A Picture is Worth (roughly) a Thousand Words

Categories // In General…

I had been planning to write the story behind this chart for some time and was reminded to do so by a tweet from fellow visual strategist Tristan Ozero. Thank you for prompt, and here is the story in just over 1000 words.


Visual or graphic recording has been around for thirty, plus years, but has gained popularity as a business tool in the last ten years. Large corporations such as Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and Zappos have in-house visual recorders or bring in outside pros to capture ideas and concepts in meetings about everything from new product development to business strategy. While it is not my main focus, I do enjoy opportunities to live record and to present a group with a summary chart. It is an excellent opportunity to work on listening skills.

If you have ever had the opportunity to watch someone create a chart in real-time it is mesmerizing. As part of our training in the Fundamentals of Interactive Visuals  our instructor, my coach and mentor, Christina Merkley demonstrated a visual recording and it was inspiring to watch her work. It also confirmed that I wanted to add visuals to my work as a strategic consultant.

How Visual Recording Works

Typically, the recorder is off to the side of the room and works with a speaker, presenter or facilitator. The topics captured by recorders run the gamut from business meetings to community hearings.

The recorder begins with a large, blank sheet of paper, a pencil, markers and maybe some pastels for highlighting. Visual recording styles vary from practitioner to practitioner. Some prefer a limited color palatte, some use only black and white, some fill the page with color.

As the speaker proceeds, the recorder listens carefully for highlights and important nuggets of information while jotting words down and adding pictures and icons AND while holding a cache of information that will be written down next AND while budgeting space on the page and deciding where things should be placed. I have watched in awe as some extremely talented, seasoned pros do this and make it look effortless. It is hard to do!

viz recording

While this medium is incredibly cool, content is still king. These charts are most effective when they summarize compelling, educational, well-organized content.

The story behind my chart

I was in the process of relocating to Charleston, SC and I was looking to meet some smart, interesting women in my soon-to-be hometown. I happened across a networking event held by the Center for Women, a non-profit organization that is dedicated to helping "lowcountry women succeed every day - professionally and personally." I attended a Speed Networking Event and I was taking notes in a sketchnote style (words and pictures). A woman peeked over my shoulder and asked, "are you an artist?" I said, "no" and explained my work as a visual facilitator. She then said that I must meet Jane Perdue. So, I found her and introduced myself.

Interestingly, I was familiar with Jane as I had been following her on Twitter at @thehrgoddess and enjoyed reading her content on Women and Leadership via her blog at Braithwaite Innovation Group. We chatted a bit and she told me about the Women’s Leadership Institute at the Center for Women. I loved the subject matter and concept and offered to record her session.

On a Saturday morning, a group of about 20 women attended the workshop on “Women Leading with Confidence and Strength.” I stood off to the side of the room in front of an 8’ x 4’ blank piece of paper. I had a pencil, markers and some pastels. I had a general idea of how I wanted to place the information and an even more general idea of how I wanted the finished product to look. Jane introduced herself and then me and I explained to the group what I would be doing.

Jane’s presentation was a three-hour talk with PowerPoint slides, Q&A and some exercises. Remember what I said about content being king? Well, it was an absolute pleasure to create this chart because I enjoyed listening to and learning the material. Jane is an excellent presenter. Her presentation was extremely well organized, the pace was perfect, there were well-timed breaks and audience participation and she has a great presence and speaking voice.

Chart Breakdown

I started by writing the the title of the talk, the presenter and the location/sponsor of the event at the top of the page.

During the introduction, I paid attention to the agenda so that I could budget my space accordingly. I picked up on three big “buckets” for information based on what Jane said would be covered. 1) Definition of Leadership 2) Leadership Styles and 3) How to Build Leadership Skills. I drew lines in pencil to divide the paper into thirds.

Jane began her presentation and I captured the high-level bullet points under “Definitions of Leadership” and added some details as sub-bullets. I added some doodles and icons to help people recall the points when viewing the chart in the future.

As I was listening and capturing the information, there were times when I could not keep up. This is when the pencil and well-timed breaks helped. I would jot an idea down in pencil and would add it to the chart in marker while the group was working on an activity or on a break.

About fifteen minutes into the presentation, I established a good flow and was in sync with Jane.

One of my favorite parts of the chart is the one circled below. Jane asked the group if they had any “a-ha” moments about Leadership after learning about different Leadership styles. There was a lively discussion and I had to listen VERY carefully to their words to find the nugget of the a-ha. I recorded their EXACT words which became a part of Jane’s presentation. This is one of the things that I love most about visual recording; it allows people to SEE that they have been HEARD.


At the end of three hours, I had a visual summary of the presentation and the audiences’ thoughts. Since it was a lovely fall day, and the room was full of great energy, I decided to experiment with some color and laid in some blue and green. I typically stick to black and white, so this was a fun departure. I tied the presentation together with the visual metaphor of a road since the presentation refered to the past, present and future of leadership.

I photographed the chart and it was distributed to the participants in an 8.5" x 11.0" PDF. My goal was to give them a one page summary of the session that included some great learning material and their own thoughts. Hopefully it serves as a helpful refresher in their continuing Leadership studies.

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