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An incomplete harvest

PuzzleTo my mind, there aren’t a lot of rules in graphic recording. You listen, you distill, you write and you draw – how you do that is up to you. But one thing I often worry about is whether I’m doing my job properly if I don’t finish my charts when the session ends – or at least very shortly after. I take a lot of pride in my work and think I do a good job for my clients. And the feedback I get suggests I’m not overestimating my abilities. But I’m not super-fast. I envy those of my colleagues who can wrap up a chart shortly after a speaker finishes: honesty compels me to confess that I’m rarely able to match their speed. Which means that sometimes, at the end of the day, my charts aren’t finished. I’ll stay till I’m done, of course – but am I doing my clients a disservice if they don’t see the “big picture” as soon as the meeting ends? No one has ever complained to me when that happens, but still – I worry.

Yesterday, though, something interesting took place. I was graphically recording an event I had designed and was facilitating myself. The bulk of the session was a modified World Cafe with three rounds of table conversation around three separate but related questions. The process I’ve evolved for mapping World Cafe dialogues is to collect the key ideas from each table after each round and transfer the information to the chart while they’re doing the next round. It usually works pretty well. It worked fine for the first round yesterday. But in the second round, the question we posed elicited such a fire hose of content that there was no way I could get it up in a coherent way before the third round began. And the charts were going to be used to present to a government ministry later on, so it needed to be coherent! What to do?

I did the only thing that seemed realistic: I told them I was going to listen carefully to what they said, put everything on sticky notes, and then finish the chart in my studio a couple of days later. It felt like it would be a disservice to the group to simply list things as they came up without distilling and theming them properly. But I still felt badly. I wanted them to be able to take away a completed chart at the end of the day, and I wasn’t going to be able to deliver.

Then my client – the person who was spearheading the whole process and who was very much involved in it – did something wonderful. She stood up and said, “Thank you for being so honest and flexible, for recognizing what we need, and for being willing to shift your process to give us what we need.” Far from being upset that she wouldn’t have a finished product at the end of the day, she was impressed that I wasn’t a slave to my original design and that I would put in extra hours in my studio to deliver a chart that was legible, organized and usable. Well. That flipped my anxiety on its head. And it reminded me yet again that being upfront and transparent and – yes – vulnerable is sometimes the best service I can render. A good lesson to keep relearning.

So – would I like to have been able to finish the chart at the end of the day? Of course I would! I still want to be superwoman, dazzling my clients with my speed as well as my virtuosity. But all I can be is me – and I’m glad that yesterday that was enough.

2 Responses to “An incomplete harvest”

  1. Alece says:

    Very nice article Avril! I just graphic recorded a 3-day conference by myself and which amounted to 20 sessions total. The client literally stood beside me at the end of each session and took the chart away as soon as the speaker stopped so she could display it. SO, I limited my palette which saved a lot of time, and I also didn’t capture as much of the Q&A as I would have if I had an extra 15 minutes to finish the charts. I think we just need to make choices depending on each situation and sometimes it’s very appropriate to take the work home and finish it.

    • avril says:

      Thanks so much for your comment, Alece! I agree with you wholeheartedly: each situation is different and demands a different response. That’s my point exactly – we can’t be bound be some notion we have of “rules”, but have to use our judgement to serve the process and participants in the most appropriate way for that particular occasion.