Visual Meeting Facilitation Workshop with David Sibbet | Beth's Blog

Visual Meeting Facilitation Workshop with David Sibbet


Visual Meeting Workshop by David Sibbet and Rachel Smith - Based on Sibbet's book Visual Meetings

I’ve been a fan of visual thinking and graphic facilitation for many years – and have used the techniques to take notes for myself.    As a visual learner, mindmapping, drawing, and other techniques to think visually have helped me learn, synthesize lots of data, and see patterns.     I have also attended and facilitated meetings with a graphic recorder, most recently at the Nonprofit Technology Conference, and know the power of how “drawing on the wall” can help spark group insights and learning.

About a year ago,  I came across David Sibbet’s book, “Visual Meetings”  I have known of his work for years, but always thought graphic recording was for “real artists who can draw.’     The book was an inspiration and encouragement for those us whose inner critics have been keeping us away from using the technique in front of other people.     The book offers a wonderful road map for a learning journey to internalize these techniques and I’ve practicing a lot.   I haven’t made it to the top of the ladder where I can  “draw on the wall”  while facilitating a group, and I have not been able to become fluent in using visual note taking in digital ways – like on a iPad.    That’s why I was probably the first person to register last January for the Visual Meetings Workshop with David Sibbet and Rachel Smith from Grove Consultants that took place this week in San Francisco.

My notes from the workshop follow below and I’ve created with Storify that includes the many resources I discovered that I will be exploring.    I’ve set a new professional goal to improve my graphic recording and visual facilitation skills which requires a discipline of daily practice, starting with small simple steps and working towards more complex ones.    I definitely walked away achieving all the outcomes for the meeting, most importantly being inspired to put this knowledge into practice.

One of the techniques that they used that I loved was to provide a graphic template for your personal learning journey to internalize these skills.   While a one-day workshop can be fantastic, once you go back to your day to day craziness, it is hard to make that leap.     The book offers a rubric of skills, starting with the most simple to the more complex.      The other thing I learned, is that like anything else, to get good at this technique you have to practice until it is second nature.    Rachel Smith, workshop co-facilitator,  drove home this point when she shared with the group that she felt she was not good at drawing people – so she practice drawing people 600 times before using it for an assignment.

The workshop started with a role play of David and Rachel planning the agenda for the workshop, but simulating how you might do this over the Internet and using graphic recording.   Rachel, a virtuoso technologist and artist, used a drawing tablet and Sketchbook pro.  (Here’s an interview with Rachel about the techniques and a blog post the tools. Later in the workshop, they did a duo of graphic recording – with Rachel using the digital tools and Sibbet drawing on paper with markers.

Next was an  icebreaker where we had to draw on a table tent – our names and the answer to this fill in the blank question:  “I’m at my best when …”    Icebreakers should always reinforce the outcomes in some way or skills being taught – and provide a way for people to get to know each other.   This is especially important if there are small group exercises.

David Sibbet gave an overview of visual meetings and why it is so compelling now.   He used PREZI, a non-linear presentation program. It goes beyond the linearity of powerpoint, but it to use it to present with takes getting to know the program well – and thinking about your storyboard and visuals as three-dimensional tick-tac-toe board.  (I could not track down the PREZI, but in the TEDX video -you’ll hear the main points he made.)     This segment was followed by small group work where we did a peer assist brainstorm on incorporating visual techniques into their next meeting.  We used sticky notes and the mandala template.    David modeled a full group discussion to gather up all the ideas – using a template that used the basic flows of facilitation – attention, energy, information, and operations.

The afternoon was focused on the skill building – drawing – images and letters.   This is covered in the book in great depth, but it was great to have Rachel lead us through the drawing techniques, stroke by stroke.    We ended with a Q/A Session.    Rachel shared a number of techniques and tips on how to embrace digital graphic recording in the iPad.    A couple of insights that inspired me:

  • Graphic facilitation is not about being a good at drawing, but better at listening
  • Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect – be thinking about what’s next
  • Accept corrections like Christmas presents
  • Be the fool in front the audience’s queen and king – don’t be afraid of public mistakes
  • Practice, practice, practice is the key
  • Using technology will always feel a little unnatural – but don’t let that get in your way
  • Graphic facilitating encourages engagement and acknowledge of people in the room – it validates them

I feel inspired to add visual meetings to the curated  list of skills and knowledge for trainers and capacity builders that I’m learning about.

There is a whole community of graphic facilitators and practitioners like Nancy White who are using these techniques with ngos.

Have you experimented or are you using graphic meeting facilitation for your nonprofit?  Share your story below.


15 Responses

  1. Nancy white says:

    Well it just so happens I am in synch with you half way round the world in Rome. We ran a half day graphic facilitation workshop as part of a four day Agricultural knowledge share fair. Then it was so lovely to see people use it the rest of the week. Check the sfrome tag on Flickr and twitter and Facebook!

    I have another word… Liberating!

  2. Beth Kanter says:

    I noticed that!! I have another word – comfort. It is helping me gain my focus skills ..

  3. Lisa N. says:

    Beth, this is a great post. It inspired and reminded me about the importance of practice, practice, practice.

    Drawing people 600 times, OMG. I better get cracking!

  4. Barbara says:

    Great to have your recap of the workshop–I was so interested in watching Dave and Rachel draw as they spoke that I didn’t take many notes. What I so appreciated about the workshop (in addition to the points you list):
    *Hearing Rachel say, “leave your inner critic in Hawaii”
    *Thinking about visuals as part of the storytelling (the metamorphosis story–drawing the past, the present, the future story–something I do with words when I lead storytelling workshops. I can see integrating drawing into my story exercises!

    Good to catch a glimpse of you!

  5. Mimi Cook says:

    Thank you for such a great post, Beth! I’m especially fascinated by the electronic tools and techniques, and whether they could be used in online, group-learning situations. We’re working on incorporating collaborative learning opportunities into some of our programs, and group note-taking appears to play a significant role in making online discussions successful. Do you think graphic facilitation could be applied to online discussions? Are there any resources you might recommend?

  6. Beth Kanter says:

    Barbara: Thanks for capturing that quote about Hawaii – now remembering that and have been quieting my inner critic while I happily practice my star people and letters! Great to catch you too

  7. Beth Kanter says:

    @mimi – yes – that is how they modeled the use of it – taking notes for conference call

  8. Thanks for the great recap and insights! Here is a link to Prezi Desktop, and their other products.

    Ed Palmer
    The Grove

  9. Tobi Johnson says:


    Here’s my story about nonprofit graphic facilitation…Many moons ago, when I was running a youth program in SF, I met Diana Arsenian. We met at the Salzburg Seminar where she was facilitating some of our work around partnership development in the social sector. As a former art student, I was entranced. She was working at The Grove and generously gave me a set of pocket sized graphic facilitation templates. I’ve pulled them out over the years with the nonprofit teams I supervised to better visualize our strategic planning processes.

    I found that the combination of left-brain analytic thinking and right-brain creative visualization has an amazing effect on participants. I’ve seen it time and time again — dysfunctional teams start to talk with each other, perpetually grumpy people lighten up, and the group leaves refreshed. It always seems miraculous, but I get it. Art touches your soul in ways nothing else can.

    Lately in my consulting biz, I’ve developed my own templates that help tease out some of the thorny issues my clients are dealing with. A few weeks ago, I led a group through the process of mapping their touch points with service beneficiaries — before during and after service. Our aim was to deeply analyze each interaction to find ways to improve and innovate. Because I understood that the group was experiencing internal tension and was resistant to change, I was prepared for some rough going. They brainstormed ideas on post it notes, I coached, and while they were at dinner I transcribed their ideas onto the mural. The next morning they were able to view their work and vote on their favorite ideas with sticky dots. Folks were engaged from the very start until the very end, even through an exhausting, content packed day.

    Rather than being a horribly painful and stilted process, graphic facilitation once again proved its worth as a pleasant yet disarming way to bring teams together for important and thoughtful collaboration. Many people approached me throughout the conference and thanked me for such a wonderful experience, and the training evaluations told the same tale — people felt validated because they were an active part of the process. And, maybe in some small way because of these actions they progressed further up the ladder of engagement within their own organization.

    To see pics of this work and others —

    Thanks for always keeping it fresh,
    Tobi Johnson & Associates

  10. LG Davitian says:

    Dear Beth, I am so encouraged by your post. I worked alot with David’s book this summer and learned alot. Now for practice. These additional resources are so helpful. And I really appreciate Tobi’s story. Thank you. LGD

  11. Beth says:

    Laura thanks for your comments. Practice is the secret. And, Tobi, thanks sharing that story and resource.

  12. this reminds me of a lecture series where they draw the idea’s there talking about..

    like anything for me when i can draw it out it always helps

  13. We have created several apps for the iPhone and iPad that help run simply effective meetings. I would love to see someone use creative visual notetaking using our app. You can find the app at or visit with me on twitter @MyMeetingPro.

  14. […] I've been a fan of visual thinking and graphic facilitation for many years – and have used the techniques to take notes for myself.  […]