Home » Blog » How to Lead a Graphic Recording Team for Big Events

How to Lead a Graphic Recording Team for Big Events

It was a great phone call to receive: would Drawing Change like to coordinate a team of 8 graphic recorders, to capture 54 sessions over 2 days with 2,500 business leaders from more than 100 countries. Absolutely! If you ever get a call like this, – or are hiring a large graphic recording team – here’s what you need to know.

To pull this off, the team consisted of 8 graphic recorders, 1 photographer, 2 graphic designers, and 1 project manager.

Most graphic recorders work alone, so when we get to work as part of teams it’s truly inspiring. Our drawings and lettering influence each other, we push each other to excel, and we also share in collective success. It’s an arena like no other.

We learned a great deal from this event. We learned what it takes to run a successful large-scale graphic recording team. We learned how to cultivate high performing team relationships. And most importantly, we got the team to give us their take on what made it successful. Here’s what you need to know.

Pre-event organization and planning are key

You might think you can graphic record while coordinating a team, but having a project manager was crucial to this event’s success. The project manager effortlessly ensured the pre-planning, on-site organization, and the team support was in place – something that was crucial to a smooth and successful event.

“Having [someone to] manage all the advance communication is helpful. It gives a chance for everyone to get to know the coordinator prior to the event and give the right amount of info at the right time in the friendliest way.” – Lisa Arora

The project manager “quickly became an indispensable part of the team, event before we arrived onsite. Having her manage the many moving parts allowed Sam to work more closely with the client and with the logistics crew.” – Anthony Weeks

Avril Orloff says, “all the background maneuverings … make a big event like this successful!”

L TO R: NATASHA PATTERSON (project manager extraordinaire), CORRINA KEELING, STINA BROWN, LISA ARORA, TANYA GADSBY, AVRIL ORLOFF, SAM BRADD, JIM LOWE (design), YOLANDA LIMAN, ANTHONY WEEKS AND DEANNA SMITH (design). PHOTO BY SARAH RACE PHOTOGRAPHY

Hot Tips!

Phone people. Give your team information weeks ahead of time. By creating an opportunity to create dialogue and answer any questions that come up, it will help define the purpose and scope of the project. Photographers, graphic designers and even graphic recorders may not have done a project like this before.

Book a green room for the team. We needed room to finalize and colour posters, shoot the photos, and for the graphic designers to share a desk. Make sure the client puts the green room close to the stage – and not in the hotel across the street.

Space and easels: Some logistics we learned on the fly include factoring how long it will take to cross a big convention centre. Also, make sure each breakout session has its own easels set up the morning of the event, instead of carrying easels back and forth. We learned this one the hard way.

Shipping is more complicated to a convention centre than hotels or other venues. Convention centre delivery is expensive – you’ll be charged labour fees to move boxes, and it will be handled by a third party with their own cut-off delivery deadlines. Get on top of this early. Make friends with the account manager by phone and be clear about how the final posters/boards are going to be shipped home. Figuring this stuff out before the event will make everything so much smoother! We promise!

Be clear on what time teams should arrive. With a high pressure agenda, we all arrived 2 hours early the first day, and Sam and the project manager stayed at the hotel so there would be no travel issues.

 

Create space for team development

“Treating the team to dinner the night before was such an unexpected treat and a classy move. Also a great chance to deal with questions so you weren’t overloaded with them the next morning.” –Lisa Arora

Organize a team dinner the night before to introduce the members of the team and create space to answer questions. It will support team cohesion, communication, and will resolve any conflicts before the day of the event. There will always be way more questions – the more people, the more questions!

Approach the day like a team, not solo artists. It’s a balance of letting talented graphic recorders work their magic, and also giving some constraints on creativity. This project needed final files back by 8pm the day of the session. The team approach meant people prepped titles for each other, helped with colouring and “polishing” the charts – instead of it being a race to who would finish first.

   For out of town graphic recorders, make sure their needs are met.  

Include the non-graphic recorders in your team building! This way when the graphic recorder asks the photographer to boost the contrasts, it will be a friendly request.

Make time for 1:1 conversations with each team member during the day.

Happy teams are well fed and caffeinated. Have a plan for where staff eat lunches, snacks, and coffee. Don’t assume staff or vendors can help themselves to the attendees’ buffet – no matter how convenient it is outside the door.

By ensuring each person on the team is well connected, well fed, and generally well taken care of, you’ll have the right conditions for success.

 

Consider having a “backup listener”

When there is so much happening, it’s easy to lose track of the information coming from the stage. With so many graphic recorders on hand, we could have added a backup listener to each session. In hindsight, having a backup listener would have been extra helpful for such large event. This is especially useful when any posters have incomplete content.

With something of this scale, it is normal to not know what we don’t know. We learned having an extra set of ears to take notes and add content in the polishing stage can be extra helpful. (Thanks to Lisa Arora for the tip!)

 

Add delight

There was no possible gift we could have bought this client to say thank you – so instead, we made something priceless: a summary poster for Day 1 and a summary poster for Day 2.

When the graphic recording team had a few seconds during the day, we added quick highlights from the 54  keynote presentations into a summary poster. We presented the first poster at the end of day 1, and the client spontaneously burst into happy tears. It really inspired us to up our skills for the Day 2 poster, too. Her gratitude was a huge gift back to us.

Be someone your client wants to work with by bringing delight.

 

Leadership qualities on the day of the event

Leadership involves many qualities, and every leader will be nuanced in their style. That said, here’s a few things that helped.

Don’t be a micro-manager. Don’t tell professionals what to draw, but do tell them what you need. ”This took off a lot of tension from us (at least me) because we were all a bit nervous. It basically said “I trust you, I know you’ll do your best, I’m not going to try and control that.” You rolled with it and that made us roll with it too, and I loved how everyone pitched in.”  –Yolanda Liman

Be calm. I’m not sure I was calm, but I fake it. “I was impressed most by your calmness under pressure and trusting all of us to be where we’re meant to be on time. By no means an “easy” task with an ever-changing schedule in the mix!” –Tanya Gadsby

Be professional and authentic when people need to step up to a challenge. “I loved it when you said “I need all of you to move about 50% faster starting now”. You called us to bring our best game and I feel like we all did, in our own ways. We all behave differently under pressure.”  – Stina Brown  

“The required quick turnaround of the charts for digitization made us more disciplined about chart clean-up and finishing. While some of us lingered over our charts longer than others, we had just enough time to apply the finishing touches before handing them off. This made for a more streamlined work flow.” – Anthony Weeks

Be clear on what you need, and ask directly. Lisa Arora said, “ In the morning, you announced what you were most focused on, “I care about timing and…” I think that really helped the team understand what to pay attention to. It was comforting to people to know exactly what you wanted. And from there on, there was no micromanaging.” This helped the whole team move in a unified direction.

Let things go. Define the problem, be open to solutions, then make a decision and let it go.

At some point, you have to go with the flow. This works when things are well organized first, generally. But as much as structured planning and organization are necessary, so too is the ability to let go and allow the event naturally unfold.

 

Be mindful of your presence on stage

We alternated sides of the stage, so the 2500-person audience could see the work happening. This added a layer of complexity navigating backstage. We also had one person waiting in the wings ready to go at all times.

“Have the team be aware of their visibility to the audience when waiting in the wings. It runs the risk of being distracting and is less of a “seamless” transition from back-stage to on-stage presence if we’re visible with big white boards and non-black clothing. Of course I know it was necessary to take a peek every now and then in order to hear the speakers and know where things were at!” – Tanya Gadsby

Last Hot Tip!

This was the first event where we were tipped! And what a classy move. Since most clients do not tip, so consider building this cost into your project proposal and contract so you can then pay it forward to the team. It’s a great idea that goes a long way.

 

What we’ve learned

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading about how we pulled off capturing 54 sessions in 2 days. It was a sincere privilege to be a part of such a large event and to share the work of graphic recording with such a large audience.

When an event is to this scale, you can never know and plan for everything. With the dream team of 8 graphic recorders, photographer and graphic designers, we were able to deliver an outstanding product for the client.

  • We are deeply thankful to the team and appreciate the generosity of graphic recorders who shared their feedback.

We do this work because we love it. While logistics, planning, and on-site professionalism are important, equally so is reminding ourselves of why we do this in the first place. So be present, have fun, and enjoy!

 


 

Interested in learning how to graphic record and facilitate? Check out our Graphic Recording and Facilitation Workshop, October 28 – 29 in Vancouver, Canada!

Are you already an experienced visual practitioner? Check out upcoming workshops in Portland, Oregon: Towards Mastery: Advanced Graphic Facilitation Workshop, February 11 – 14, 2018
Visual Practice Workshop, February 15 – 17, 2018.

One comment

  1. Julie Swanson says:

    So many things I love about this post!!

    – that you captured learning and took the time to format in a way that you could share!
    -idea of a back up listener! I think this is an important idea to name! We need to make the role of listening visible
    -project manager role is another one that we don’t always make visible
    -the importance of investing in team relationships and taking care of wellness…so the team comes from a well resourced place
    – and loved “add delight” by gifting the client with something that adds value in the form of meaning and beauty

    Many thanks for sharing!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *