Consider sketchnotes your DIY at-a-glance solution for all those conferences, seminars, and presentations you’d like to absorb a bit better. Pencils ready?
- Do you doodle during meetings?
- Do you tweet incessantly at conferences—and then kind of wish you hadn’t?
- Have you ever walked away from a presentation you were wowed by, only to realize you can hardly remember a thing you saw/heard/noted/tweeted?
Sketchnotes may be your answer to getting more out of what you (try to) pay attention to.
What it is
“Sketchnotes” is the sexy term for taking notes with pictures as well as words. When I first heard it, I went googling for the app, the tutorial, the video…and then felt a bit silly. Sure, there’s a SketchNotes iPad app, but that’s the fancy form of it.
All you need is some (preferably) unruled paper and something to write with. As an “Ack, I can’t draw!” person, I like using pencil—it can help you feel like you have leeway to mess up without ruining your notes.
Also, when I’m at home or in the office, I favor an 18″ x 12″ sketchpad over a notebook because it gives me more room to connect thoughts and ideas all in one place.
“Ack, I can’t draw!”
I’m with you. I’ve watched sketch presentations like The Secret Powers of Time with mounting envy, thinking “I could never do that”—but then realized I’ve been doing a (much slower, far less skilled) version of it for years while concepting on my own and brainstorming with colleagues for campaigns.
If you’ve been doodling spirals or arrows or speech bubbles in the margins since grade school, you’re not far from sketchnoting, either.
And as Dan Roam demonstrates brilliantly in The Back of the Napkin, you don’t need sketching superpowers for effective visual communication—you just need to develop your visual thinking skills: how you look at, understand, and convey information visually.
While Dan’s methods focus on solving problems with pictures, Craighton Berman over at Portland’s own Core77 offers up an outline of basic sketchnote elements, which may put you quite at ease:
- Text—Capture the meaningful quotes and key points, and avoid trying to summarize everything.
- Containers—Simply enclosing words in shapes brings emphasis and structure to an otherwise wild page.
- Connectors—Connect ideas and pieces of stories with arrows and lines.
- Frameworks—Common frameworks include 2×2s, Venn diagrams, and continuums.
- Icons—Strive to create “icons” for objects & concepts: distill reality into a simple drawing that represents the idea as simply as possible and move on.
That’s just a taste; I highly recommend his Sketchnotes blog for a little hand-holding, detailed how-tos, and inspiring examples.
Here’s one I made earlier
Recently, I tuned in to Ardath’s Albee’s 30-minute webinar on B2B Buyer Personas hosted by MLT Creative and made it my test run for proper sketchnoting. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to:
- Distill the key points concisely enough
- Visualize them quickly enough
- Be able to read what I’d written/drawn afterwards!
- Create a useful record of the seminar or my thoughts on it
Now…I wouldn’t say the result is ideal for sharing with others to communicate the webinar highlights, but for my own purpose of recalling key points at a glance, it works.
I was pleasantly surprised at how easily the images and connections flowed as I went along. Something about having to draw kicked my synthesizing mechanisms into gear.
Most importantly, sketchnoting instead of typing or merely writing freed up more of my attention (and perhaps an additional avenue of it) for listening. Normally during a webinar or presentation, my impulse is to “quote, not note,” and I miss the next great thing being said or shown.
I did review some more of Craighton Berman’s top tips before I entered the fray, and they’re good to keep in mind as you begin your own sketchnoting habit:
- Think improvisation, not perfection. If you mess up a line, draw over it again. If you misspell a word, scratch it out…being in the moment is more important than refined output.
- Don’t be a completist. Let stuff slip by if it doesn’t interest you.
- Put your 2¢ in. It’s your perspective on a topic, so feel free to add your own commentary to the page.
- Inject your personality into the pages. Do you draw misproportioned people, have shaky lines, and quirky handwriting? Cool, so do I. Run with it.