A TEDxMtHood Adventure: Learn To Sketchnote

This past Saturday I had the opportunity to teach a live sketchnoting workshop in Portland, Oregon in conjunction with the TEDxMtHood Adventure series.

That workshop was a great opportunity to bring together all of the ideas that I’ve been exploring here at Verbal To Visual and within our online classroom, to condense it all into a three-hour workshop for a group of about 15 people.

Here’s how it went down.

The Format

TEDxMtHood Sketchnoting Adventure (1) - warm up, instruction, practice, q&a, mindset, goal, intent, skills, process - Verbal To Visual Doug Neill

We began filling the long stretch of poster paper at the front of the room with a bit of warmup. After outlining the plan for the day, we discussed the mindset that I find to be most useful while developing and applying your sketchnoting skills.

To me that mindset piece is the most important (and often most neglected) aspect of developing this skill. I get the sense that many folks simply want to create sketchnotes that look pretty – like the artistic ones they see online – without really thinking about the purpose that the notes serve. Starting with a focus on mindset makes it easier to avoid that trap.

TEDxMtHood Sketchnoting Adventure (2) - text, stand out, size, style, layout, separate and connect ideas, structured, organic, imagery, icons, scenes - Verbal To Visual Doug Neill

We then jumped into the four pieces of visual note-taking: text, layout, imagery, and color. I did a bit of instruction on each, followed by some practice activities that I pulled from The Verbal To Visual Notebook.

TEDxMtHood Sketchnoting Adventure (3) - color, contrast, group like ideas, set the tone, mark-making, highlighting, practice, ted radio hour, books, mike rohde, sunni brown, xplane - Verbal To Visual Doug Neill

With the mindset in place and an understanding of the four major pieces of visual note-taking, the workshop participants got some live sketchnoting practice while listening to an episode of TED Radio Hour.

We then finished the workshop up with some recommendations for other great resources to help folks dig deeper: Presentation Zen, The Sketchnote Handbook, XPLANE, and The Doodle Revolution.

The Reactions

What was most interesting for me was being able to see the immediate responses to the ideas shared. I’ve become accustomed to the time-delayed format of working online, so this in-person workshop was a refreshing change of pace.

For those that weren’t as familiar with visual thinking, the overall reaction was great. The benefits of building in more visuals while creating a growing map of ideas became very clear at the end of the workshop when we could look across the entire stretch of poster paper and have a good sense of the arc of the day as well as being able to focus in on any of the particular topics that we discussed.

Among those that already had some experience in this field, the idea that we kept coming back to was the 50/50 rule of visual note-taking. Folks really seemed to resonate with the idea of putting some constraints on their note-taking process. That makes it less daunting, and therefore more accessible.

One of the great questions that came up toward the end of the workshop: “When is sketchnoting NOT useful?”

From what I’ve seen, sketchnoting becomes more of a distraction rather than a tool once the emphasis is placed on how the notes look, and not on the role that those notes play within the situation in which they’re being taken. That’s why I try to emphasize mindset from the get-to.

The Reflection

Lately I’ve been sedentary in my work style – sketching things out at a desk and doing lots of work on the computer – so it was great to have the opportunity to work on a large scale while standing up and moving around. That ability to move and look at ideas from different angles is powerful, and something that I’d like to build back into my routine on a regular basis.

Whenever my energy in this field fades (which can happen when it becomes your focus every single day), what always seems to reinvigorate me is connecting directly with others who are using these visual skills that I teach in meaningful ways in their work and life. I get to see that each week in our live classroom webinars, and I got to see that on Saturday to.

So a big thank you to those who were able to make it out to the workshop! It was a great reminder of what I like about in-person teaching, and a good complement to the work that I’ll continue doing online.


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