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The Storytelling Approach to Note Taking

Using Sketches to Learn and Share

More and more people seem to be sharing their colorful sketches and presentation notes on Flickr. Sketching is on the rise! I enjoy seeing how people combine words and drawings to capture information or explore an idea-using what I call a storytelling approach to note taking.

Many of us first think of mind maps when we think of visual methods for note taking. Who hasn’t been to a conference or a meeting where you sat next to someone who was taking notes by creating a mind map? Some of my former colleagues used mind mapping software to take meeting notes. I tried it too – for a while.

What is a mind map? According to Tony Buzan, a mind map is a thinking tool that reflects our radiant and associative thinking. However, for notetaking I no longer use the mind mapping technique of starting with a central concept and branching out from there. I guess that when I ran out of space to branch out, I became frustrated with the branching form. On top of that, while I was trying to fit all my branches on one page, I couldn’t focus on the presentation!

I do think that a mind map is a good tool for learning and retrieval, for clustering information, and for grasping a concept by visualizing its elements. The mind map is also a good technique for review. For example, I often ask my seminar participants to work in groups to create a mind map as a review on the second or third day of a seminar. This allows teams to capture and share their knowledge and insights.

For notetaking, I now use a free-flowing form to capture information, key words, and sometimes a quote. I use colors to highlight important points, and create drawings to clarify a concept or often just for the fun of it. Taking colorful notes is not only a pleasure, but the process also helps me reflect on the information and improves my thinking. The more I practice this form of colorful note-taking, the more confident I become in my drawing abilities. After all, the artistic sketches that we see shared online are most likely done by people who started drawing a while back and have honed their skill over time.

My own experience has been that once I got started with my notebook and colored pens, I began to enjoy the process of combining words with pictures. My drawings have improved with practice, and I believe my thinking has, too.

Photo credit: Dean Meyers

For further exploration, see:

Rapid Viz: A New Method for the Rapid Visualization of Ideas 
by Hanks and Belliston

Claxus is an international training & consulting firm based in Zurich, Switzerland. We are powered by an international network of experts in business leadership, communication and change management.


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