This human focus was something I thought about as I took notes during several of the main stage sessions – talks by Gary Turner, Rod Drury and Chris Hoy.
Taking notes at a conference is something everyone does. We bring notebooks, tablets, phones, and we jot down ideas, quotes, people we intend to follow-up with, apps and companies we find interesting.
I used to take notes in the ‘normal way’ – writing words down on paper, or on a tablet. Words, words, words. Trying desperately to capture everything, to remember it all, to take home with me as much as possible of what was said.
Except, I found it didn’t work that way.
When you write down as many words as possible, it becomes simply a glut of words.
I would get home and either be overwhelmed by my notes, or store them away and promise myself
I’d look at them later. Within even a few hours, I’d be diving into my email inbox and phone messages and Slack messages, and all those brilliant notes would need to be set aside. I might find them months or years later, or I might throw them away because they weren’t relevant anymore…
Until I discovered sketchnoting
Sketchnoting is a form of visual note taking that allows you to capture highlights. Ideas. Information.
I learned the concept from Mike Rohde, author of ‘The Sketchnote Handbook’, and it appealed to me instantly.
I’m a creative person. I love writing, drawing, painting, photography, art. I see things visually rather than in words. My calendar is colour-coordinated so I can quickly identify the categories of meetings scheduled.
The idea is that instead of simply writing down words, words, words… you sketch out ideas. When Chris Hoy says “I was inspired to take up cycling after seeing the film E.T.”, you sketch out a little brown ET figure, with the finger glowing red, and it stays in your mind better. You remember ET because you saw him in your mind, and you can see little Chris, cycling like crazy, just like Elliott in the film.
When Rod Drury says “It’s never only been about Xero; it’s the apps, the Xeroes, the community” – you think about what that means, and how Xero is a global business, and you think about all those people all over the world. So you sketch out a globe, and little people surrounding it.
You still capture some of the words – but instead of trying to capture every single one, you really listen, really pay attention. You wait for the phrase or the concept that sticks with you more than the others, and then you write that down word for word, with an image to go with it.
Most people who see my sketchnotes love them. The responses usually start with “that’s beautiful” or “wow, I love it”… and are almost always followed by, “.. but I could never do that.”
Sketchnoting is all very well for you, they say. You’re a creative. You’re artistic. Look at that little drawing there – I could never do that.
But the single most important message of sketchnoting (and it’s found in Rohde’s book) is:
Ideas, not art.
Sketchnoting isn’t about making really pretty notes that you share and people are wowed by and maybe you put into a book one day.
It’s not about impressing other people with your artistic talent.
It’s about capturing the ideas that stuck with you. Remembering what was said as if it was said only for you. For yourself.
It doesn’t matter if you can’t draw. What does matter is that in your note taking, you connect with the heart of what’s being said. Are you really listening, at that Xero event or conference or workshop or breakout session? Or are you simply taking notes?
If no one ever saw my sketchnotes, I’d still take them. By taking notes visually, I remember everything so much more clearly. But seeing and sharing sketchnotes is incredibly powerful, too. It enhances what you learned, because it gives you the opportunity to really talk about the content of it. Not simply “he was good, wasn’t he?” or “really interesting talk”, but, “This particular thing got me thinking.”
I start telling someone, “I loved that story Chris Hoy told about how they took their own beds with them, so they would sleep better… what was it he said?” and I go back to my notes and see that he shared about how they knew they needed to sleep well in order to cycle well, so they literally brought their own beds with them around the world. How the little things make the whole performance. And we start talking about what little things we can organise which will make things better for our clients. For our companies. For the world.
When Rod Drury tells about starting a global business from the kitchen table, I can SEE it in my mind. I see the brown kitchen table, the papers and laptop scattered, the people discussing and debating and agreeing. When he says, “You can do something completely global even from a small country”, I think about that, and how it applies to my own global business, which started in a second bedroom of a flat in a small town in Scotland.
There’s emotion in any conference, in any event or talk or presentation There’s emotion in business. There’s heart.
By taking notes visually, forcing yourself to slow down and really be present there with the person, the human, you’re not just learning. Not simply getting some facts and listing off some to-do’s.
You’re connecting with the person. With what is really being said. With the heart behind the words.
And that’s why we’re there at the conference, and why we’re here in business.
Try it next time!