A simple checklist for setting your Listening Intention

April 3, 2017

In previous articles we talked about why you need to be a better listener, the potential shortfalls of active listening, and three steps to being a great practical (or purposeful) listener. That means listening for a specific purpose, audience and outcome.

The foundation and first step in being a great purposeful listener is setting your intention before you enter the room. Your intention becomes the lenses through which you filter the information that you hear.

Here’s a simple checklist for setting a solid Listening Intention:

1) Who are you listening for?

Who is the end user / beneficiary of the information that you’re listening to? This could be multiple people or groups. Write them down at the top of the page in the notebook or sketchbook that you’ll be using while listening. If you have multiple users, you might like to write them down on separate pages or sections in advance.

2) What’s important to them?

What is important to your user/s about this specific information? What are their priorities? Be concise and simple. The idea of this exercise is to simplify your listening, not complicate it.

3) How will it be used?

Consider what this information is being used for after it leaves your hands. Will it inform your planning? Teach a new skill? Share someone’s story? It’s helpful to understand where this stuff will end up in knowing what you should be paying attention to.

4) What are you listening for?

Based on points 1, 2 & 3, what sort of information will be most useful to capture? This could be specifics and statistics, stories and emotional reaction, opinions & suggestions, big picture themes, etc.

5) Do you have any personal biases that could help or hinder your listening?

While some lenses we can choose to employ for certain purposes, we also all have some inherent lenses (e.g. gender, age) that are also worth considering. Don’t drive yourself nuts with this, but it’s always worth just checking in with yourself. Do you have any prejudices that might affect the way you hear certain information? And conversely, are there elements of your background that might be helpful in your listening? Noone is completely neutral, and there’s no need to pretend you are. Your inherent lenses, when used with awareness, bring authenticity to your listening.

This checklist is a great starting point, but hey – make it your own. You may like to set up your own rituals or templates for intention setting, or you may just like to run through it in your head walking into the conference room. The important thing is that you do it in a way that works for you and you can be consistent with. Give it a go and see what difference it makes in different settings. Good luck, and I’d love to hear how you go.

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Practical Listening – 3 Steps for listening with purpose.

February 7, 2017

Practical Listening is an outcome-focussed method for listening that holds the end user of the content at its centre. In the previous article, I spoke about the shortcomings of Active Listening (focussed on speaker only, rather than the broader context and useful outcomes). Practical Listening is all about getting the most out of the information you receive, for the people it matters to.

There are three steps to Practical Listening: Intention, Attention and Retention. Let’s spend a moment exploring each of these elements.


Setting an intention is the first step and foundation of Practical Listening. Before entering a listening interaction, e.g. attending a conference, take a moment to consider who you are listening for. Who is the end user/s or beneficiary/ies of the information? What’s important to them?

Let’s take a health conference for example. If you’re attending as a representative from a community health organisation, your end user/s and what’s important to them will be different from those attending as a representative from the government, and different again from a business owner or seller of health products. You may be listening for yourself, your team, your boss, your client, a specific community, the general public (to name a few)… or any combination.

In addition to the who, you also need to consider how the information is being used. Is it to inform plans or policies? To educate on a specific subject? To share someone’s story?

We use these considerations to inform what “lenses” we use to filter information while listening.


The lenses you identify while setting your intention inform what information you prioritise and focus on while listening. Attention also means tuning into the speaker’s style, listening for clues like tone, emphasis, repetition and reaction for what’s important, and finding connections between ideas.


Retention is all about how you capture information in a useful way, informed by both your Intention and Attention. This could be through the use of templates, models, timelines, metaphors, colour chunking, storyboards, lists, pictures… Whatever is going to serve your purpose best.

The more you can practise these three steps, the more finely tuned your listening skills will become, and the easier you will find it to recalibrate for different situations.


Up next: A simple checklist for setting your Listening Intention

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The shortfalls of Active Listening

January 31, 2017


There’s been a lot of talk in recent years about Active Listening. That is, listening that’s focused on the speaker, making sure they feel heard and understood. It uses verbal and physical affirmation from listener to speaker, and is commonly used in areas like counselling, training, management, conflict resolution, community consultation, and even journalism.

I think the intention of this originally was to come into your listening interaction from an empathetic stand point – to show your speaker that you’re with them and you understand. The elements of active listening differ a little depending on what you read, but essentially at its core it’s about understanding, remembering and responding to what the speaker is saying.

Unfortunately over time, things have become a little cloudy – many articles now focus on the verbal and physical response techniques (e.g. mirroring, eye contact, “yes, I understand”, “indeed”, posture, etc), which alone can be irritating and frankly useless if they don’t come from an intention of genuine empathy and understanding. It can be all too easy to get caught up in the tasks and lose authenticity (some refer to this as simply “reflective listening“).

If carried out properly, Active Listening can still be a useful style for situations that are about that moment, when the most important thing about the conversation is supporting the speaker. For example, this is the kind of listening you might use when supporting a friend through a break up. The detail is less important than your friend feeling heard, loved and supported.

It might also be a good style to apply if you are a HR professional dealing with a conflict resolution – but here’s where it gets interesting. Unlike the break-up, in this situation there is a larger listening context than just the speaker and the listener.

Where Active Listening falls short is in interactions when the information the listener receives has a practical application beyond that specific interaction.

Let’s take the HR conflict resolution as an example. While it is absolutely necessary to enter that situation practising an empathetic style of listening – ensuring the speaker feels heard and that you’ve understand what they’ve said – there’s more to this story. The speaker is not the only stakeholder in this conversation. What needs to happen as a result of this interaction? On who’s behalf are you listening (e.g. your boss? the rest of the staff? the other party involved in the conflict?)? How will this information be used? What are the important elements of the conversation to remember, and how are you capturing them?

There’s a whole listening universe out there that needs to be taken into account to ensure your listening skills are not only coming from an empathetic place, but a useful one.

There are countless examples for where this style of listening applies – a project briefing with a client, attending a conference, a doctor’s appointment, a planning workshop… Any situation where the information needs to have a greater lifespan than just from speaker’s mouth to listener’s ears.

This is what I call Practical Listening. It’s an outcomes-based approach that focuses on who and what you are listening for, and how to best tune into, capture and remember what’s important.

By taking the time to put yourself in the shoes of the end user, identifying what’s important to them, and setting some intentions around what you’re listening for, you’re able to give the speaker’s voice the utility and longevity it deserves.

Up next: Practical Listening – Three steps 

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Why you need to be a better listener

January 23, 2017


The world is changing quickly.

We know that technology is progressing at an exponential rate. That there’s been a shift in customer / client / employee expectations, and that automation is leading us to a knowledge-based economy. In the new world of big data, robots, the internet of things, and whatever comes next… Our human skills are more valuable than ever.

Young people entering the workforce today are expected to have 17 different jobs in 5 different industries in their working life. What were once thought of as “soft skills”, like problem solving, adaptability, collaboration, and of course – listening… are now key skills to leadership and success in the future.

We know that we need to be better listeners to succeed in an ever-changing world.

The rise of social media, the shared economy (e.g. Uber, AirBnB) and peer-to-peer ratings (e.g. Yelp, TripAdvisor), have all impacted on the power shift that has seen everyone from grass roots organisations to international conglomerates talking “customer centricity”. Instead of telling customers what they want, there’s now a platform to actually listen to what they need, and respond.

Never before have organisations been able to get this close to their customers – to live in their everyday worlds, to talk to them one on one, to receive honest feedback on their products and services. This can be either an incredible opportunity or a nail in the coffin, and it all depends on how well we choose to listen.

The way successful companies are listening internally to their employees is changing dramatically, too. As the world starts to move away from hierarchical workplace structures, things like idea jams, hack-a-thons and innovation competitions – originally led by innovation leaders like Google – are now becoming more common place in variety of organisations. This is recognition of the fact that all the good ideas don’t sit at the top, and anyone could have a valuable contribution to make.

If we don’t invest in developing solid and practical listening skills, who knows what gold nuggets of value we’re missing out on from our customers, employees, and the world around us.

Stay tuned for the next article on Practical Listening, and why Active Listening alone doesn’t always cut it.

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A thing of beauty is a joy forever…

August 19, 2016

“A THING of beauty is a joy forever:
Its loveliness increases; it will never
Pass into nothingness; but still will keep”
– John Keats

In the industry of Graphic Recording and Graphic Facilitation (referred to generally as ‘Visual Practice’), as in so many other design industries, there is a constant need to find balance between process and product – form and function.

We talk a lot as a group about the importance of content. Indeed, one of the catch-cries of the fabulous Brandy Agerbeck (Author of The Graphic Facilitators’ Guide) is “Content is King!”. This is irrefutably true. As Visual Practitioners we are content-capturers, synthesisers, and sense makers. Our role is first and foremost to reflect your ideas.

What I don’t think we talk about quite enough though, is the importance of beauty in our work. Without doubt, there is still significant value in using visual language that isn’t “beautiful” – this speaks to the process or function side of coin. Even the simplest of images will still help us to better engage in, understand and remember content.

But what extra value are we missing out on if we don’t also pay attention to form and product? Here’s a little diagram that illustrates the value and the balance between the two, as I see it:

There seems to be a misconception that paying attention to the artistry in Visual Practise somehow distracts us from the content, but it’s quite the contrary. Having a final product that’s sweet on the eye will only serve to deepen and broaden the expression of your content. Here are some reasons why:

1. Eliminate Distraction
A poorly executed graphic recording or illustration has the potential to frustrate rather than engage its audience. If text is messy and hard to read, or icons and drawings are unclear, this can be a cause of distraction. A clean, practised and well-executed style will ensure the illustration is clean, clear, easy to navigate and enjoyable to look at.

2. Engaging & sharing
A beautiful illustration will capture the imagination and excitement of the audience. This will often lead to the piece of work (and most importantly – the content within it) to be talked about (at the time and long after), photographed and shared within teams and communities. This creates a buzz around the event and subject matter, and spreads your message further.

If you are sending digital files to your audience and broader network via email or online gallery, the chance of people engaging in and reading through your content is much higher if the final product looks attractive.

3. Longevity
At this year’s IFVP (International Forum of Visual Practitioners) Conference in Washington DC, the amazing comic book king and author Scott McCloud asked how many Apple users in the audience still had their original packaging… just about all of us did. It’s just so goddamn lovely to look at! This is the power of good design.

If people love to look at the artefacts you create, they will live on much longer than their less-attractive counterparts. I am often thrilled to receive feedback that outputs from sessions I’ve worked on are hanging in offices and tea rooms around the country.

If the output from events is framed / printed / hung / wallpapered… The message is on display and your content lives on. It will continue to give it’s gifts by engaging and re-engaging all those that see it.

4. Emotion
I have spoken a number of times about the power of imagery – in particular humans and facial expressions – to increase the emotional and personal connection to content. If this is not done correctly however, it’s possible to inject the wrong emotion into your product, confuse, or even alienate your audience. When done well, it creates a powerful relationship between the viewer and the message.

5. Ownership
In a workshop-style situation, working with smaller groups and capturing lots of voices, one of the great benefits of Graphic Recording is that’s it’s a visual way of creating shared ownership in the group.

Reflecting the ideas of your participants in an attractive and inviting way can be a very empowering experience for them. Bringing life to their ideas and vision can help them to take pride in their own thoughts and contribution, and start to imagine what that idea might look like. A well-illustrated idea may also assist your participants to find the confidence and language they need to further express themselves.

So what should you do?

If you’re a Visual Practitioner… Put aside some time to work on your skills in drawing and lettering. Get acquainted with design elements and principles, and consider how they might serve your work. Do some short courses in calligraphy and lettering. Practise drawing facial expressions (a great resource for this: http://www.grimace-project.net/). Ask your peers and clients for constructive feedback, and work on your weaknesses.

If you’re looking for a Visual Practitioner… Consider what you would like to do with the outputs from your event, and find a Visual Practitioner with a style that you and your audience like and relate to. Make a plan about how you’ll use the outputs after the event and let your VP know.

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LICK THE PLATE CLEAN: 5 Tips to get the most out of your Graphic Recorder

June 5, 2016

How to get the most out of your GR_header

As the world of Graphic Recording broadens, and more and more industries and events are cottoning on to this great tool, I thought it would be useful to share some tips on how to get the most value out of your Graphic Recorder.


1. Know where Graphic Recording is most useful

GR is a truly wonderful and powerful tool when used correctly. If used in an inappropriate setting however, it’s value can be compromised… And that’s no good for the client or the GR!

Your GR should be able to inform you of whether your event is suited to Graphic Recording, but here are some pointers to start with:

Places GR really shines include (but is not limited to):

– Conferences / Forums / Summits / etc

– Big picture, ‘visioning’ workshops

– High level strategy planning

– Community engagement

– Planning workshops

and it’s great for capturing:

– Presentations

– Panel discussions

– Debrief conversations / summaries

– Facilitated group conversations

Here are some places GR doesn’t work so well:

– Detailed, task-focused workshops

– Detailed report outs

If a piece of work is too detailed or task-focussed, the high-level snapshot that GRs are so great at becomes irrelevant, and probably impossible.

The other important distinction is between a ‘report out’ and a ‘debrief’. When working in breakout groups then coming back to share your work, the usefulness of GR really depends on how this is done.

Report outs:

A report out refers to a member or members of each breakout group reporting back their work to the wider group.

If it is simply reading out a long list from a flipchart, this is not the best place for a GR capture – it will just be replicating what your participants have already captured.

However, if your groups are instructed to report back just their top three big ideas and flesh each out a little, this would be an appropriate place to use GR.


Ending an activity with a broader group debrief conversation (e.g. what surprised you? what were the big ideas? what did you learn?) is an ideal place to utilise Graphic Recording. The flow of a conversation and linking themes between groups will lead to a rich cross-group snapshot illustration.

Both approaches are equally valuable, it just depends on what outcome you’re after.

2. Know why you want them there

There are many reasons to engage a GR, and usually they would be numerous for any given event. It’s a useful exercise to prioritise your reasons for using GR, as it may inform better ways to work on the day and recommendations for your deliverable. Here are some common reasons:

– To help people engage in the content on the day

– To help people reflect on the content during the day

– To help guide conversation

– To help participants interact and contribute

– To capture content & share with participants after the event

– To capture content & share with people not in attendance

– To create a visual / series of visuals with a specific purpose (e.g. a future vision to hand up in your office)

– A point of difference for your event

For example, if engaging and reflecting on the day is a higher priority we would put some time into considering where we’re placed in the room, how many people can see us, and how the work can be galleried throughout the day. If capturing content to share after the day is a higher priority, we’ll focus more on how to get the best deliverable.

3. Know what you’re going to do with the output, and let people know

Every event I work at, I will have numerous participants ask with some concern “Will we get copies of these? How do we see these after today? Is someone taking photos?”.

I always assure them that I am photographing everything, and it will come back to them in some shape or form, however it’s great to have a plan from the get go.

At a minimum, all the outputs from the event should be emailed to all the participants in attendance, or made available via your intranet / website.

There are plenty of other cool things you can do with them though, so think creatively! Here are some examples I’ve come up with, but have a chat to your friendly GR to see what might be suitable and relevant in your case.

– Email to all participants (and any other relevant peeps, e.g. the wider team or organisation, stakeholders or clients)

– Create a gallery on your website or intranet

– Make it into your team’s / organisation’s screensaver or desktop image

– Turn it into a Prezi

– Turn it into an interactive pdf with links to provide more detail

– Turn it into an animation with a voiceover

– Print as posters for your office

– Make into a wall decal or wall paper for your reception area or tea room

– Print on canvas

– Make into a calendar

– Create a booklet

– Create your own colouring book

– Use in your reports

– Use parts of images into prints, t-shirts or mugs

– Print onto mousepads

– Print as postcards

4. Share your agenda early

As GRs, we work at all sorts of events with all sort of clients all the time. Over time, we develop a good sense of how we can best support all the different elements of your event.

The earlier we can have a look at the agenda (even in it’s draft stage), the earlier we can work with you to make sure you get the most out of us on the day!

This could be considering where we are positioned, where to put the artwork at break times, any red flags, and any extra things we have in our box of tricks to make your event sing (e.g. we may be able to help with branding for your event, or have a great graphic template for an activity, or have a suggestion on how to visually enhance an element of the agenda).

5. Encourage people to engage with it

On the day of your event, make sure your facilitator or MC introduces the GR from the beginning and explains what they are doing and where participants will be able to access the output (or even better, have your GR explain it themselves!).

Encourage people throughout the day to go and have a look in the breaks, to take their own photos, and (if appropriate) to share them on social media or your internal social network as the day unfolds.


In general, Graphic Recorders are massive nerds for what we do. We love doing it, we love talking about it, we love working with our clients, and we love uncovering new ways of working to help make your events awesome.

There’s always more to discover. Make the most of your GR experience… go on – lick the plate clean!

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Tall Poppies – Female Entrepreneurs Summit

May 23, 2016

On April 28th 2016, Australia Post hosted a Female Entrepreneurs Summit at their HQ on Bourke Street.

I couldn’t be more proud to have been involved, and more inspired by the incredible women (and a couple of great blokes, too) who spoke and listened on the day.

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32 pictures tell 6,489 words.

May 19, 2016


When I was a teenager, I had a french exchange student – Margot Bonnet (such a beautifully french name!). We were incredibly well matched and became instant pals. One of our favourite pastimes was to type sentences into the online translator, which I imagine would have been on the primitive side in 1999, and watch the other roar with laughter at the (usually completely nonsensical) result.

The best bit was you could then translate it back again, so we’d both be able to revel in the joke at the expense of an internet, like us, in its adolescence.

I often describe Graphic Recording as being similar to translating. It’s translating words into pictures. Concepts into metaphors. Ideas into maps and illustrations. I had never really considered though… What happens when you try to translate it back?

I recently had the privilege of working with the NDIA (National Disability Insurance Agency) at a three day conference for senior staff in Geelong.

Due to the nature of their work, and because they’re an awesome organisation, NDIA work hard to be an employer of choice for people with a disability. This meant having an Auslan Interpreter and a Visual Interpreter (Graphic Recorder – that’s me), and it also meant that all my illustrations would need to be translated back into words in order to be put through reading software for the vision impaired.

So for the first time, this service was included in part of my engagement with the organisation… and it was fascinating.

From the three day event, I ended up with 32 illustrations. These translated into 25 pages of text – that’s 6,489 words. Here are some of my observations and reflections:

1) A picture really does tell a thousand words.

I was struck by the amount of extra words and context setting that had to be added in order to communicate the same thing that could be done with boxes, lines, arrows and drawings. These shapes and symbols aren’t just useful for capturing information with ease, but they allow for us to download it much more directly, too.

I like to think of good communication like a smart budgeter (which I’m not, by the way… sorry Dad) – you should aim for limited words / effort for maximum return. It’s quite amazing how much we can save by implementing even the most simple visuals in our communications.

2) Repetition and relationships.

Part of why Graphic Recording is so useful is that it provides a snapshot of your content, and allows you to easily identify patterns and themes. As we humans are basically pattern recognition machines, we eat this right up. Economical communication at it’s best.

(Check out this great vid from Dan Roam on Pattern Recognition).

One way we do this is by the repetition of symbols and / or illustrations, so we can easily see where the same subject or issue is being repeated. The other is by using “connectors” (arrows, lines, etc) to show how one bit of content relates to another.

In translating from the picture back to words, a lot of this richness was lost. There are some things you can still do, sure – like using headings, sub headings and dot points… but you completely lose that ‘single view’ and the power of those repeated symbols both in a single illustration, and throughout all 32 illustrations as a batch.

3) That memory retention stuff is no joke…

I know all the stats in relation to how powerful visuals are for memory retention, particularly when they’re paired with words like we do in Graphic Recording (6 x better memory retention than words alone – check out John Medina’s research). I’ve received great feedback from my clients in relation to how well it’s worked for them. I haven’t ever really had the opportunity to test it for myself though, and this was a real doosie – a client I’d never worked with before, in an unfamiliar industry, with a variety of brand new content.

As I made my way through each illustration – even weeks later – I had to marvel at how much I could remember about each presentation. I remembered how everything was related to each other. I remembered each speaker and subject clearly. I remembered the feeling in the room. I remembered what was between the lines. I, even as an outsider, would feel fairly confident in explaining the content to someone else if I could use the illustration as a prop. That’s pretty magic I reckon.

4) Content attack!

Even I was surprised by the serious amount and depth of content that was captured. 6,489 words worth, that can be viewed and absorbed in a series of purdy pictures. Upon seeing the content all typed out like the proper grown ups do, the wonderful sneakiness of the whole thing really sunk in.

Can you imagine finishing a conference and sending a wrap-up of 6,489 words to all your participants? And expecting them to not only READ it, but to then USE it to explain to their team what they’d learned? Nah-uh. Nope. Never.

SURPRISE! Content attack. That’s what we’re slipping into your unsuspecting delegates’ inboxes when they receive these illustrative summaries post-event. Mwwahhhahahahahahah.

5) Making it human, helps.

Looking at a picture of a person displaying emotion – looking happy / sad / proud / afraid / etc… Is a very different experience to writing the words: “we are happy” or “there is a picture of someone looking proud”. I really felt sad

<picture of me looking sad> …see what I mean?

when I had to omit these from the written versions. There just wasn’t any way to translate these emotional cues into words – at least not without setting up a whole narrative around a person, why they were there, how they’d been let down before… Which is super for a novel, but not so suited to a conference summary.

Paul Ekman (a psychologist and pioneer in the study of emotions and their relationship to facial expressions) found there to be seven universally recognised facial expressions. These are happiness, sadness, anger, fear, surprise, contempt, and disgust. Of course there are many more types of expressions, but these seven Ekman found to be recognised the same way globally – regardless of age, culture, literacy, or geography.

When we get to use expressions in our pictures, we not only instantly communicate the feeling and emotion around a particular subject, but we can communicate it despite any cultural or linguistic barriers.

We also know from the advertising world that people use emotions – and not logic – when making decisions. The ability to inject emotion into your content through illustration is powerful, and should not be taken for granted.

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Creative Mornings December: TIME

December 18, 2015

For the last Creative Mornings of 2015, the lovely Heather Lighton of Dog Photog shared her insights on this month’s theme: TIME.
When is the best time to start doing the thing you want to do? NOW.

CM12_15_TIME_Heather Lighton_blue

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Lisa McInnes-Smith at Tedx Melbourne

November 11, 2015

The wonderful Lisa McInnes-Smith gave a fantastic inspirational talk at last years TEDx Melbourne event, and Think in Colour were there to record her story.

05_TEDxMelbourne2015_Lisa McInnes Smith

Click here to see Lisa’s blog with the video of her wonderfully funny and personal talk.



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