An Event Planning Blog by Gather Digital

Graphic Recording: An Extra Element of Visual Magic for Event Engagement

Written by: Taylor Sisk

Taylor Sisk

Give ’em the silent treatment. Engage your audience with ‘graphic note-taking’

No question, there are numerous ways that technological advances allow us to enrich our conferences, training events and other such meetings of minds. Gather Digital’s tailored event app is, of course, a prime example.

But consider this:
You can further engage your audience with a good old-fashioned whiteboard and a few multicolored markers: the primary tools of a graphic recorder.

The task of graphic recorders, also commonly referred to as visual practitioners, is to enhance a presentation, generally in real time, in person (though sometimes with pre-prepared presentations or online), using illustrations, diagrams, storyboards, maps, caricatures and more, sometimes with audience input.

Graphic recorders are the “silent partners” in a fast-growing exercise designed to stimulate creative thinking.


Photo courtesy of Jessamy Gee, Think In Colour

What’s the theory here?

As the website of the International Forum of Visual Practitioners tells it, “Visual practitioners inspire people to approach challenges in new and creative ways, freeing people from conventional ways of thinking and generating real progress.”

The desired objective is a heightened degree of engagement, a more interactive experience, and, thus, more thorough retention of the material presented—a vivid shared memory.

First and foremost: a ‘deep and attentive listener’

Graphic recording is also sometimes referred to as graphic listening, and that really resonates with Kelly Kingman.

Kingman is a New York-based graphic recorder who also considers herself a “visual note-taker.” Those note-taking skills, she says, require, foremost, an attuned ear.


Photo courtesy of Kelly Kingman, Kingman Ink

“People who see this done live often marvel at our ability to draw quickly,” she says. “But the secret is truly being a very, very deep and attentive listener.”

“My job is to grasp the gist of what someone is saying, no matter what the topic or industry, and be able to capture key images and words while still paying attention to the next idea coming up,” she explains. “This requires me to really immerse myself in what people are saying and also listen for cues on how they have organized their thoughts.

“The work of listening, synthesizing and drawing takes complete focus.”

Ah-Ha! moments and much more

Kingman—who teaches visual thinking skills to corporate teams and in the MIT Sloan School of Management’s Innovation Period—says that graphic recorders have different strengths and styles: “Some make color or images a key player in capturing the information; someone else might use more words.”

“I personally aspire for consistency, clarity and a sense of flow in my visual notes,” she says. “It’s an ongoing practice.” 

Martha McGinnis, founder of graphic recording and facilitation firm, Visual Logic, adds, “I try to capture the Ah-Ha! moments, key decisions and questions, and the really important elements of a presentation.”

Making magic

Kingman tells of a memorable experience working an event with David Kwong, a magician and puzzle-master.

“He performed a series of unbelievable tricks at a fast pace,” she says, “and I was doing my best to capture the spirit of what was unfolding, which wasn’t easy because I was also trying to wrap my mind around how he was doing it all.”

Kingman says the audience was totally blown away when Kwong finished by having everyone help him complete a huge crossword puzzle he'd created on the fly based on their input.

What a wonderful way to keep an audience engaged—vivid representation of a dynamic tapestry.

Low-tech complements high-tech

Corporations, nonprofits and governmental agencies alike are discovering the value of this art form. Clients include Google, the MacArthur Foundation and the U.S. Department of Education.

Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, says that when his organization introduced graphic recording in 2012, it was an immediate hit, “one of our top-sharing pieces of content,” he attests. “The speakers share them, the attendees share them, people who don’t attend share them.”



















Photo courtesy of Kelly Kingman, Kingman Ink

Graphic recorders can be found throughout the country and beyond, and most are willing to travel. The International Forum of Visual Practitioners provides a directory on its website. Among the early shakers and movers in the field were Leslie Salmon-Zhu, Jennifer Hammond Landau and Susan Kelly, all of whom remain acclaimed practitioners.

When hiring a graphic recorder, Kingman urges that you ask first for samples of work to make sure they capture content in a way that seems both coherent and engaging.

“But keep in mind that every speaker is a new frontier,” she says, “and the improvisational quality can be the best part of what we do.”

Pulizzi believes graphic recording may well be “the most powerful visual thing we do at events – and we do a lot of cool things visually.”

That’s pretty high praise for low tech: the mighty multicolored marker. In addition to the event app and other high-tech tools that can heighten engagement at your event, a graphic recorder may make a nice addition to your arsenal.

For more about adding engagement to your events, read this blog about games or download this free gamification ebook.

10 Graphic Recording Firms Worth Checking Out

ConverSketch | conversketch.com | Fort Collins, CO

Drawing Change | drawingchange.com | Vancouver, BC

Graphic Footprints | graphicfootprints.com | Los Angeles, CA 

ImageThink | imagethink.net | Brooklyn, NY & San Francisco, CA 

Kingman Ink | kingmanink.com | New York, NY 

See Your Words | seeyourwords.com | Cleveland, OH 

Think in Colour | think-in-colour.com.au | Melbourne, Australia

Visual Facilitators | visualfacilitators.com/en | Hamburg, Germany

Visual Logic | visual-logic.net | Atlanta, GA 

Whole Picture Thinking | wholepicturethinking.com | Vancouver, BC


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