Communications@Syracuse Immersion: Graphic Recording

Take note: There is life beyond PowerPoint. Graphic recording is an exciting and interactive field that involves transforming the content of a meeting or presentation into clear and concise illustrations. Earlier this month at the Communications@Syracuse immersion, we brought in graphic recorder Anne Gibbons to visualize the ideas and topics raised during our first three sessions. It was incredible!

We sat down with Anne to learn more about her profession.

What is graphic recording?

Graphic recording is visual note taking. I don’t why we don’t call it that! You don’t really record, rather you interpret. Graphic recording is about translating words into simple images and sound bites. It’s about listening to something and pulling out the essence of an event.

How did you get started?

In my 20s I got into cartooning and illustration. I did comics and greeting cards for many years and I watched the market increasingly start to dry up. I didn’t really see a future there.

I learned about graphic recording from someone who was redesigning my website. As soon as she described it, it was like a light bulb went off in my head! She told me about the workshop she took, as well as the International Forum of Visual Practitioners (IFVP). So I contacted them and took the next workshop that I could.

Right way, I felt like it was cartooning on legs. It was such a logical development. It’s an opportunity to use my talents in a new, fun and interesting way that reaches people. To me, this is so right for cartooning. Cartooning is about telling something in a very simple way — as simple and concise as you can.

How did graphic recording get started?

I think in the ‘90s. There is someone named David Sibbet — he’s written a few books and is very well known in the field.

People were taking photos of all of your posters today…

That’s so exhilarating! It’s neat to be part of something bigger. Once you start doing this, you think more creatively. You see the potential of creative thinking. There are a lot of offshoots of graphic recording where people just go further and further with it — what the mind is capable of and really appreciating the visual memory.

What skills are most critical for a budding graphic recorder?

I’d say the most critical skill is listening — really listening and not literally. Because literally, you can’t record, that would be stenography. You need to be able to distill what people are saying. Other skills are simple things like clear, legible handwriting. And you have to be able to do quick, simple drawings. You don’t have to be a good artist — some people draw stick figures — but it certainly helps!

Thinking about a typical event, what’s your process?

What I like is that it’s very Zen. You have to be calm and organized. You can’t afford to get flustered. You have to think very carefully as if you are going to perform. If you’re acting, you have your lines, your costume — you have the whole thing figured out. Before I come I make sure my markers are working and think about what I need for this event.

Personally, I like to learn anything I can about the topic and or the company. Some people don’t need that, but I like to learn a lot. You never know what might matter. I like to have fresh in my mind things that might come in handy.

What advice would you give someone who was thinking about getting into graphic recording?

I would say join — or least look at — the website of the IFVP. There are also other resources, such as the Visual Facilitators Facebook page, where people put postings of all kinds of things related to graphic recording.  

Also, Google “graphic recording” and take look at the images — you’ll see a lot of examples. The neat thing, too, is you can practice with things like Ted Talks. There’s also something called sketch noting — it’s the same thing just on a smaller scale (a notebook) and you can scan it in and put it online.

What do you like about graphic recording?

What I really like is that the work is much more appreciated. People really take it in. They don’t have to come find your work; you bring it to them. You are meeting people at this event. And while they’re digesting all that is being discussed, you’re turning it into something beyond what they would expect.