Why We Don't Get The Job

I save every proposal I’ve lost. I have a file full of them. They go back to 2013 when I first incorporated. There’s sixty-eight of them all together, and on the cover of each one, I scrawled the reason I didn’t get the job. Why would I ever want to keep these? I tend to learn a lot when things don’t go well. There was a lesson behind each lost proposal.

I recently went through all sixty-eight to see if there were any trends… and because I need the space in my filing cabinet. Here’s what I found:


Price – 33%

People think I’m nuts for saying this, but I’m HAPPY to lose a job on price. Early on I decided that, if there were three tiers of pricing in the industry, I wanted my rates to be in the middle of the highest tier. If I lose a job because the client found someone with less expensive rates, that tells me I’m right where I want to be.

If a potential client’s biggest concern is cost, they’re probably shopping around. They may be checking a box on a list of tasks to prepare for an event. Or they might not have done much research into the differences between different visual practitioners* and view them as being equally skilled. We’re not equally skilled. Some have amazing abilities in drawing and illustration that they’ve refined through years of practice and study. Others have deep knowledge and expertise in facilitation and group processes. Others draw in methods from related disciplines like design thinking, agile methodology, and project management. Others have years of experience as consultants and draw from their expertise in fields like strategy, communications, and organizational development. Others have impressive organizational agility and business savvy and can make sense of even the most esoteric of conversations. There is a best athlete for every job.

If a potential client starts the discovery conversation with “How much are your services?” I always answer with, “Well, that depends on what you’re looking for,” and I try to understand more about their needs and expectations so I can propose the right services to meet their outcomes. Sometimes they’re unwilling or unable to have that discussion. They may stick with, “We just need someone to show up and draw, and I’m trying to get an idea of prices.” That tells me that cost is more of an issue than partnering to create an extraordinary experience. In those cases, I will refer them elsewhere. In his book Lynchpin, Seth Godin says competing on price is a “race to the bottom.” I believe competing on price commoditizes our work. It cheapens both the value of what we do and the rich diversity of backgrounds of those in the field.

I’m happy to lose on price.

Disappearing Act – 28%

Sometimes, despite the best discovery call and what I think is a solid proposal, potential clients will drop off the face of the Earth and become completely unresponsive. I’ll send emails and leave voicemails in case the emails are stuck in a spam filter somewhere, and yet, I get nothing back. No response. Nada. Zilch. Static. White Noise. This is a tough one for me for two reasons. Number one, I like closure. Number two, it’s tough for me to NOT to make up stories about what’s going on. But the truth is, there’s no way to know what happens here.

Once or twice, a potential client HAS followed up with me after a long period of radio silence, full of apologies, and explaining that they didn’t have the attention capacity to follow through. I get that. Our clients are busy. It’s up to me to demonstrate that the value of the services outweighs the cost of time and attention it takes to bring them in.

No Funding – 11%

This one isn’t unique to the DC area, but it sure is prevalent here. There are a lot of non-profits, not-for-profits, associations, and third-party event organizers who get their funding externally from grants and sponsors. And sometimes, they haven’t sealed the deal on that funding before contracting with me. I’ve never been told this was the case until after being told, “there’s no funding.”

In one instance where this happened, an organizer wasn’t able to secure a sponsor for a knowledge wall at an association convention. We were lucky: I had previously supported another member of the association, and the organizer and I were able to sign them as a sponsor. But in retrospect, that was a lot of additional work for me and should have been the organizer’s responsibility.

If I get the sense during the discovery call that funding may be an issue, I use it as an opportunity to mention my cancellation policy.

Didn’t Agree to Terms – 7%

File this one under, “C’mon, really?” There are about three pages of terms and conditions in my proposals. A lot of it is legalese like representations and governing law, but some of it lists conditions necessary to do the work. For example, I need time to set up and tear down. I need space in the room set up. I need to be able to hear what participants are saying. These seem obvious, but potential clients don’t always think of this.

In a few instances, potential clients don’t agree to my terms and conditions. Once, it was the half-day minimum. I don’t work on an hourly basis. They said, “You’ll only be actually facilitating a total of two-and-half hours over the course of the entire four-hour event. The rest of the time will be presentations and break outs. So we took your half-day fee, divided it by the time we need you, and here’s what we’ll pay you.” That wasn’t something I was willing to compromise.

Another time, the client wasn’t willing to pay for travel or accommodations. Rolling expenses into the overall cost wasn’t an option in this case. The venue was a four-star resort deep in the mountains of West Virginia, by the way.

I was happy to lose these proposals.

Contracting Bureaucracy – 5%

This one saddens me. Sometimes, a client’s own contracting department has procedures that are so complex the client can’t untangle them. I’ve tried to make this easier for my federal clients by trying to understand as much as I can about federal contracting policy and procedures so I can offer options they may not know about. But if it’s a big company that’s hiring me, learning their processes can be like learning a new language. I once had a company send me over four hundred pages of forms and documents to read and complete, and this was just to teach two half-day workshops!

If a client doesn’t know how to manage contracts and tries to navigate their own bureaucracy, it can a huge burden. I try to do what I can to keep things simple and provide options, but sometimes clients throw up their hands and give up.

Downscoped – 5%

This is where the potential client withdrew the visual component from their event altogether. In every case, the overall format of the event had shifted from being a facilitated discussion to simply informing participants of a decision that had already been made (read: death by PowerPoint.) And in every case, I was happy to lose the work.

Better Qualified – 4%

On two separate occasions, the potential client informed me that they had found someone that was better qualified or was a better fit for their organization. Interestingly, both clients happily told me who they’d gotten. In the first case, I completely agreed that the person they’d selected WAS the better fit: she had made a career in that industry before breaking out as a graphic facilitator. In the second case, I had no idea who the person was. After the event, I reached out, and I’m happy to say she’s now a part of my network and someone I continue to learn from.

Prime Mark-Up – 3%

This one really burns me. It’s probably more prevalent in the DC area. I get a lot of work from prime contractors (other companies) who are hiring me to work on their behalf for a client. Nearly all of them have been great partners. We collaborate on designing and co-facilitating events. They pass my fees onto their clients, along with a reasonable mark-up. I get the work, the prime makes a little money off my services, and the client gets the outcomes they want. We’re all happy.

But twice it’s happened that the prime contractor marked up my services exorbitantly. I hadn’t had a prior relationship with either company. In both cases, I found out through back channels how much their mark up was, and it was upwards of two or three TIMES my rate. And remember, I’m in the middle of the high end. So the prices quoted to the clients were ungodly.

Needless to say, the clients didn’t approve the rates, the jobs didn’t happen, and I didn’t work for the prime contractors, then or ever.

Missed Flight – 2%

This happened only once, five years ago, but I’m still mad about it. I got stuck in St. Louis in one of those rolling delay situations where the airline says, “It’ll be another thirty minutes,” then after thirty minutes, “it’ll be another forty-five minutes,” and on and on. And because it’s not a cancellation, they don’t let you change your flight. This went on all day until there were no other flights departing St. Louis. I missed the kick-off of a three-day offsite that I was facilitating. The client was understanding but cancelled the contract without rescheduling, and I was out around $10k.

So yeah, I’m still mad about it.                                                                                                           

When I travel, I always “bookend” my trips, allowing a day before and a day after in case of disruption. No more red-eyes from one event to the next. This has an added benefit of giving time to reset after an event to clean up charts and catch up on email. And on the few occasions where schedules don’t allow bookending, I always have a back-up: I’ll walk another facilitator through the approach and agenda and make sure they can step in if I get stuck somewhere.

Unresponsive Until the Day Before – 2%

This is another one that only happened once, which hopefully means I learned from it. I thought it was a disappearing act: after a good discovery and solid proposal, I got no response to numerous emails or voicemails. For three months, basic questions (like the exact location of the event!) didn’t get answered. Then, the day before the event, I got the signed proposal in my inbox and an email that said, “OK! We’re good to go! See you tomorrow!” I had already written it off and taken on another job.

After that, I rewrote the Acceptance section of proposal to read:

By signing this proposal, I acknowledge my acceptance of and agreement with the terms of this proposal and authorize work to begin. I understand that, due to the time required for planning and preparation, the terms in this proposal are valid until [date, usually 3 weeks before.] If a signed proposal has not been received by Lizard Brain Solutions by [date,] the proposal is no longer valid.


*I’m using the term “visual practitioner” to include graphic facilitators, graphic recorders, visual consultants, visual coaches, sketchnoters, whiteboard animators, vision mappers, and any other practice that uses visuals with active listening and group processes.

A Business Start Up Conversation with Ed Jones, CPA

In January 2018, I interviewed Ed Jones, a certified public accountant with a specialty in small business start ups. Members of the NOVA Scribes Meetup group dialed in with their questions. We tailored our answers to focus specifically on the unique business needs of visual practitioners.

We covered the gamut of business start up topics, including:

  • Incorporation, business licenses, and legal entities,
  • Insurance and managing risk,
  • Banking, accounts, and processing payments,
  • Sales and income taxes,
  • Contract provisions and terms and conditions,
  • Intellectual property rights,
  • Fees associated with starting up a business,
  • Business expenses and what you can deduct,
  • Marketing, social media, and website hosting,
  • Software licenses,
  • Getting legal advice,
  • Professional associations, and
  • Starting up a business while still working for another company.

Here's the hour-and-a-half video:

Ed is extremely generous with his time and knowledge! If you have specific questions that he didn't answer, please reach out to him at ejones@ebjcpa.com.

Thanks to Lauren Green for technical facilitation, and thanks to Heather Lynn Osborn Herbert for these outstanding sketchnotes:

Sketchnotes by Heather Lynn Osborn Herbert

I'm also including the standard terms and conditions from my proposals, which were written specifically for graphic facilitation and graphic recording. Please read them carefully and use at your own risk: no agreement completely guarantees that nothing will go wrong!

Standard Terms and Conditions

Good luck, and think with ink!

The Art of the Side Hustle

For the visual practitioner trying to start a business while still working a day job, it’s all about the side hustle.  

Here’s the words Chris Guillebeau via Gavin Aung Than’s Zen Pencils


Working With Visionaries

In this video, Heather Martinez shares tactics for working with big-picture people who may struggle to articulate exactly what they want from you.  

Of all the tactics Heather shares, asking “What do YOU need?”   may be the most powerful. Visionaries can get caught up in the swirl of their own ideas and may lose sight of what’s achievable. This simple question centers and grounds the visionary’s thought process by providing explicit support and validation along with a little self awareness.

Visionaries make up only 11.3% of the population, but because of their big-picture thinking, they are likely to be in positions of leadership. Which means, you’ll probably find yourself with a visionary for a client some day. 

Is being a visual practitioner your ikigai?

Whiteboard animation defining ikigai

At some point, you may have asked yourself if being a visual practitioner is the right thing for you to do. The Japanese concept of ikigai is a good way to check.

  1. Do you love it?
  2. Does the world need it?
  3. Are you paid for it?
  4. Are you great at it?

If the answer to each of them is yes, then ikigai can be a way of explaining why you do what you do.

Client being unrealistic? Feeling frustrated? Mind the gap.

"OK, so, there are going to be twelve breakout groups meeting over the next hour. We want you to record everything they say in their breakouts, so that as soon as they come back, they can see what everyone else said. Sound good?"

True story.

The conditions we need to do our work that seem obvious to us can be a revelation to our clients. "No, I can't be in twelve places at once and record everything that I hear in less than an hour." I'm often frustrated by my own inability to explain what I need to be effective. And more often, I'm frustrated by my inability to explain the value of open conversation, or time to quietly reflect and synthesize, or even do the basics of framing the day. "What are we going to GET out of it?" is a question that's hard for me to answer because to me, the reasons are intuitive and obvious. 

I'm becoming convinced that visual practitioners have to develop language to talk about the finer points of our work to those clients who don't live in this world.

This is a Sophistication Gap. 

The good news is that we can learn a lot from wedding cake bakers.

Why can the hired professional-client relationship be so frustrating?Mind the gap.

PS: (I've gotten some constructive feedback that I open stories without closing them. Thanks for that!) When the client requested that I record across twelve breakout groups in an hour, I said, "Well, the only way for me to do that would be to run from group to group and capture snippets that I happen to hear while I'm there, and turn those snippets into a word cloud. Is that what you're looking for?" Nope, they didn't want that. "In that case, let me suggest that each group choose a scribe. They can record a list of their key takeaways on a flipchart. We can post all the flipcharts together, so that everyone can see what the other groups talked about. Will that work?" Yes, they liked that idea, and wanted to know if I could provide materials. "Yep, I've got some extra flipchart paper that they can just stick to the wall. ...umm, no, let's not have them use Expo markers... these are called Charters and they're welcome to use them...  no, you can't have those, those are my Neulands and I need them to do my job..."

From Designer Problems, this webcomic from Seth Roberts and Brian Hawes perfectly captures  the Sophistication Gap.

From Designer Problems, this webcomic from Seth Roberts and Brian Hawes perfectly captures the Sophistication Gap.

Personal Visions

Click to enlarge the example.

Team members can support each other's growth and development if they know what each other's vision and goals are. This visual template combines values, vision, and personal and professional goals to help team members share their aspirations.

The Personal Vision is best completed individually. Begin by selecting values. I recommend the Kouzes and Posner deck of values cards. Values should be motivational. Focus on values what that get you energized. Steer away from foundational, must-have values.

Next, work on a Personal Vision statement and Vision Aspects simultaneously. A Personal Vision statement is aspirational. It begins with "to be" or an action word. Where the Personal Vision describes an ultimate end state, Vision Aspects are the attributes that help define that end state . They answer, "What does the Personal Vision mean? What would it look like if you had achieved the Personal Vision?" 

Label the timeline, beginning with this calendar year and going forward.

Fill out Professional Development Goals and the Personal Growth & Learning Goals simultaneously, as they occur to you. It may be easier to choose Professional Goals and then choose Learning Goals that may first be necessary to achieve those Professional Goals. If a goal could fit in either column, just capture it on either one. 

Finally, choose Milestones and Metrics for both the Personal and Professional sides. These are specific measurables or clear achievements. 

Refresh Personal Visions whenever bringing on a new team member or norming as a team

Download the Personal Vision template here.

Managing Up, Down, Across, and Out

Pause to consider how well you manage UP, DOWN, ACROSS, and OUT.

A few years ago, the senior leaders of an organization I was consulting decided they needed a major cultural shift. Fortunately, they were willing to dedicate the time and effort necessary to pull it off. We used Appreciative Inquiry (AI) as the foundation for the change. AI focuses on what works well in an organization and replicates those conditions of success. I asked, “Which of your midlevel managers is the best example of the culture you’re moving to?” Immediately and unanimously, the organization’s leaders said one name: “Bob!” (Not his real name.)

“Why Bob?” I asked.

The senior leaders said, “Bob has been with us for over twenty years. He worked his way up through the organization and really knows his stuff. We’ve undergone a lot of changes over the past few years, and Bob has adopted every one of them into his division. He understands what we are trying to change this organization into and has taken on special projects to make this possible. He’s been successful every time. Despite how resistant the culture is, he’s been persistent. He’s hard working and he gets things done. If we had twenty more people like Bob, we’d change this organization in no time.”

Excited, I made an appointment to interview Bob. I was sure that, if I could just figure out what made him successful, the cultural shift would be in the bag. The interview went well. Bob was easy-going and optimistic. He was enthusiastic about the organization shifting its culture. He shared openly about his management philosophy and his approach to getting things done. He echoed many of the same cultural tenants that I’d heard from the organization’s leaders. When I closed the interview, Bob graciously offered to provide any support or answers I might need going forward.

Then I asked Bob if I might interview some of the people in his division.

Bob went stone-faced. He said, “Look, I don’t want to dissuade you, but this division has been in the organization since the very beginning. There aren’t a lot of forward thinkers. They like things just the way they are. Change isn’t going to come easily to them.” I said I understood, but that it was important to get a complete picture. Bob shrugged and handed me an org chart.

I interviewed Bob’s five direct reports.

Not one of them could stand him.

“There’s no filter with Bob. He just takes whatever leadership throws at him and plugs it into our division, whether it makes sense or not.”

“Bob expects way too much from us. Each one of these changes has either given us more to do or taken away resources. More bricks, less straw.”

“Bob treats us like disposable assets. He doesn’t listen to our concerns. He simply mandates and expects us to fall in line. And if you do what he says and production DOES fall, he completely throws you under the bus.”

“Bob is only looking out for himself. He goes out of his way to make himself look good to the bosses. But you don’t want to be one-on-one with him.”

“Bob is a jerk. He’s rude, arrogant, doesn’t listen… he’s just a jerk. I’ve been with this organization since college, but I put in my resignation letter two days ago. I just can’t work for him anymore.”

Bob wasn’t really a bright spot. He was exceptionally good at managing UP. He put a lot of energy into supporting the organization’s leaders. But he failed at managing DOWN. His direct reports had no respect for him. He was what Barry Oshry calls “a sewer pipe;” someone who takes what people at the top of an organization shovel out and dumps it on those at the bottom.

Following Oshry’s model of “Seeing Systems,” being good at your job also means being good at managing the different kinds of relationships.

  • How are you at managing UP? Do you support your boss? How far up the organizational ladder does that support go? Do you support the organization’s strategy and direction? How do you demonstrate that support, in words and actions?
  • How are you at managing DOWN? Do the people who report to you trust and respect you? Do you trust and respect them? What do you do directly to help them be successful? How do you take what leadership shovels out and make it work for the people below you?
  • How are you at managing ACROSS to your peers? To what extent do you have good working relations with people at the same level as you? How well do you understand their work and their challenges? How well do you coordinate with them to share relationships, resources, and what’s working well?
  • How are you at managing ACROSS to partners, suppliers, and support? They may not report to you and you may not report to them, but these people are part of your network. What does your relationship look like with them? Is your relationship with them transactional, or something more?
  • How are you at managing OUT to your customers? Regardless of what your job is, you have customers. You may think customers rely on you, but customers can take their business elsewhere. Customers are ultimately the ones that keep your organization in business. What are you doing to build good relationships with your customers?

Managing Up, Down, Across, and Out creates powerful questions you can bring to your clients AND you can ask yourself.

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due

I've been using Grove templates for eight years, and in that time, I've had some questions about how to use them properly. In this frank, honest, 45 min. recorded web interview, I interview Rachel Smith of the Grove Consultants International about the specifics of using Grove templates and its other intellectual property (IP.) 

Rachel answers some of my toughest questions head on, like:

  • What's OK and not OK to do with Grove templates,
  • What to do when you don't have a template in the room,
  • How to design your own templates and steer clear of IP missteps,
  • How to legally print Grove templates (hint: there's a license!),
  • What NEW templates the Grove has in the pipeline,
  • What's coming in her new book project, "Beyond Virtual Meetings,"
  • Why there's no book on storymaps, 
  • What are some master tips for using the templates (hint: did you know you can get custom headers?), and most importantly, 
  • What Chef Gusteau from "Ratatouille" and David Sibbet have in common.

If you use others' visual templates, this will clear up a lot of ambiguity. 


PS: You'll also see some of the earliest versions of the Grove templates, and see how they evolved over time. The highlight of the interview for me was when Rachel said, "Wow! These are like RELICS!"

Disclaimer: Throughout the interview, Rachel specifies moments when the views she shares are her own and not those of the Grove Consultants. 

Also: For some reason, I spaced out on starting my sketchnote cam until 7 minutes in. Just stick with it. 

Top 5 items to include in your terms and conditions

Here's a list of the top five items to include in your terms and conditions. They're simple, and can save you a lot of pain from unrealistic expectations. 

1. Sign here

Including a signature page is a good way to formalize an agreement. A signature block can follow a statement as simple as, "By signing this proposal, I acknowledge my acceptance of and agreement with the terms of this proposal and authorize work to begin." If you are providing several options, the signature block is a good place for the client to initial which option they're selecting.

2. This offer good until...

I had once had a client sit on a proposal until the day before an event. Who needs that kind of stress? Now, my proposals begin with, "Please return a signed acceptance no later than January 1, 2017, to secure our services," and the signature block reads "I understand that, due to the nature of the work and the time required for planning and preparation, the terms in this proposal are valid until January 1, 2017. If a signed proposal has not been received by Lizard Brain Solutions by January 1, 2017, Lizard Brain Solutions will release the tentative hold on the event date and may not be available to support my event."

3. Travel costs may change

Another side effect of a client sitting on a proposal means that travel estimates may change. If your proposal includes a travel cost estimate based on rates at the time, be sure to include a plus (or minus) percentage difference that will still be acceptable. 

4. Space, time, and light

It seems obvious, but ask for floor space (10' by 5' works for me) to set up your easels or Neuland walls, and access to the location an hour before and an hour after the event to set up and tear down. I once got to an all-day event, only to find out that the organizers set up room changes every hour, with 5 minutes in between for people (and me) to get from one place to the next. 

Also under the category of "it seems obvious," make sure there's adequate light. A couple years ago, Tim Hamons was in town to record a huge conference, and he graciously let me shadow him. Unfortunately, the space the client initially provided was in the back of a pitch-black auditorium. You couldn't see your hand in front of your face. It worked out by piping audio into an adjoining room, but it took some scrambling to do it. If there's any doubt of lighting, I pack an LED video light and a light stand with me.

5. This is a partnership!

In the spirit of setting clear expectations, set up the relationship as a partnership. I always end my proposals with, "The more you can engage us as partners in planning and delivering your event, the more we can ensure its success. We look forward to your partnership in this effort!"

Bonus: Have an expert check your terms and conditions

I highly recommend Chris Rader. He's familiar with what we do, easy to work with, and makes it easy for everyone. You can reach him at chris.rader@gmail.com.



Norming as a Team

Design and lettering by Heather Martinez,  @corpgraffitiart

Design and lettering by Heather Martinez, @corpgraffitiart

Bringing together a group of high-performing individuals does not automatically result in a high-performing team. The purpose of a Norming Offsite is to put in place the principles and practices that can help develop individuals into a high-performing team. It establishes processes and rhythms to make them successful in the service of their clients. 

The word "norming" comes from the Tuckman model of team development (Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing, Adjourning.) The building blocks of a Norming Offsite come from the fields of organizational and leadership development, project management, SAFe/Agile, coaching, and management consulting. The agenda for a Norming offsite follows the flow of what's called "actualization," which is first, orienting to myself as an individual, second, orienting to those around me as my team, and third, orienting to the organization and ecosystem we are a part of.

Here's what a Norming offsite gets you:

A small team of five or six can accomplish most of the activities above in a three-day offsite.

Design and lettering by Heather Martinez, @corpgraffitiart

Best Athlete chart (updated)

Here's a streamlined, updated template to the post on Best Athlete from Nov. 22, 2016. It's editable in Adobe Illustrator.

A Best Athlete chart is a powerful tool for a working team. It identifies core competencies and developmental opportunities. It minimizes the likelihood that a team member will get assigned a task they'd rather not take on. It's also a great way to make sure the client gets the best possible experience while avoiding over-reliance on a go-to team member.

For instructions on how to facilitate creating a team Best Athlete chart, click here. For development purposes, a Best Athlete charts works well when used alongside the Hersey-Blanchard Situational Leadership model.

So you want to start a facilitation business?

From the IAF Flipchart, here is some fantastic advice from Barbara MacKay:


The very first competency required by the IAF for professional facilitator certification is called Create Collaborative Client Relationships. Being able to do this consistently is the key to building a successful facilitation practice.

It’s how you get clients and keep clients. In this article I’ll share a few tips on this, as well as four more aspects of building an independent facilitation business:

  • Knowing the price of your market
  • Gaining continuous confidence in core facilitation tools and concepts
  • Organising accessible files and bookkeeping records
  • Maintaining and nourishing your well-being on a regular basis.



Materials List

I once arrived at an event only to realize I'd forgotten to bring a roll of tape. It was a pretty remote location, no office stores nearby, and all I could find to use were these glue dots that were about as easy to work with as mozzarella cheese. Not my best moment.

Ever since then, I've kept the following list in my bag:

Graphic recording:

  • Neuland markers
  • Ink
  • Drip rag
  • Nibs and nib case
  • Refill stand
  • Sharpies
  • Pencils
  • Kneaded eraser
  • White out
  • Labels
  • 3x5 sticky notes (for note taking)
  • Artist's tape
  • Double-sided tape
  • T-pins
  • Razor
  • Scissors
  • Circle templates (made by Heather Martinez)
  • Arc compass (any hardware store)
  • Hip pouch (any hardware store)
  • Personal care bag: mints, Advil, snack bars, cough drops
  • Small sketchbook
  • Source books with examples of charts (supplied by Trent Wakenight)
  • Cash
  • Business cards, postcards, thank you cards
  • Agenda, contract, and logistics
  • Paper, ski tube
  • Neuland wall or easels

If I'm also facilitating:

  • Rope Puller
  • Chimes
  • Story cubes

For participants:

  • Sharpies
  • Sharpie pens
  • 3x3 sticky notes
  • Large sticky notes
  • Charter markers (the Grove)
  • Folding bins (Ikea)

Another habit that I've gotten in to is to keep a running list of materials unique to the event while I'm designing the facilitation guide. Makes packing easy.

Reasons to Hire a Visual Practitioner

Art by Bruce Van Patter

Art by Bruce Van Patter

I just got a beautiful postcard from Phil Bakelaar and the IFVP featuring art by Bruce Van Patter. It has six great reasons to hire a visual practitioner. 

The value of graphic facilitation is easy to see but tough to describe. Every so often I hear, "What's the value in having graphic facilitation? What's the ROI?" Here's some language for the metrics-minded leads and clients:

From Robert E. Horn's book Visual Language, a study by John Sweller found that:
- Visuals produces better problem solving (45% answers correct on a test using conventional text and separate diagrams vs. 64% answers correct using integrated text and diagrams), and
- Visual language produces higher retention (22% more) and in less time (13% less.)

Additionally, the Wharton School of Business found that visuals in business led to:
- 64% increase in immediate decision making,
- a clear preference towards presenters who used visuals,
- reduction in meeting time by 24%, 
- an increase in consensus in groups from 58% without visuals to 79% using visuals. and
- an increase from 50% of audience members persuaded using verbal presentations to 67% of audience members persuaded using verbal plus visuals.

Magic for Magicians

When professional and amateur magicians get together to practice new tricks and give each other feedback, they call it an "IGOM:" an Informal Gathering of Magicians. If you're lucky enough to go to one, you'll see them perform some of the most technically sophisticated and difficult tricks in their repertoire, requiring exotic devices or blistering sleights of hand. Even if you've watched every episode of Breaking the Magician's Code, you'll still find yourself saying, "How'd she do that?" 

These tricks are almost never performed for the public. Why? They're too difficult. There's too much chance of something going wrong. And most importantly, the general public won't appreciate the artistry of the trick. "Laypeople," as magicians call them, don't have enough knowledge of the craft to recognize the skill that they're seeing. Instead, most magicians perform the bullet-proof tricks that they’ve done a thousand times already. The linking rings may raise gasps of awe from laypeople, but if someone pulls them out at an IGOM, they'll get groans and eyerolls. At IGOMs, there’s a saying: “magic for magicians.” IGOMs are a chance to test your skill among sophisticated professionals who will appreciate the talent behind it. IGOMs are tacit permission to show off how good you are.

There are IGOMs in every industry. Visual practitioners have Facebook, Instagram, and the IFVP conference. Who hasn’t looked at someone else’s work online and thought, “How’d she do that?” The answer is the same for both magicians and visual practitioners: talent and years of practice. And on Facebook, visual practitioners are posting their best work to share with other visual practitioners. They’re posting magic for magicians.

Visual practitioners working on teams compare work, learn from each other, and adopt each other’s methods. That’s the strength of being on a team: seeing fresh examples, getting ideas, and receiving rapid feedback on your own attempts. I’m trying hard to pick up lettering from Heather Martinez and comic book layouts from Trent Wakenight. The push to get better is a powerful, healthy motivator.

At the same time, it’s important to remember that, for the participants, it’s all magic. Last week, I watched a (non-visual) facilitator do the old “rotate your finger above your head, now move your hand down to your waist, and see how it changed directions” thingy. I may have groaned (internally), but it generated gasps of awe from an audience of several hundred participants. Most people have never seen what we do before. You don’t have to be David Copperfield or David Sibbet to achieve breakthroughs with your participants. Don’t let the push to get better stop you from pulling out your linking rings*.

*My own "linking rings" is the Grove’s Graphic Gameplan. You can facilitate just about any conversation on that sucker. It’s bullet-proof, and it never fails to help groups achieve breakthrough. 

Tips for Successfully Using Visualization in Your Event

I'm lucky to get a lot of repeat business from the same clients, but sometimes I work for a new client who's never seen graphic facilitation or graphic recording before. There's only so much of the experience you can share in advance. I find it useful to set conditions for success by laying them out explicitly. Here's a list of tips that I include in proposals:

Tips for Successfully Using Visualization in Your Event

  • Please allow one hour in advance of the meeting for our team to set up material and one hour after the meeting to tear down and pack up. Please provide a 10’ by 5’ space on the floor near the front of the room to set up a 6’ tall freestanding display board. Please inform the facility manager that completed charts will be hung around the walls using a nonstick, acid-free, archival artist’s tape that will not mar or damage paint or wallpaper. Understanding that events are always fluid, please be sensitive to our set up time requirements when it comes to room changes.
  • If you are designing the agenda, please keep us informed as to changes in time and items, as this helps us plan paper space to allow for each presentation and minimizes disruptions by having to change paper midway through a specific segment.
  • If your group has any logos, key visuals, or briefing decks, please provide them in advance so that we can come ready with prepared visuals.
  • Graphic charts are not meeting minutes. Charts capture the major themes and discussion points but less than 1% of the spoken word. If you need to have more detail captured, please provide a note taker (or indicate that you would like us to provide a note taker.)
  • We would like to use copies of the visuals generated from your event for marketing purposes, just as examples were provided to you to help frame your understanding of this practice. We will not share any information you deem sensitive or proprietary.
  • Please allow one week for digital copies of charts to be rendered and emailed to you.
  • During the event, if you feel we’ve missed an important point, please pass us a note, raise your hand, call it out, or share it in any other way you prefer.
  • It is YOUR paper: if you feel like you have an idea or concept that’s easier to draw than to try to articulate verbally, please grab a marker and draw your idea. We consider participants drawing on the charts themselves as the highest level of successful engagement.
  • Visualization has real return on investment: you can expect increased consensus, higher retention, and greater engagement, and you’ll be surprised by the amount we will be able to accomplish!

The more you can engage us as partners in planning and delivering your event, the more we can ensure its success. We look forward to your partnership in this effort!

Managing Methods: Cards

Working on a team means you'll get exposed to dozens, if not hundreds, of new tools, techniques, and methods. How do you leverage what you learn? Here are some ideas for information management, ranging from the very simple to the very complex:

  • Stickies
  • A dedicated sketchbook or Moleskine
  • Index cards
  • Mindmapping
  • Google Docs
  • Evernote
  • SharePoint

Whatever you choose, it's got to work for you and your workflow. After a couple of iterations, I decided I needed a system that wasn't tied to technology. Most tech solutions limit you to viewing one method at a time, making scanning through many methods time consuming. I also wanted a system that I could share with clients for co-designing approaches on the fly.

Ring of method cards

Ring of method cards

For me, blank playing cards held together by a wire key ring works the best. I have them roughly organized into categories: energizers, principles, groups of methods like the Grove Consultants' "Strategic Visioning" or LUMA Institutes's "Innovating for People," and then a whole bunch of single methods arranged alphabetically. 

In practice, when I learn about or remember a method, I write the title on one of the blank cards I keep at the back of the ring. I'll go back later and populate the body of the card with the essentials of the method, possibly after a little research to make sure I've got my facts straight. 

In use, I'll pull out the cards with a client when a discovery meeting shifts from talking about outcomes to approach. I'll pull out the few cards that I think will work well to achieve a particular outcome, then weigh the pros and cons of each card with the client. I'll write the duration of the activity given the size and nature of the group on a sticky next to each card. When we're done, we'll have the entire agenda mapped out. 

A few friends have suggested I publish these cards. There are two problems with that. First, I don't own these methods. These are really good ideas from a lot of really smart people. Second, the act of creating a card is even more valuable than having a card because it creates a strong mental model of the method and how you might use it.