My Graphic Facilitation Journey

Last week I attended a 2-day graphic facilitation training at The Hub Amsterdam with Bigger Picture from Denmark. This is the agenda of that training. Since these 2 days, I can’t stop drawing things, I read through the whole Back of the Napkin and I started with Visual Meetings by David Sibbet (who is one of the pioneers of visual facilitation and the founder of The Grove). Yes I got hooked on drawing little people and places and signs and arrows. Don’t know if it already counts as visual note taking or even graphic facilitation yet, but that doesn’t matter at all. Because just doing it is a lot of fun. Plus I already got a lot of positive feedback from my colleagues who get bombarded with my quirky little drawings since that training. Read on if you would like to learn more about my graphic facilitation journey.

Graphic Facilitation is about “designing, facilitating and documenting strategic meetings, seminars, workshops and conferences where engagement and visible results are key.­ Bigger Picture applies visual techniques to create engagement before, during and after the event.” The easiest way to summarize the workshop is to just use the drawing that was one of many fun exercises during the training. It has the title ‘My Graphic Facilitation Journey’ and covers all the important key facts: how it started, what lead me to Amsterdam, my challenges, what were my key learnings from my first visualization training, key milestones from now on and my ambition in regards to what I learned in the course of the 2-day training session. I think it came out quite well. Ok it doesn’t look like the upper agenda drawing but it was a start.

How it started?
Last year I stumbled upon the RSA Animate YouTube channel and saw the video on mirror neurons and the empathic civilization. I wrote this blog post on what a great video and presentation that was. The topic of information visualization has become extremely hip over the last years, I think especially in our industry and especially among planners who are always searching for new ways to present and sell their strategic thoughts.

I think this is because of three major developments:

a) The extreme information overload that we have available for our presentations makes it necessary to extremely reduce complexity and to make things clear and easy to digest. This can be a couple of lines, circles and dots.

b) With all these digital tools available changing from your notebook to your iPad to your iPhone and back to the notebook screen makes it so relieving to just use a pen and a piece of paper every now and then.

c) I think the majority of business people (including advertising people and their clients alike) have got extremely tired of Powerpoint presentations over the last years and it is just nice to see some hand drawn little figures instead.

That at least was what I thought. The real benefit of Graphic Facilitation however is even more powerful.

What lead me here?
After I saw the RSA videos, I started to do some research, getting recommendations, surfing some website like Dave Gray, XPlane, VizThink and Bigger Picture. Finding #1: There are almost no options in Germany. Finding #2: Most of the trainings are very comprehensive and therefore rather pricey options. But the luck of the draw had the perfect option at hand. The Hub Amsterdam offered a 2-day crash course in cooperation with the Bigger Picture from Copenhagen.

The Hub
The Hub Amsterdam is a co-working space specialized on social businesses. It was the perfect space and the people (being very strict when it came to using dishes, wasting water or being to late ) were still great hosts. The next time you are in Amsterdam and need a place to work and meet interesting people, the Hub is the place.

The Bigger Picture
Overall, we were 13 participants, most of them people working at the Hub and our two trainers Ole and Loa from the Bigger Picture, who did an amazing job in facilitating this training. It was a great mixture of some presentation parts with inspiring examples, exercises, game-playing like pictionary, group work, a concrete set of tools ready to be used and parts where we needed to present our own drawings. You definitely have to check out their website. Beside trainings (which is just a small part of what they do), their product portfolio includes graphic facilitation (facilitating workshops directly for clients like Kraft Foods, IKEA or WWF), event summaries, communication and dialogue tools and also animated videos (you can find that on the website or on their YouTube channel).

My Challenges
Probably the challenge named by most participants: “I can’t draw”. That is the number one excuse and key challenge for everybody trying to start with first visualizations. Well, I am not a good illustrator but I always liked to draw and use a lot of post-its during brainstorming sessions. This training reassured, motivated and inspired me to do that even more.

Key Learnings
The key is to think more visually in metaphors and analogies and to use those to sell your ideas.  There are also a couple of very practical tools (like the 7 elements, see below, or the Back of the Napkin, which is full of those tools like basic visual thinking tools, the process look, see, imagine and show, the SQVID and the six ways we see). It is a matter of practicing those and just starting to draw. It does not have to be a perfect drawing. Simplicity is key and “with just 10 lines (put in the right order) it is possible to draw almost anything”.

And yes, there were also some Powerpoint slides, more or less as a summary and a way to share the key learnings from the training digitally. This is the deck from the Graphic Facilitation Training (check more Bigger Picture presentations on Slideshare):


I am definitely motivated to improve my skills and the first step is to practice the 7 elements, with which everything on the charts can be drawn. The 7 elements include: people, place, process, speech, text, effects and colour (more on that on the Bigger Picture website).

A good way is to start taking visual notes instead of writing bullet points in meetings. I tried it in a meeting with a media partner this week. I think it came out quite nicely, and the great thing is, by drawing some icons in combination with text, one can recall the key points and the story of that meeting much better.

My Ambition
I think this way of working is not just fun but a very effective way to facilitate strategies and creative ideas in all kinds of work settings: internally with colleagues, in client workshops, brainstorming sessions and basically for all kinds of problem solving approaches. So far I often did first sketches on post-it notes to structure a Powerpoint presentation. Why not present it directly on paper? The ambition is to never use Powerpoint again.

Why Graphic Facilitation?
My journey will definitely go on and I determined to make these techniques part of my toolset, even when it means annoying colleagues with endless sketches of little arrows, people and speech bubbles. I think graphic facilitation and visual thinking skills can be a priceless part of any planner’s skill-set. Strategy and the planning process is a lot about getting a common picture, getting complex interrelations down to easy to understand ideas and to get these across to diverse audiences. The main difference between giving a Powerpoint presentation plus a Q&A session afterwards and the graphic facilitation of a workshop is that the ideas on the wall are products of the group, not of one presenter. The goal is a shared visual language that everyone in the room agrees on. For a planner that means: strategy sold.




Links and further reading on visualization and graphic facilitation





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    About aschauerte

    Marketing, Media, Communications and Business Strategist.

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