What is graphic recording?
Pictures are a global, universal and archaic language, ever since humans first existed and marked their experiences on the walls of caves. Graphic recording is a modern version of this innate and archaic cave language. It simultaneously translates spoken words into an image on the wall: by combining symbols, metaphors, infographics, cartoon characters and key words into a big drawing.
A graphic recorder, also called a scribe, listens to speakers in order to understand, filter, analyze and cluster this content. At the end of every lecture, speech, discussion, dialogue or argument, they will have created a summary containing every key issue, agreement and disagreement, side by side.
This picture is also called a graphic recording which is accessible to everyone in the room. It could be used during the event for wrap-ups and presentations of sessions or topics. During breaks or in the evening, people naturally gather around the drawing, like around a fireplace, and chat about the content of the images. Or, they take photos of their favorite or most important details and thereby spread the outcome of the event.
After the event, the digital version of the graphic recording can be shared on social media and wherever else an image is needed to accompany text about the event. You can, of course, create different language versions of the visual protocol or enrich it with the addition of interaction and feedback. The original artwork can either stay on your wall or you can donate it to anyone who needs a reminder of the issues discussed. With augmented reality or QR codes you can add more information to the graphic recording, such as the original spoken text, PPT slides and so on.
How does graphic recording work at conferences and events?
As a client/audience, you benefit from the product – the visual protocol – of the graphic recording, and also from the process of people talking and listening and observing the image appearing. This is why you should place the picture where everyone can see it.
For large events with many participants, Graphic Recorders can either work digitally and project the graphic recording onto the wall, or they work on a large analogue surface and you additionally use a camera to record and show the image at certain points of the agenda. Both approaches provide easy access for global and remote audiences, as you can instantly stream to the Internet. The growing big image becomes like a new participant in the event. Speakers refer to it and it transforms discussions by its sheer presence, as people don’t have to repeat topics once they’re visible. It also increases participation. All contributions are equally valid and visible at the same time which encourages those who are usually quiet to speak up.
Because everyone is looking at the same picture, misunderstandings are easily overcome, plus a shared image, memory and commitment is created. Graphic recordings are processed by both hemispheres of the brain and trigger new ideas. Participants stay focused longer by watching the picture develop.
And last but not least, every picture contains facts and emotions. The visual protocol also reflects tensions and moods in the room, or speaker dynamics. Without even mentioning it, you can use a graphic recording as a large group mediation tool.
What does the future of graphic recording look like?
To be honest, since my very first steps as a graphic recorder – I started after living in Egypt during the Arab Spring – I have had the dream of participating in a UN meeting and being able to help end a war or prevent one from starting, by the effects of graphic recording. It is a very simple but powerful tool. In global organizations like the United Nations, whose daily business is gatherings of diverse groups, it should become a standard like simultaneous interpreting.
I can definitely see it at every single UN meeting, of course at the big global conferences, but also at expert panels on complicated issues, like climate change. They are much easier to communicate and understand with pictures. You can also use it in many situations such as in grassroots workshops. There is a potential in every group, you just have to make it visible to grasp it.
What does it take to become a graphic recorder?
Nearly everybody can learn the basic skills of visualizing a process or a topic. It is not about art; it is about communicating the image in your mind to another person. You need visual thinking and basic drawing skills, some knowledge of materials and technology, and you should be able to analyze information. If you want to become a professional graphic recorder you should be able to draw nicely and to listen and concentrate for hours. It is physically demanding. Improvising is part of the job, so you have to cope with public failure. You should be quick to adapt and enjoy meeting people, as your marker becomes your spaceship to unfamiliar planets, their inhabitants and issues.
Most of the graphic recorders are highly sensitive and have an above average ability to multitask. This combination allows them to process lots of information at high speed and read emotions in the room. Without empathy, everything is nothing!
A growing art
The graphic recording sector is growing at the same rate as demand. When I started in 2011, we were around 40 people in Germany, now we are around 400. Global development is similar. No matter where you are, you will find a graphic recorder nearby. It’s popular across Europe, North America, Australia, Asia, Africa and South America – Just to name a few “unexpected” countries with Graphic Recorders: Armenia, Argentina, Egypt, South Africa, Dubai, Indonesia, China, Ukraine, Colombia…
Whatever your challenge is, you can benefit from a good graphic recorder. Only by experiencing it will you fully understand the unique and almost magical benefits of graphic recording.