This January I joined Brandy Agerbeck, graphic facilitator extraordinaire, and 5 learners in her graphic facilitation “Lab”. The Lab is a 3 day retreat/ training/ challenging and supportive environment where graphic facilitators can try new things and grow our visual practices.
My big takeaway?
Emphasizing synthesis as well as capturing information.
Let me explain a bit more.
Graphic facilitation is a method of helping groups visualize their work. As a graphic facilitator, I work in front of groups and draw what they’re saying, to help them see the Big Picture and make new connections.
One of my strengths is that I work fast. I’ve got the “capturing information” part down. I’m very good at accurately drawing a lot of information quickly. I can hold different thoughts in my head while people are speaking, and draw at the same time. My images are detailed. Now, many graphic recorders/facilitators are brilliant at capturing all – and I mean all! – of the details perfectly. This is their superpower. There’s nothing wrong about this approach. But I think my superpower might be different.
The Lab is all about being a supportive place for learning. I love the details, and I know the details make me feel safe. So, I asked myself what would happen if I tried to let go of relying on details. Good things happen when we leave our comfort zones.
Would my images be stronger – and would they help groups learn in new ways – if there was more space for the synthesis?
Synthesis is organizing information. Taking a step back to see what are the patterns and bigger ideas that emerge. It’s the magic part about this work. Transforming lists or examples:
- tree fruit
…. in order to spend more time getting to the heart of the question. Why? What next? For whom?
Thanks to the Lab, I learned that for me, synthesis is also about waiting.
It means taking a step back – still listening intently – and maybe not drawing for every second. Waiting for ideas to sort themselves into a structure and get to that ‘aha’ moment in my head. Not every speaker leads with their most important point. They usually build up to what they’re going to say. It’s okay to wait, and see, and not draw every example that is used. (“Will those stories be helpful to people who weren’t in the room?”, we asked ourselves.) I’m a do-er and I like to keep busy. I see how this lens influences my graphic recording. Talk about a take-away moment for me.
My breakthrough came when we were drawing this 40-minute NPR talk about science and creativity. I started on the left hand side and worked counter clockwise. I was drawing my usual speed (fast) and on the right – I got into the flow and began to get the ‘synthesis.” I photoshopped in pink circles to show the difference. I like the right hand side more. The paths to understand the information are clearer. It gets at the heart.
We asked Brandy, “What happens if the group sees me not drawing for every second?” And what I remember from our conversation, and from Brandy’s book, is that the group is also taking visual cues from you, their visual facilitator. If they are aware that you stopped drawing a long time ago, your graphic facilitation may reflect that their process is stalled. On the flip side, if they see a huge white piece of paper and you writing every small note – they may think that a small opening exercise is supposed to generate enough content to fill a whole wall of paper!
Waiting is powerful. An attentive, focussed presence supports the group – and ultimately, both a stronger graphic facilitation process and product.
Thanks for a great session, Brandy!
More photos of our fun: