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Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #9: Use a Variety of Visual Methods

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 thatgraphic 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 #9 speaks largely to the latter.

Powerful Graphic Recording Habit #9: Use a Variety of Visual Methods

Graphic recording is a great way to capture group thinking, but remember there are lots of highly participative visual methods that don’t involve drawing. Plus, the longer your meeting is, the more important varying your methodology becomes. Switch it up.

Yes, your GR is there to help visualize your group’s thinking, but give your participants opportunities to express their thoughts tangibly and visually, too. A good GR will be able to contribute plenty of visual process ideas (beyond graphic recording) as you collaborate on the meeting design.

Visual Meeting Tip: Don’t mistake fun for frivolous.

Visual thinking methods are creative and a lot of fun, but don’t be fooled into thinking they can’t be used to discuss serious topics. In fact, these less traditional meeting methods give people fresh ways of approaching the topic at hand, which can produce profound insights and often leads to people expressing things they might otherwise hold back in more linear discussions.

Below is a list of visual methods that don’t involve drawing. We’ve used them to: generate alignment and buy-in for paradigm shifts in education, conceptualize community resiliency in disasters, collaboratively plan large-scale events, coalesce teams after a merger, develop marketing strategies, and much, much more.

  • Collage
  • Visual Explorer
  • Visual card decks like Groupworks
  • Guided visualization exercises
  • Kinesthetic modeling
  • Taking photos or sourcing images online to express something
  • Creating a video
  • Bringing an artifact that has meaning in response to a question
  • Using a visual relic to kick off a discussion, or as a reminder of a prior meeting

Note: GR often works well in conjunction with any of the above to capture the debrief, and the results/insights the method produces.


A collection of selected images and words express many facets of a shared future vision.


visual explorer

This flexible facilitation tool can be used to discuss almost anything. Here we used it to discuss issues and desires related to the renewal of an Education Enhancement Agreement with First Nations. Learn more about Visual Explorerhere.



Participants built 3D models to express design concepts, experiences, activities and outcomes for a community festival. After selecting the best ideas, they developed goals and an action plan.



At a teacher’s retreat, the tables were set with rocks that were used to help signify the qualities of the education paradigm the district was transcending.

Take opportunities to put pens in participant’s hands and get them drawing too.

Despite most people’s belief that they can’t draw, they actually can; we all can! The marks we make on the page to communicate don’t have to be realistic or beautiful. The point is they hold meaning that becomes the basis for discussion between the person who did/is doing the drawing, and the viewer(s).

Depending upon the activity you’re asking people to do, and what their previous experience is with visual methods, you should anticipate resistance to drawing … and be prepared to help people get over it. Often times, if participants are asked to draw after having watched a talented graphic recorder in action, their inhibition becomes even greater because they may be intimidated or making comparisons between their own ability and the practiced ability of the GR.

Tips to Encourage Participants to Draw During Your Meeting

  • Acknowledge the “I’m not an artist” resistance. Let people feel a moment of togetherness in their perception that they can’t draw, bring lightness and a little laughter to it, then move on.
  • Make the case that drawings don’t have to be perfect to be meaningful. Ask people if they’ve ever drawn a stickman on the back of a napkin to help explain something to someone else. Most people have. Reassure them that the purpose is to get an idea across, not to create a Picasso.
  • Give your group some graphic pointers. If appropriate to the activity, take a few minutes and have your GR give them some brief drawing instruction to help develop confidence. With just a few common, basic icons under their belts, people can suddenly combine them in various ways to express a lot.
  • Get the activity underway soon after announcing it. Don’t let participants indulge too long in the “I can’t draw” stuff. Get them making their first marks so they quickly realize that meaning does start to emerge.
  • When you debrief the activity, focus on meaning, not the quality of the actual rendering. Ask people to walk the group through their picture and explain the details that are present (for example, props or features that accompany people or objects in the picture), the choices they made when creating the picture (for example, placement of objects in the scene or uses of color). The more you ask questions and get them talking about the picture, the more you will see the depth of meaning and brilliance that can often be packed into a simple drawing.

We have to design the meeting to keep people in active mode. We want them up and moving 80% of the time. We want to get them writing on boxes, creating things, actively discussing and problem solving in groups. As facilitators, we want to be careful to not over explain. We want to give people enough of an idea to get underway then let them figure it out.

~ Dana Wright –

Depending upon the facilitator’s comfort level and the group’s experience with working visually, you can begin with methods that involve little to no drawing and then work your way up as people acclimatize.



Participants list ideas one per sticky note so they can be posted, analyzed and moved around in meaningful ways. The group then works together to cluster and make sense of their ideas. Colored sticky notes can be used to add another layer of meaning or categorization as well.



Enlarge a graphic organizer and have participants work collaboratively to populate it. Here, we enlarged a 12-month calendar and engaged participants in planning a year’s worth of events to celebrate their organization’s 25thanniversary.

Note: In both of these photos, each person in the room is actively engaged! The point of any of these methods is to get all participants cooperating and contributing to articulate, express and make sense of many perspectives.

As you ease your participants into doing the drawing themselves, here are a couple of ideas you can try:

  • Metaphors – Have participants either suggest or draw a visual metaphor as a lens for exploring any given topic. For example, in Visual Meetings, David Sibbet suggests asking teams to draw their organization as a vehicle.
  • Participant drawing exercises – Have participants freely draw their response to a question, or engage them in a silent collaborative drawing activity, such as the one Avril Orloff teaches in her workshop, The Artful Visual Facilitator, offered through the Masterful Facilitation Institute (

The interactive meeting methods we use require people to listen to each other and work together to accomplish/create something. Through that process they build relationships, practice collaboration and see individual contributions and shared thinking, all of which build trust. Plus, everyone stays awake and has fun … which is WAY better than going to a sit-at-a-boardroom-table-and-listen-to-a-speaker-with-a-Powerpoint one.

People actually WANT to come to visual meetings. 

What are some of your favorite visual methods that you use in your meetings? How do you break out of the traditional graphic recording routine to maintain variety? We’d love to hear your ideas and stories. Please share below!


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