Three Essential Tools To Be An Effective Storyteller
Three essential tools that helped me become an effective real-time visual storyteller.
I’ve been at this real-time graphic facilitation and recording (sometimes called scribing, or sketch-noting, or visual facilitation) career quite a while. How long? I ingratiated myself with my future employer MG Taylor by doing my Ross Perot impression at one of our first meetings (which was really just a lame rip-off of Dana Carvey’s if I’m being honest). What you see here are snippets from the same conference from various graphic boards that were created in real-time during the speaker sessions. They are examples of some of the most engaging tools a scribe has at their disposal: actors and motifs.
Actors are the characters or objects (in scribing even inanimate things can become actors, i.e. “talking buildings” and whatnot) that you utilize to help communicate ideas. When I first started my go to actors were “bean people”. I tend to believe actors in scribing work best when they are simple, versatile, and quick to draw. The key here is to keep them simple! I keep them simple for two reasons: 1) they can be sketched relatively quickly so you can fully use listening skills to concentrate on the dialogue you’re hearing and 2) sometimes characters that are too well defined can take away from the meaning of what you’re trying to convey. That last point is especially important when you’re creating visual models. For instance if you’re creating a model that requires people (e.g. org/responsibility model) you don’t want to draw characters that are realistic or even with defined facial features, unless showing a feeling is the actual intent of the model.
What ties everything together in the graphic at the beginning of this article is that I try to keep the visual motif going. The title of that particular event was “A Deep Dive on DevOps” and the client was using an old school deep-sea diver in all their materials. I expanded upon that theme by playing around with all sorts of oceanic imagery. You can increase the memorability of your scribing by using visual motifs to help communicate your ideas. Sometimes these motifs are client driven, but sometimes the scribe can come up with a motif on their own. I learned that last bit from my colleague Frances Gillard who was one of the best scribes I ever saw when it came to incorporating visual motifs.
Cartooning — (Ringo Starr is no actor)
Now you might be looking at the DevOps examples and saying, “but wait a minute! I get the scuba divers, but you drew the Yellow Submarine and Ringo Starr for Pete’s sake! How are those ‘simple’ actors?” Well, first off, I don’t consider Ringo Starr an actor. And I’m not just saying this because I’ve seen the movie Caveman.
Ringo and the Yellow Submarine are an example of a little bit more illustrative cartooning that is another tool you can use as a scribe.
I think of my actors as part of my rapid visual lexicon that I use to diagram ideas. My actors are relatively simple compared to cartooning — I think actors in scribing should be so simple anyone can do them with a little practice and they make up a large part of my real-time visuals. Cartooning and illustrating on the other hand can also be very effective in graphic recording but unlike drawing actors (the backbone of a lot of good scribing) it is not always necessary. As a matter of fact, when I started in the early 90s cartooning in graphic recording was rare. And I understand why: just because you are a cartoonist does not mean you are a scribe — and just because you are a scribe does not mean you have to draw cartoons. I believe they were kept separate in those days (70s-80s) because graphic recording was establishing itself as a discipline that “serious organizations” used to help solve “serious issues.” The general population thought of cartoons as being for children and perhaps silly. Therefore the majority of the scribing from that era was “de-personalized” in its look by design.
But MG Taylor Corporation, which introduced me to visual facilitation, was a pioneer in using graphic recording as part of its collaborative strategy and visioning methodology, the “DesignShop”. They encouraged their knowledge workers who took on the duty of the scribing role during these DesignShops to be as expressive as they wanted to be as long as they stayed in service to the dialogue. One of their axioms was, “if you cannot have fun with the problem you will never solve it.” I did not have to draw Ringo, but I did because in this instance, I had the time and it added some memorableness and fun to the technical subject matter after the conference cued up the song "Yellow Submarine" on the sound system. (Knowing when to add "fun" is dependent on understanding the tone of the speaker, and reading the atmosphere of the room).
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