Hosting and harvesting online VS physical

On 5 May, Amy Lenzo (*) gave an online masterclass on “Hosting and harvesting online VS physical” to the community of practitioners of the Art of Hosting at the European Commission (**). My takeaways (actually apply to any online session):

“It’s not a question of technology, it’s a question of relationships” 

  • 90% of your experience, skills, practice as organiser of physical events can be transposed into online events. Reassuring, isn’t it?
  • The quality of your presence, trust and how you hold space, are just as important online as in the physical world
  • Never host alone an online session, be part of an hosting team
  • The hosting team must consist of at least one process host and one tech host (for all technical aspects) or more for large groups
  • The use of the camera is mandatory for speakers, and highly recommended for all participants (with muted mikes)
  • To keep participants’ attention, speakers can only use the visible/audible part of their body language: their face and their voice. Then, it’s crucial to smile with the whole face and to have a catchy tone and rhythm of voice
  • Keep in mind that everything is amplified online: your voice, your unconscious bias, space and time.
Hosting and harvesting online VS physical, graphic recording

This was also my first live graphic recording using the Procreate app (***). Only a few days after installing it on my tablet (it’s crazy, I know, but I like these challenges). My first learnings to start with Procreate:

  • Many years of experience with layers on Photoshop has helped me a lot. If you’re not familiar with layers, take time to learn how they work and to play with them
  • Select your fave brushes in advance. You can waste precious time looking for what you need during a live event. Mine were Technical pen, Acrylic and Wet Acrylic, and Hard Airbrush (I still have to learn how to have them available in one click)
  • Select your fave colours in advance for the same reason as for the tools (I still have to learn how to create my colour palette in advance)
  • Know the undo/redo gestures

(*) Amy Lenzo on LinkedinTwitter

(**) At the European Commission, the Art of Hosting is called the Art of Participatory Leadership

(***) https://procreate.art/ipad

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Teleworking mindfully

Being forced to work from home due to the coronavirus pandemic brought a lot of uncertainty, fear, big changes to our lives. Teleworking mindfully makes possible to live it better! This is the main message of an online session organised by my colleagues from the EC HR department.

Their presentation is based on the work of two extremely inspiring and inspired persons: the master of mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who described five stages of grief. (it fills me with joy to see how “we” rediscover the Elisabeth’s work during this coronavirus crisis).

Teleworking mindfully, sketchnotes
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What is visual thinking and what are its benefits

In this post, I explain what is a visual thinker and the benefits of using the visual approach for individuals, groups and managers. Originally, it was a document that I shared with my superiors and colleagues to help them better understand. Then I thought that everyone could benefit from it.


What do I mean by visual thinker?

Visual Thinking

As a visual thinker, I use a visual approach mainly during live events to allow you and your participants to anchor information, find patterns, make your ideas visible, establish connections and relationships between your ideas, and to ultimately make sense out of chaos or complexity. It also activates the emotional intelligence of people, not just the rational one. It consists mainly of combining hand-made graphic elements with texts and visual metaphors. Different techniques allow me to meet different needs and obtain different results.

What are my visual techniques?

Visual Thinking: visual practices

I use Graphic Facilitation and Graphic Co-creation as thinking tools for better discussions due to a different meeting setup. Both help people to find solutions, to innovate, to brainstorm, to reach consensus, to make decisions. Compared to the other techniques here below, the level of involvement of participants is high to very high in these two first techniques.

I use Graphic Recording to visually capture live the main message of conferences, meetings, or training. This helps participants to “see” their thoughts, to consider the topic being presented and discussed from another angle, and to better retain information and learning. Depending on the circumstances, I work on a large mural or on flip-charts.

The use of sketchnotes is quite similar to graphic recording in the sense that I also visually capture live what happens during an event. The difference lies in the paper size which is that of my notebook. Here participants don’t see my visuals directly (unless a camera projects my work on a big screen). I also use sketchnotes on many other occasions “just for me”, at work and at home. Whether it’s to organise my thoughts, to sketch a work planning or a process, for a to-do list or a grocery list, to plan my vacation, etc. Anyone can benefit from the practice of sketchnotes, and I guide those who wish during small learning sessions.

Linked data course skecthnotes

I use Visual Communication with hand-drawn illustrations to attract people’s attention incredibly. It gives more impact to your message, which is better understood and memorised by your audience. This is the technique with the lowest involvement level of the participants.

Visual support to the EC DG HR Away Day

On a smaller scale, I use visuals in my daily routine as a working tool to offer more efficiency to my colleagues. It helps to clearly represent complex processes, workflows, etc; to capture, modelize and structure association of ideas, also for problem solving and project management.

What are the benefits of visual thinking?

It’s not my goal to go through the benefits that neuroscience has long proven of hand-drawn visuals and you certainly know the power of using the visual, auditory, and kinesthetics’ senses in education. I will just mention the benefits of the visual approach that come from my direct experience.

Benefits for an individual

  • To grasp complexity better than reading a linear text 
  • Open your mind to other perspectives 
  • Stimulate your imagination and creativity 
  • Help better retain information and learning  
  • Being more present and focussed 
  • Have more fun working on serious, tedious, complex topics 

Benefits for a group or a team

  • Brings a new energy to the room that boosts collaboration and engagement (people realise this is not an ordinary event) 
  • The large format graphic helps participants to work together more effectively because:
    • they can “see” their ideas and what others are saying too
    • everyone can contribute, feel heard
    • the process and its progress is visible
  • The large format graphic creates also a neutral space that encourages the debate about ideas while it reduces interpersonal conflicts
  • Helps the participants stay focussed on the discussion (less distracted)
  • An individual can isolate himself from the group and think in front of the large format graphic
  • Brings more clarity and less ambiguity
  • Generates collective intelligence, creative and emotional intelligence 
  • Improves collective understanding of concepts and sharing of agreements. The group can get on the same page 
  • Allows to achieve emotional and deeply relevant results
  • The meeting report is created on the go.
    • It will hold the participants accountable for what they have said and decided
    • It will help them to remember and share their work with others 

Benefits for managers and the organisation

  • Powerful and effective tool 
  • Gives the image of a modern and positive leadership 
  • Better decision making and better shared decision making, both achieved much more effectively 
  • Enables to tap into the collective, creative and emotional intelligences of a group in order to:
    • Deal with complex issues 
    • Collect information to make informed decisions 
  • Meetings with fewer interpersonal conflicts and more debate about ideas 
  • Greater buy-in for visions, strategies, actions plans, decisions; better commitment to these and better appropriation for a sustainable change
  • Greater accountability for what is said and decided 
  • Promotion of a transparent communication 
  • Recognition to individual contributions and group consensus 
  • More motivated teams 
  • Brings fun into otherwise boring jobs, tasks, and meetings

Do you love stories?

A real story of disruptive and unconventional thinking that I told in an interview that is worth reading:

Some years ago, Robert Madelin was appointed  Director-General of DG INFSO and he requested major changes in the way the DG ran its intranet. To explain to him that we didn’t have enough time to apply all of them, given our available resources, I made our case to him with a quickly sketched story on paper, instead of a Powerpoint and Excel figures. Robert accepted our proposition because I was disruptive. I approached him with unconventional thinking. When I went to his office with a drawing, he said, ‘Oh my God, what is that?’ And when he looked closely, it helped him think differently about the problem. This for me was the opportunity to make my case and he accepted my explanation.

More examples

More examples of my work as visual thinker.

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Another happy graphic recording at the INFORM-INIO meeting

I was invited once again by my colleagues of DG REGIO, European Commission, to visually record the two-day meeting of the European funds communicators (the so-called INFORM-INIO networks). More than 250 communicators from across Europe gathered in the magnificent Augustinian cloister in Ghent, Belgium, to discuss the future of Cohesion Policy, learn and share the best practices to communicate the benefits of the EU funds to citizens.

Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium

I thank my colleagues for inviting me to each of the biannual meetings since 2017.

Since this first time we noticed, in the results of the after-event survey, that the graphic recording has become one of the most appreciated elements by participants. The many positive feedback I receive from them during the two days only confirm these results. It proves to me that hand-made visuals have a noticeable impact on people, combining emotions and information.

That all those who took the time to come and talk to me are also thanked.

See all my photos of the INFORM-INIO meeting and from the previous editions since 2014.

Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
Graphic recording of the INFORM-INIO meeting, Ghent, Belgium
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Ghent is “the most beautiful city in the world” said its mayor. Judge by yourself:

Awesome Ghent, Belgium

Read also my post at INFORM-INIO meeting in 2017.

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EU DataViz 2019

What a great experience it was to be graphic recorder at the “EU interinstitutional workshop on data visualisation” organised by Publications Office of the European Union on 13 November 2019 in Luxembourg. With Célia Pessaud, Catherine Focant, and Vincent Henin, we lively scribed the parallel sessions of the conference.

Graphic recording at EUdataviz 2019

It was exciting to visually scribe workshops and talks on data visualisation. We – graphic recorders and data visualisers – speak the same visual language, use the same visual grammar, rely on the same conviction that visuals are one of the most powerful mean to explain complex ideas. As as said to some speakers:

We find that there are many similarities between our practice of graphic recording and yours of data visualisation. If the raw data that you visualise is often – if not always – numbers, and more and more big data, for us, raw data is what is said and what is happening in the conference room. Both can be complex and be meaningless at first glance. Our common goal is then to make sense with what does not seem to have any, to offer this sense/meaning to our clients so that they can make good use of it, so that they can benefit from this knowledge unveiled with more clarity. One difference that I see between our practices is that while during the process of DataViz there is time to test and adapt the final visualisation (and it’s recommended by the speakers here), in the graphic recording process everything is done live on the spot: listening, then filtering, then summarising, then translation to the visual language. Without opportunity to test and adapt. 

To conclude

There are certainly synergies that can be established between our two communities to learn from each other’s. 

Graphic recording at EUdataviz 2019 Graphic recording at EUdataviz 2019 Graphic recording at EUdataviz 2019 Graphic recording at EUdataviz 2019

The day ended with a fascinating session on how #dataviz helps us to better “see” black holes. Big thanks to Barthélémy von Haller and Jeremi Niedziela from CERN and Oliver James from DNEG. They guided us through this wonderful journey from the smallest elements of quantum physics to the black holes and their representation in the Interstellar movie. Magnificent presentation that shows that synergies between science and art can increase our knowledge about the unknown.

Graphic recording at EUdataviz 2019 Graphic recording at EUdataviz 2019


More information about the conference with all graphic recordings of the team is available on op.europa.eu/en/web/eudataviz/home

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A “beautiful” encounter with David McCandless

I had the privilege to meet David McCandless, data journalist and founder of Information is Beautiful, at the European Commission 2019 #EUknowledge week.

David gave the opening keynote speech “Making complex knowledge meaningful – the power of data visualisation”. This is my live sketchnotes of his presentation.

Sketchnotes David McCandless

One of my colleagues summarised his speech as follow:

“We are engulfed in a sea of data. Using graphical images that everybody understands, helps to tell the story behind numbers. […] The story behind data doesn’t lie behind the numbers but in the message that the visualisation brings. […] Visualisation has the power of analysis, it turns data into a landscape that is ready for you to explore […] Data visualisation is like taking a photo, it brings into contrast what is in or out of focus, what is in the background, what is on the forefront. As a data journalist David feels close to photography journalism. You can zoom in or you can go wide to tell your story […] Visualisation unlocks what needs to be known, it gives clarity to big data.  […] To be better understood you convert to a visual language. When you can encode the message in visualisation you bring clarity and there is beauty in clarity. “

I am so happy and honoured that David signed my sketchbook with “Beautiful”. It means a lot to me from the man who wrote “Information is beautiful” and “Knowledge is beautiful“.

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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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