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Knowing What To Capture as a Graphic Recorder: part one – the Strategy

“How do you know what to capture??”

It’s a common question I’m asked as a graphic recorder: how, out of everything that happens and is said in the room, does a graphic recorder know what to capture?
It’s been a difficult process to understand and explain.  After all, it’s one thing to say “I listen deeply to what’s going on in the room, then some magic stuff happens between my ears, and stuff pops out onto the page.”  But it’s not particularly helpful to understand how I approach a project.  And how I approach a project is to “Listen on Purpose.”
Now, when I say “on Purpose,” I don’t mean “intentionally.”  Rather, “on Purpose” means “on point.”  It means listening with the purpose of the session in mind.  Well, that and a bit more.  Over these next three blog posts we’ll look at knowing what to capture as a graphic recorder through three different lenses:
Part 1: The Strategy, or “Listening on Purpose as Content Strategy”
Part 2: The Actions, or “Knowing What to Capture”
Part 3: The Magic, or “Zen and the Art of Listening on Purpose”
Let’s get started, shall we!

Listening on Purpose as Content Strategy

You could say that “Listening on Purpose” is a graphic recorder’s content strategy.  Yep, content strategy isn’t just for websites and writers!  After all, as content strategist Ginny Redish says, “content strategy” is simply thinking strategically about your content.
And in the graphic recording world, content is king.
Instead of capturing whatever I want when you want with whatever messages I want, all the content on my graphic recording is part of an overall event plan.   My recordings are created with an eye toward aligning the content of those recordings with the purpose and goals of the event.

Grounded in Purpose

Let’s say, just for example, that we’ve been asked to create a graphic recording of a meeting.  (Hooray!)  It’s essential to clarify the purpose of the meeting up front, as that informs our content strategy as graphic recorders… and which listening “lenses” we will bring into play as we work.
Why is this client calling the meeting in the first place?

  • Here to set the strategy?  We won’t need to focus our listening on all the little details up front.  To capture strategy our focus is on the bigger picture at first… then the details.
  • Here to build the team?  Weaving together all voices becomes important, then.
  • Here to solve a problem?  We’ll need to clearly define and understand what exactly that problem is before we can move on to solving it.
  • Here to inspire action on the client’s message?  Capturing the excitement and motivation along with key takeaways and a call-to-action may become more important than focusing on the details.

Of course, as practitioners we listen closely the entire time we’re working… so we know when it’s appropriate to change lenses in service to our client and reflect back exactly what the team is needing in that moment.
So at this point, we’ve got a decent understanding of the purpose of the event and how we’re going to approach listening for content.  But how does that translate into action as one creates a graphic recording?

Part Two: the Actions, or “Knowing What to Capture”


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  • Posted by Jeannel
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Greetings again Jeannel, I hope this finds you well! This series is so "aha" for me , thanks! I have had great difficulty breaking out of monotone text when practicing on my white-board listening to audio. I now realize, like reading a good book, "What is the purpose" and that helps focus things better! ( I am also planning to sign up for some water-colour painting classes, for recreation, and also to stimulate my graphic observations in quick, measured ways ). Hope all is going well for the big IFVP bash! Regards, Phil Mizener

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