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Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #3: Acclimatize Participants Quickly to Meeting Graphics

In an effort to further the graphic recording field and support our clients in getting the most from their visuals, we present our blog series, Powerful Habits to Maximize the Benefits of Graphic Recording in Meetings. 

The tips we offer are based in context of a scenario where a meeting facilitator is partnered with a graphic recorder to serve a client, and where either the facilitator, the client, or both are new to using graphic recording. We strongly believe that graphic recordings are meant to be a thinking tool, not just a recording device.

Working visually is both a process and a product. We also believe that optimizing the use of graphic recording rests largely upon 2 factors: 1) the quality of the partnership between the facilitator and the graphic recorder and 2) their collective repertoire of strategies for engaging participants to interact with the graphic recordings in a way that produces new insights. Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #3 speaks largely to the latter.

Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #3: Acclimatize Participants Quickly to Meeting Graphics

Graphic recording adds wonder, intrigue and liveliness to otherwise boring, predictable traditional meeting methods. It’s no surprise then that when people experience graphic recording for the first time, they’re totally enamored with it! Its magic and beauty are what first meets the eye. So, especially when there are participants in the room experiencing GR for the first time, it’s important to build in strategies to help them get beyond the superficiality of the maps (pointing out cool drawings or commenting on the recorder’s neat handwriting, for instance) so they begin to see them as a tool that catalyzes their thinking.

When people first encounter graphic recording, it reminds them they are naturally visual thinkers. Still, they often initially heap praise on the surface elements of the product itself – the colorful artwork, the fun markers – some time later in the meeting experience realizing the depth of the technique as a thinking process.

Participants are often fascinated by the performance element of watching graphic recorders in action because they seem to have superhuman powers.  

During your meeting, graphic recorders have to not only track what’s being said in the moment, but simultaneously also store, process, organize and connect things that were previously said, all while drawing in real-time and managing a claw-like fistful of markers.

Even facilitators, when they are new to graphics, can be awed by things like the recorder’s seemingly magical ability to pluck out just the right things to capture the essential information from the many words spoken. The GR makes what the viewer knows is a complex mixture of simultaneous actions, appear effortless (thanks to the hundreds and hundreds of hours the GR practiced to become proficient!)

The benefit of participants having access to their thoughts in visual form is that it allows them to see the big picture of the conversation and think about the thinking. When the facilitator engages people in reflecting on, “what does the map tell us?” you and your participants tap into the full value of recording your meeting.

So, when you make the decision to use visuals in your meeting, why not set it up so that participants realize that the maps are a thinking tool right off the bat?

As you design your meeting, think about how you can accelerate people getting beyond the superficial noticing of the charts. Early in the meeting, demonstrate in the group process that participants are co-creators who generate and shape the content that goes on the charts. Build in opportunities for people to interact with the information to process it in a meaningful way. Make it easier for them to see past the chart’s aesthetics and GR’s mental gymnastics, and start perceiving the visuals as a thinking tool (see our tips below for establishing visual as a normbefore your meeting so the group is acclimatized).

How will you know they’ve gotten over the superficial aspects?

Participants are “there” when they’re past the superficial noticing of the visual. They are not distracted by the live creation; rather they see the map as something THEY are working on (vs. the GR) – a third space in the room, a source of information available for taking their thinking to the next level. Participants’ reactions to the graphics progress from “Wow,” “You can sure draw,” and “Your markers are so cool,” to “I see a connection,” “I think we missed a comment here,” and, “I think what was actually meant was….”

– Julie Gieseke | Map The Mind

Other indicators that your participants are over the superficiality of graphic recording as shared by some of our colleagues:

Participants voluntarily come up to the chart at breaks to stand in silent reflection or to talk about the content on the map (not the drawing itself) to others. They use it as a mirror to point out important points and places of passion. It enlivens their conversations with each other. Participants refer to the chart during group conversations to confirm understanding.

– Anthony Weeks 


Participants acknowledge that the visuals help clarify, bring the abstract to the concrete and excite new thinking. Participants say it feels good to see that their points of view have been heard.

– Avril Orloff | Outside the Lines 


Groups verbalize feedback they are receiving from the visual itself about the dialogue itself (i.e., we seem to be really aligned/not very aligned/we’ve got lots to say about X).

– Nevada Lane | Lane Change Consulting


 Participants photograph the charts or the charts get taken somewhere (i.e., to show the CEO, to another meeting) right away afterwards for use … people want to possess them because they’re so useful.

Dana Wright | Take Action 

Here are 5 ways to acclimatize your participants quickly to the graphics as a thinking tool:

1 – Allow the GR to introduce the graphic recording technique properly. They’ll model correct terminology and give a clear explanation of how visuals enhance the process (de-emphasizing the “artistry”) and discuss norms for the interactive visual group process. When your group hears the GR speak intelligently about how graphics contributes to the thinking process, they will begin to see the GR as more than an “artist” (a term we never use to describe ourselves).

Furthermore, when the GR talks to the group (rather than someone else introducing the technique for them), it helps participants see the GR as a real person, someone they can engage with during the meeting as a co-creator. A good GR will invite and explain appropriate times and ways participants can interact and share input for the chart. 

2 – Have a visual mapping activity at the door that participants populate or register for as they enter. For example, display a sheet of paper and draw a horizontal line on it. Ask your participants to place two different colored dots on the sheet, one above the line to indicate their “highest high” on the team and one below to indicate their “lowest low”. When the meeting opens, engage the participants in an icebreaker dialogue using the question, “What does our co-created image tell us about our team?” Tease out some stories of the highs and lows to encourage a springboard conversation that leads into a meatier teambuilding discussion. When participants are greeted with a visual activity like this at the door, it sends several messages about the role of the visuals right away: 1) you are a co-creator/contributor to the visuals, 2) meaning emerges, and 3) the information is to be actively processed and used for insight/built upon during our day/dialogue.

3 – Pre-chart some relevant information and have it displayed when people enter the meeting. This could be a visual agenda, pre-meeting survey results, charts from a previously recorded meeting, meaningful statistics paired with compelling questions, and so forth. This gives a powerful first impression when people walk in the room and sends a message that this meeting is going to have something special happening in it. The visual demonstrates to people that the meeting is important enough that time was invested beforehand, and it gives people (who are often new acquaintances) something meaningful to talk about. And, as they do, they’ll naturally begin appreciating visuals while waiting for the meeting to begin.

4 - Create opportunities for pre-meeting exposure to graphics. That way when your participants get to the meeting, they’re familiar with the format. Have your GR create a visual invitation, send a visual meeting agenda in advance, or ask participants to fill out a visual template with some meaningful information you want them to contribute to work that will be done in the meeting.

5 - Include a visual strategy early in the meeting process that doesn’t involve live drawing. For example, start with a pre-drawn visual metaphor, pair it with a reflective question and have people respond to it during roundtable introductions. By removing the performance element from the graphics, you can more easily demonstrate that visuals are a powerful thinking tool. In one instance, during a first joint planning session between 3 executive teams involved in a 3-way merger, we started with this pre-drawn bird’s eye view of a person doing a high dive. Our question was, “How is your current situation like performing a high dive?” 

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During the round, insightful parallels arose, wisdom surfaced and underlying emotions were expressed. Immediately the group saw that 1) each person had their own personal meaning associated with the image, 2) there was value in exploring and listening to each slightly different perspective, and 3) their comments were actually quite profound. Right away, people realized, “Wow, this visual stuff is powerful,” without referring to the image, but instead to the depth of the individual comments and the shared meaning they came to together.

To establish your Acclimatize Participants Quickly to Meeting Graphics habit, rather than letting people organically form the idea of “artist” around the graphic recorder, you want to proactively explain and demonstrate graphic recording as a meaning making process where active participation and reflection leads the entire team to new learning. That way you get on the right page using your graphics as a thinking tool from the very start. Tell us. How do YOU establish visuals as a norm before your meetings so the group is acclimatized? Share your ideas by commenting below.