then continue to the bottom or to the right
    • Modulus like mind-map or web. Typical start from the center, use of lines to connect containers, any kind of lines and containers
    • Grid like in comics
    • Clouds
    • Columns
    • Timeline
    • Random
      Sketchnotes How to organise space in graphic notes
  • Stay focused on the main message and try to discard details that don’t reinforce it
  •  Forget to capture everything, that’s not the goal. What matters are your takeaways about what you considered important
  • Note great quotes like tweets, represent them visually
  • Draw simple objects in wire mode, especially people, you can come back on them later
  • Use a pencil to write keywords on which you can come back later
  • Use post-its (I use plenty of post-its)

Beforehand practice

  •  Search on sites like RSA, TED.com, Coursera for a short but inspiring speech and sketch it
    • Do it alone, or better… with others in order to compare, explain, confront your ideas [community of practice principles]
  • Build your own visual library by drawing in a sketchbook your icons to represent real objects like cup, pencil, doors, etc, and more abstract concepts like collaboration, idea, planning, etc.

Related post: To know what you’re going to draw, you have to begin drawing
In this second post, I expand my answer by talking about the importance of presence and listening.


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I like silence to focus

13 December 2017, it’s a quarter past twelve. I am alone in a still empty conference center. I have the feeling of a cold and too big space. I don’t like that feeling before the start of a 2-day event where more than 150 communicators coming from all over Europe should engage into conversations about next year comm’s actions. The waterspouts that pound the ground and the stormy wind outside the large windows reinforce my feelings. My colleagues of the European Commission, Anne and Matteo, who organise the meeting should arrive soon. Participants and speakers will arrive in a couple of hours. Few time to change my feelings into another reality.

Silently I observe the large room. Its configuration. Hundreds of empty chairs around the lectern. The large screen on the wall shows a big Windows blue logo. Silence. I note that the walls are not suitable for drawing. Bad. I note that there is a lot of space available and the room is bright. Good.

I use the silence to focus. To center myself. To sense the space around me, its nuances. I try to sense what can follow. How my work as graphic recorder can help participants to enter more deeply into the topics that will be presented. How it can encourage them to open their minds and take an active part in conversations.

This reflection convinces me even more that I have to be visible; I will be in front of the audience. My visuals have be visible from afar; I will draw big. I have to try to warm up the atmosphere and minds; I will use warm colours.

With the help of a worker, who popped up at the right moment, we find large wooden panels in the stock. We install them against the wall in front of the audience, on the left of the large screen and of the lectern. From my position I can connect with the speakers and with participants. I install a roll of paper 4 meters long on the wooden panels.

Setup for graphic recording at the INFORM meeting

With a string, I hang on a corner of the panel a little snowman doll (to be disruptive, not to be too serious, and also because the holiday season is approaching).

My markers and pastels are ready. The setup is ready. I feel ready. What will happen is the best that should happen.

My colleagues enter the room. Participants some time later. The meeting starts.

Graphic recording: INFORM meetingClick the picture to enlarge it

Graphic recording: INFORM meetingClick the picture to enlarge it

The next day, Catherine and Frederic, two colleagues-friends, come to help me in the graphic recording of the parallel sessions that I cannot cover.

Graphic recording: INFORM meetingGraphic recording: INFORM meetingGraphic recording: INFORM meeting
Click the pictures to enlarge them

At the end of the 2 days, we have filled up meters of paper with our graffiti, the visual essence of all presentations, discussions and debates.

Being present from the beginning of the meeting, I have a huge fresco that sums up the two days:

Graphic recording: INFORM meeting
Click the picture to enlarge it

Have my intentions (those of the previous day before everything starts) been reached?

I don’t know. But the comments that participants, speakers, my colleagues, shared with me during and after the event, make me think so. As well as the smiles and the sparkling eyes of some people (like Agnès, my boss) in front of the fresco.

I’m happy. Catherine and Frederic, my friends graphic harvesters, too. Anne and Matteo, my colleagues, too. A great collaboration.

I feel happy and grateful for what happened.

 

Notes:

The meeting brought together the two networks of communicators in Europe of EU Cohesion Policy, INFORM and INIO, and the expert groups of programme communication officers from two DGs of the European Commission, DG REGIO and DG EMPL. It took place in the Mons International Congress Xperience (MICS) on 13-15 December 2017. “Our graffiti”, the graphic harvesting material, are part of the final report that was shared with all participants. More than 80% of participants said in the satisfaction survey that graphic recording was useful for them.

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