Join us for a creative skills building retreat in Rossland, BC, Canada July 11-12th, 2019. Boost your ability to engage beyond words, help groups see the bigger picture and make meetings more interesting! More information is here!
I am inspired.
Sometimes a workshop or meeting leaves me feeling better than when I walked in the room and this happened recently at PGviz18 in Prince George.
From the moment I set-up to the time I finished, I knew hosting this workshop was one of my best decisions. It was somewhat doubtful as it happened very last minute and there was a fair bit of chaos leading up to it. However, the combination of space, people and content managed to fall into place and bring about a very interesting two days.
We were fortunate to be offered a venue at the Prince George Native Friendship Center. When I arrived to set up, the parking lot of the building was overflowing, as it was ‘backpack day’. The center puts together and distributes school supplies to about a thousand First Nation’s children before the school year starts. They also provided meals to the families, free hair cuts to the children along with bouncy castles, chalk and other fun kids activities. The place was bustling with activity intended to bring families together and support their educational goals.
In the center of the room we were given for the workshop, there was a large feather drawn on the floor with the words ‘power of friendship’ in an arc around it. This was a fitting place for our circle discussions which focused on facilitation techniques but also deeper societal issues. The walls for the most part were flat and large which is helpful for hanging large format paper we needed to draw on.
The executive director of the center had her office next to our room. We were fortunate to have her welcome the group and offer a prayer to start our workshop. We were also reminded of the people less fortunate than us experiencing evacuations due to the large-scale wild fires ravaging the Province of BC. We said prayers for them too. This was a fitting start as much of what we do as graphic facilitators is try to understand how our tools can be of service to support others in their path.
People also make the gathering what it is and this workshop was no different. The participants came from Prince George and northern Alberta though many had originated from Ontario, the Arctic, other parts of BC and Europe. Each had a story of how they ended up where they were today. The roads were often windy, filled with challenges as well as personal triumphs. These stories were impactful; filled with joy despite the use of words such as ‘survivor’ to describe many of the people. The ages ranged from university student to grandmothers. There was turbulence and talk of justice, but also calm.
The group was different than most groups I give the workshop to. A large portion worked in social work and worked with (or were) First Nations, and another handful worked in natural resources, education or administration.
Despite some trepidation to draw on walls at the start, people embraced the ideas, playfulness and let their inner censors go. A lot of beauty was created in the room.
The skills and techniques we talked about were tricks of the trade that I share. However, some of the activities I typically do were turned on their head and gave me a lot to think about. For example, after introducing a very basic visual language, I ask individuals to draw a city using these shapes. A few people struggled conjuring up images of a city. In the end, one woman simply drew her community with trees, water and igloos in the ice. This was a huge reminder to me of the importance of context when working with groups. Whether planning a training, meeting or event, considering the participants, their stories and what resonates for them is critical to making meaning (one of the objectives of graphic facilitation).
Another interesting moment came during an exercise we do called ‘peer assist’. People can bring forward a facilitation challenge and get advice from their peers. At the same time, others can practice live graphic recording. Typical conversations are about getting groups to work together, planning agendas and dealing with conflict. Our two circle discussions focused on what was on people’s minds. The first was on the topic of privilege and unpacking what it means. The second was on power structures with marginalized groups. While not typical workshop circles, I am grateful for the moments I had to listen to these conversations, learning more about real struggles people have lived through (and still deal with) as well as ways to deal with them based on the groups’ experience.
Lastly, I typically end the workshop with a visual evaluative tool called River of Life. Funny enough, the group had talked about river of life and done a lot of reflection during our group ‘harvesting’ activities. So rather than doing another evaluative task, one participant led the closing perfectly. She shared feathers she had gathered on her walks (and cleaned for us). Then she broke out hair spray and sparkles so we could all make our own sparkling feathers to take home. As an added bonus, everyone gave me a feather to take home. They are sitting in a glass jar on my desk as a reminder of the inspiring few days we had together as I write this post.
Thank you again to everyone who participated in PGviz18 and for bringing your openness and willingness to play and share in our workshop.
It’s always fun getting ready to host a graphic facilitation workshop and I have one coming up Aug 15-16 in Prince George (a few spaces left in case you are keen). What I love is the opportunity to sift through my books, resources and extensive marker collection!
One of my marker favourites are the Neuland markers. I use a range of Number Ones and the Big Ones. I not only enjoy the wide nib and feel of the marker, what I particularly think is cool is that I can refill them. In the photo above you can see my marker is upside down and has a tiny hole in the top of the green circle. The bottle beside with the clear bulb on top is refill ink. Thus whenever you run out of ink you can fill the marker up. It feels really good to not throw away the marker (I do that with other ones that I really love despite feeling wasteful).
The refillable marker was also an incentive given the cost of buying these markers (they are imported from Germany). However, if you decide you do want to try them, the shipping fee is flat rate to a certain weight so you can share an order with friends or buy as much as you can within the weight limit! I bought refills for all my colours which has been handy. Though, after using the markers for several years I realize I should have bought more black ink refill. I love the black most 🙂
What are your favourite markers? Any recommendations I should share with the participants in Prince George?
See below for a second reflective guest blog from Lisa Theissen, social reporter at Rosviz18:
“I’ve been mulling over our time together, and thinking about my own Harvest from the point of view of Social Reporter. It’s always an interesting spot to hold, a little outside of things, recording everything I can, keeping track and choosing pieces to share with the online world about our work in the workshop.
What amazes me each time we do this is how the people in the room shape the workshop. As organizer, Michelle knows the flow and shape of the exercises and of our days ahead of time. She is skillful in employing the wisdom in the room, the strengths of the attendees – which is different every time. Our Day Two was different than other Day Twos that I’ve seen at RosViz, and very rich! It was what was needed in the room, decided by the room.
This watching role allowed me the opportunity to hear both the rumblings of self doubt, self effacing comments as well as the emphatic “I CAN” moments that occurred. Beautiful, big AHA moments here and there, different for everyone.
My big AHAs this year were around how much more complex the work has become. People are taking graphic facilitation into rooms it may never have been in before, and learning new things about themselves and the groups they work with because of it.
Our group this year was looking to solve some very complex problems – to find more ways to engage their groups authentically, to facilitate respectfully, with curiosity and goals in mind.
One of the topics that came up around this was how the facilitation and recording of sensitive issues can have an emotional impact on the facilitator/recorder. I’ve had experience with recording in sensitive situations involving violence and abuse, and know this absolutely to be true. Some of those sessions are still here in my memory as though they happened earlier today. We talked a little bit in Rossland about being aware that we can become traumatized – and I would like to add another layer, one of being aware that, through our work, we don’t re-traumatize the individuals in the room. There are a few ways to approach this, the most effective I’ve found is to talk with the group ahead of time with some possible imagery/iconography pre-drawn to represent some of the big, difficult issues that can arise and ask for approval before they are used on the chart. My experience has been that people respond very genuinely to this, and are quick and clear with their answers. It is respectful, and saves the group (or individuals within it) from unwelcome shocks later. Graphics are powerful. We want to ensure that we wield them wisely.
Another ongoing theme that emerged was the use of technology in conjunction with graphic facilitation methods. One of the Harvest groups did a presentation about that very topic – and shared a rich conversation in the creation of the presentation. Serendipitously, on my arrival home I found a gift had come in the mail – that of a RocketBook – which had immediate and obvious application in terms of graphics and technology. It’s an analogue book that can be drawn/written in—and with an app and a bit of pre-linking, whatever has been put on the page can be uploaded as a .pdf, a .jpg or other file format to the virtual repository of your choice. I’ve been playing a bit with mine, and found it to be quite easy to use – I have been testing the RocketBook Everlast, which uses Frixion pens so that pages can be erased and used over and over again. It is, in effect, an infinite notebook, with each of the images stored on the web/in the cloud in a place of your choosing. Apparently it also has handwriting recognition, but I’ve not tested that feature yet. I think it’s going to become something I take with me as part of my toolkit in the future. (And I haven’t monetized the blog yet – looking at you, Jules)
It was really powerful to listen to each of the River of Life pieces as they were shared at the end. So many of the participants had already found clear direction for how they are going to be taking visuals forward into their facilitation practices and lives. I realized this year that everything that I’d written in my own 2011 River of Life had been accomplished – which motivated to hang some fresh paper on my own wall when I got home, look forward, and start drawing my future, once again.
Want to learn more about engaging beyond words?
There are a handful of graphic facilitation workshops in major city centres, mostly in the USA. I’ve been offering one in the interior of southern BC, Canada for 8 years. Now I’m doing one this August 15-16th in Prince George, BC. This is a great chance for those that don’t have the opportunity to travel south to learn the art of drawing on walls – Join us!
All details are found on the training page:
Registration closes August 7th so get in touch soon!
Lisa Theissen, our social reporter for rosviz18, has a 2 part blog reporting on what happened as well as sharing thoughts on juicy ideas that came up that we didn’t have time to dive into. Here is part 1 of her workshop reflection:
“I’m always excited to see a new group of people take risks, be vulnerable and learn something new. I an opportunity to do this only a short while ago in Rossland with Michelle Laurie, at RosViz18.
The group, as it often is, is from varying backgrounds, brought together through facilitation work and the interest in taking the work further and deeper.
Our visual introductions were a great way to get started on the wall, trying out new ways of putting things together on the page. Participants got a good grounding in how to use the body to create large lines and circles, and what works in terms of printing and clarity, colour and spacing. Along with shapes, landscapes, faces and people, we talked about lettering and containers for gathering ideas.
Thanks to a spontaneous chart drawing by Maureen, we visually constructed a plan for a small group dinner out at the Flying Steamshovel!
Day Two began with a bang – dancing from page to page, getting a sense of what it is to do some co-drawing. Feedback here was interesting – participants talked about how it felt to write on ‘someone else’s’ page, about looking for the visual theme and continuing it. We talked about different kinds of agendas, about the development and suitability of different ones for different circumstances.
Everyone spent some time going through the materials and looking at different iconography ending off with a quickly paced ICON JAM! It was interesting to see the visual themes that developed around words like ‘technology’ and terms like ‘on-boarding’. Later, when developing templates, one of the big ‘aha’ moments for me was the idea of the tree metaphor not just being looked at from roots to leaves, but also in terms of cross section, of rings. We also practiced the art of facilitation itself, along with some live graphic recording or sketch noting. Those who didn’t have the chance to draw live got this after lunch where everyone recorded a live talk!
In addition to lots of doing, we also spent time on reflection and learning. The concept of Harvest weaved through the workshop with a dedicated discussion on the afternoon of day 2. Harvest could be personal, to share widely or for specific audiences. It showed again how many ways there are to interpret a workshop like this. Participants created specific and thoughtful take-aways, including a river/path through the journey of our two days together, a technological overview of digital tools for connecting and building – and a literal take-away, cards with key learnings from the days drawn on each.
Our time concluded with a visual evaluative practice, a way of individually reflecting on the time together, looking at what each of us had hoped for, what we actually experienced and learned, and plans for how we can take it all forward and apply it more in our lives, in our practices as facilitators, and especially on big paper!”
It’s a challenge to prepare, be the trainer on site and capture what is happening in the room for sharing. Early on, my co-conspirator Nancy White and I found it helpful to have a social reporter. We were fortunate to get insights, blogs and sometimes video interviews (Thanks to Sylvia Currie). For the past two workshops in Rossland, BC, I have had the support of Lisa Theissen, a former workshop participant, a professional graphic recorder, and our amazing ‘social reporter’. This year, Lisa took photos and videos throughout the workshop and also summarized her thoughts in a 2 part blog post to come soon.
For now, check out the collage above and the 1-minute rosviz18 Visual Harvest video!
Thank you Lisa and all the participants this year, and in years past, who have joined in the journey of visual expression.
I’m planning a meeting for May where a group of scientists will come together to plan their reporting on five years of study. In their case they have been monitoring glaciers and snow melt. I am tasked with helping bring together the different studies to come under one technical report. The report should help connect the work of everyone together to tell a bigger story (hopefully).
When looking at ways to think and write together, I surfed through the list serve of one of my favourite networks (www.km4dev.org) which is full of people who help bring knowledge beyond the individual. On one thread a variety of awesome tools were listed. These included using kanban boards, ecocycle planning and visual facilitation. Wow!
While I haven’t used the kanban board specifically as a tool, I have unintentionally done similar processes and I will certainly consider this in planning with the scientists. I have used the ecocycle a fair bit (and love it) though I think its not the best tool for our needs at this meeting. As far as visual facilitation, I will be brainstorming up numerous ways to embed this into our meeting to help us stay on track, communicate as a group, see the bigger picture and have more FUN!
If you are keen to learn more about visual facilitation / graphic facilitation, want to get the most out of your meetings and your planning, consider joining us to learn the basics of the art (no experience necessary) – July 9-10, 2018 in Rossland, BC, Canada.
I recently read an article that states, “..a new Drexel University study found that making art can significantly reduce stress-related hormones in your body.” And apparently everyone can benefit! Markers, paper, clay and collage were all used in the study.
How might those who plan and attend meetings make the most of this information? For me, it reinforces that taking time to allow participants to ‘hold the pen’, draw together and be creative is important. This could be in the form an ice breaker but also in how we achieve the concrete tasks of the meeting as well. You don’t need to be an artist to include visual and creative elements to your meetings! There are simple and fun ways to reduce stress, engage the group and create meaning beyond words. I started playing with these tools in 2005 and have been hooked ever since. Why? After reading this study, I think it not only reduces stress for the participants but also for the person leading the group 🙂
If utilizing these types of tools is something you think would be useful in your toolkit, check out a graphic facilitation workshop to gain the skills and confidence to support groups and organizations to make the most of their meetings. I’m offering a workshop July 9-10, 2018 in BC, Canada – please join me!
This workshop (aka Rosviz) focuses on engaging beyond words. We will learn simple techniques to increase participation, attention and productivity in your meetings and work by utilizing more visual tools.
If you are a leader, teacher, facilitator, planner, or simply looking to build new skills in the area of visual language, ‘Rosviz’ is for you!
No prior artistic skill needed (we promise).
Location is the Prestige Mountain Resort in beautiful Rossland, British Columbia, Canada.
Cost: $875. Early bird rate of $725 in effect until April 15th as well as several hot deals. All prices in Canadian Dollars!
Learn more: Graphic Facilitation Workshop 2018