An essential element of advanced collaboration and helping people achieve their strategic network is graphic facilitation – the real-time translation of a group conversation into visuals combining words and images, all under the eyes of the participants. When I am in the front of the room helping shape a large-group discussion, I am almost always accompanied by a graphic facilitator – a scribe – who listens, judges, filters, and then draws. While the artifact which the scribe creates can provide a useful and colorful addition to a meeting report or Executive Summary, the real value of the scribe is as a designated listener. There, standing before all of us, a man or a woman with colored markers is listening on our behalf, focused on the conversation, thereby helping us to stay focused. And when participants see that they are being listened to, they tend to put more thought and care into what they say.
Scribing is a remarkable skill. It requires considerable presence and attention; yet it doesn’t rely on mastery of the content. At a high-powered event several years ago, I attempted to scribe a discussion while hidden behind a wall; meanwhile my colleague – a remarkably talented young graphic facilitator – scribed the same discussion in view of the client. The highly technical topic (barriers to investment) was familiar to me but entirely new to her: plenty of jargon and references to obscure names and events. Yes, she has artistic talent and technical drafting skill that I utterly lack. Yet in this instance she chose not to use these tools. Rather than drawing, which she does so well, she limited herself to words and to a single black marker, working with one hand figuratively tied behind her back.
Her result was so thoroughly superior to mine that I have not stopped asking myself whether I even know how to listen. Of course, we can attribute most of her superior performance to years of practice, but I’m convinced that part of her success was due to her ignorance of the topic. By filtering out the jargon and the technicalities, she could better focus on the deeper messages and the underlying structure of their discussion. By reflecting back to the participants those messages and that structure – by helping them see behind and beyond their own words – she not only produced a wonderful record of the discussion, I believe that she contributed to the insights that emerged and thus to the discussion’s ultimate success.
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