Learn how to master graphic facilitation—the use of large-scale imagery to lead groups toward a common goal.

Are you tired of implementing the sticky note "dump and clump" during training facilitation? (Is the handwriting on all of those multicolored notes even legible?) After several rounds of diverging and converging, do you wish for something different?

Although dump and clump, or affinity diagramming, is a useful method for capturing group-generated ideas and narrowing them quickly, there are additional—and perhaps more appropriate—methods for today's skilled facilitator to master.

Graphic facilitation basics

One of those methods, graphic facilitation—the use of large-scale imagery to lead groups toward a common goal—is growing in popularity. Graphic facilitators are skilled training professionals who organize information spatially and visually. They use graphic recording, also known as visual recording or visual mapping, to capture a facilitated discussion in real-time.

Graphic facilitation offers many benefits that traditional facilitation does not, such as increased engagement, big-picture thinking, and group memory. The visual aspect grabs learners' attention. Participants often are mesmerized at initial exposure to this technique, which allows them to become involved in creating meaning and watching a plan emerge. With spatial positioning, highlighting, and emphasis, trainers use words and images to illustrate an organized and impactful visual story that lives on both in memory and in art.

Graphic facilitation history

Brandy Agerbeck began graphically recording conceptual conversation maps in 1996. She shares numerous excellent graphic facilitation mini-training sessions on YouTube and displays her vast portfolio online at www.loosetooth.com. Several companies, including The Grove and the Center for Graphic Facilitation, offer in-depth graphic facilitation workshops. The Grove also sells premade graphic recording templates.

An online search of images for graphic facilitation yields a variety of inspiring visual stories. If you incorporate technology into the art of graphic recording, you will see a multitude of images and ideas that convey rapid meaning and insight. (For example, check out the communication tool Prezi at www.prezi.com.)

For those who decide to enter the fascinating realm of graphic facilitation, four steps will help as you embark on this rewarding journey: gather materials, acquire a visual mindset, create a game plan, and be open to the process.

Gather materials

To begin, you'll need an artist's sketchbook and a nicely pigmented pen (one that has a fluid stroke), as well as colored markers or flipchart pens, chisel head markers, and colored pencils. The chisel head marker is designed with three tips to create thin, medium, and thick strokes. Additionally, to ensure you are well-prepared to graphically record any event, add these items to your facilitation tool kit:

  • Foam board. Use one 40-by-60-inch board that is one-half inch in diameter. A handle of duct tape can be fashioned onto the back to make this large board easier to manage. Alternately, you can use two 40-by-30-inch boards affixed together. This size is ideal for large graphic recording, yet still practical. Black-colored boards are best to hide marker and pastel inscriptions.
  • Two flipchart stands. Use these stands to support the foam board by placing them side-by-side behind the board and temporarily taping the board to the stands during the training session.
  • Artist tape. The best tape is one that has enough stickiness to adhere to the board, but not too much as to rip off the paper. Artist tape also can be used to securely attach the foam board to the flipchart stands.
  • Butcher paper. It should be wide enough to cover the foam board (for example, 30 to 40 inches wide). If you purchase a large roll, trim and tape multiple layers onto the board in advance to seamlessly transition from one graphic to the next.
  • Utility knife. Use this sharp blade to trim the paper to a size that fits the board.
  • Soft chalk pastels. Pastels are used for color, emphasis, and visual appeal. Use a brand that is midpriced to ensure the ideal color pigmentation.
  • Tissue. Tissue is essential to blend the pastels, add dimension, and cover mistakes.
  • Wet wipes. You will want hand wipes after working with pastels.
  • Camera. Take photos of the graphics for future use, and to give to participants. Learners will find photos handy to include with other documentation as an output from the learning event.

Acquire a visual mindset

It is important to practice thinking visually before applying graphic facilitation to your training programs. Using your sketchbook, capture ideas visually throughout the day. Create agendas, take meeting notes, and make lists. Whenever you can, begin to incorporate graphics into your daily work.

Challenge yourself: Make a shopping list by drawing items instead of writing words. Decorate your lists with lettering, color, and emphasis. The objective is to organize information in a visual manner, not to create artful masterpieces.

Start simply by embellishing your lettering to make it bolder and bigger. Create lists with three-dimensional bullets using different shapes and colors. Make your titles stand out with banners, ribbons, clouds, or arrows.

Practice these new embellishments in the confines of your sketchbook to find what you are good at and what you like, and to grow comfortable with your drawings. Later, your sketchbook will be a blueprint to help you design large-scale imagery.

Create a game plan

Just as you would plan a traditionally facilitated meeting, anticipate the structure and sequence of ideas that you are expecting to generate from a graphically facilitated meeting. Keep in mind the graphic elements that will be relevant for each part of the meeting agenda. Often multiple recordings are created in a two- to four-hour meeting.

Ideally, you should partner with another facilitator so that one of you can graphically facilitate and the other can graphically record. Both the facilitator and the recorder have to be in sync. Discuss the meeting's timing, topic, facilitated process, and recording process.

After designing the graphic recording process relative to the meeting agenda, use your sketchbook as a guide to create mini versions of your graphics' structure and organization. In other words, sketch the design in advance so that you can estimate sizing once you begin recording on the butcher paper. Determine your lettering, bullets, colors, potential titles, and subheads before the training event.

With your mini version in place, use a yellow highlighter to outline block spaces on the butcher paper in accordance with your design. When used lightly, the yellow marker cannot be seen from a distance, and once you incorporate the colorful chalk it will disappear.

Be open to the process

Express yourself and take risks when applying your graphic recording skills. You are your biggest roadblock—your internal critic will tell you that you're not artistic enough to master this skill. Try to tune out that self-criticism, accept your creations, and enjoy the process. Ask for feedback from others, and record these observations.

Photograph your work to observe how it evolves over time. For example, initially you may begin with a light touch on the pastels and later feel comfortable adding emphasis with bold color. Also, consider how you are able to translate your sketchbook designs to the foam board.

In other words, try and try again. There is huge demand for graphic facilitation, and others will be intrigued, impressed, and appreciative of the lasting visuals you create for them.

Just do it

Now that all of the preplanning work is out of the way, it's time to take the leap and do it. A public commitment makes this transition more likely to happen.

Commit to graphically recording a meeting conversation as a background observer. Start with this type of low-risk setting and progressively seek more visible and complex graphic facilitation and recording opportunities. Look for possibilities within your daily work, and make them happen.

There are many occasions for using graphic recording—in whatever environment you use facilitation, you also can incorporate graphic recording. This includes all kinds of group functions: visioning, strategic planning, brainstorming, presentations, team building, training, forums, conferences, and board meetings.

You could attend expensive training to become a visual recording extraordinaire, or you could start doodling on your own, experimenting with pastels, and watching YouTube tutorials. Partnering with another facilitator is an effective way to boost your confidence and creativity, collaborate on a game plan, and commit to making graphic facilitation a regular component of your training practice.