The room is full of 150 people ‘paying attention’ to the speaker at the front of the room delivering the company’s results for the year. From my vantage point to the side of the stage I can see the dull glow of at least 10 phone screens, three people are adjusting in their seats, two people are whispering to each other – all of them believe they are not being disruptive. The speaker is doing their best to hold the attention of the crowd. I see it all because I am paying closer attention than anyone else in the room. My senses are heightened, focused. I stand pen at the ready, listening to the rhythms and patterns of the speaker, monitoring the crowd’s response. I listen to two more sentences, I have enough content in my mind now to see the pattern, I can pull out the thread of story from the last five minutes of speaking. I quickly summarise the message in my head and see the image that encapsulates it in my mind as my ink reaches the paper. As my pen glides across the page the speaker has already moved on to a new topic.


I listen to the new content as I continue drawing, stacking new ideas and phrases in the queue in my mind, an unsorted pile of words bustling about. As he continues to speak some of the words start to stand out as a new pattern emerges – my mind picks out ‘connect’ ‘coalesce’ and ‘merge’ and I recognise that he is talking around a theme of ‘joining’. Symbols flash up in my mind: arrows pointing in to a centre point, hands holding in a circle, chain links. I don’t start to draw yet, I have tuned in to the speaker’s pattern of giving three to four anecdotal points before paraphrasing himself with a punchy underlying meaning – I know the punchline is coming so I wait. Once the ‘punchline’ is delivered I flick back through the queue of messages in my mind and reshuffle and cull them until I am left with the core stand-alone message. I keep as many of the speaker’s original words as I can because I know reading them back later after having heard them in person will act like a time machine for everyone present.  I draw the words in the shape of a closing spiral so it is joining in on itself and has a sense of inward movement. The underlying message was a happy one so I accent my capture in cheery yellow.  By the end of the speaker’s session I have filled a portion of the page. My eyes flick across the story I have captured, I search back through my mental record of the content and see what it missing from the story. A quote he shared near the start springs back to mind as a key part of his narrative that would tie it all together. I pull the memory of that quote back into focus in my mind and quickly write it down.


After the break there is a change of pace as the room is now in workshop mode for the next session. The MC sets up the activity and each table starts to work together. I take my time drawing the title on the page and some icons to signify what the activity is about. Then I cap my pen and I listen. While the groups have plenty of time to work through the activity, my capture will all need to happen during the few short minutes at the end as each table presents back. So I listen now, building a picture of how each table is progressing. I rummage through the noise in the room and pick out key words. The activity is a ‘blue-sky thinking’ activity so I decide to capture each table’s de-brief as a cloud floating in a blue sky. I need an easily repeatable, rapid pattern for capture as the content will come thick and fast. When it gets to the de-brief I stand pen ready. As each table shares I visualise the key messages and icons springing into existence and suspending in the air above their table like a coin appearing in a computer game. That way if I don’t get each table’s story finished in time, I can keep it suspended there while I listen to the next one. I can come back through as I have time and fill in the gaps on the page by pulling the floating messages and pictures out of the air above the table. By the end of the last table I have caught up and each group now has a small piece of page real estate for their message.


The final session for the day is the keynote address. The speaker is telling a very long story. I need to listen to a fair chunk of it before I know what form it needs to take as a visual story. I begin a visualisation to help me remember. In my mind I walk a path I am very familiar with. I head out my front door, walk out my gate and turn left up my street. As I listen to the speaker, the visualisation happening in my mind, I am able to drop their key messages into the scene in my mind. Opening question sits on the left-hand railing of my stairs. Flashback to childhood in the garden to the right of the gate. First failure in the fork of the tree on the footpath, and so on. By the time the speaker gets near the end of her story, I have decided that it needs to take the form of a winding river as her story is filled with flowing emotion and was at times pulled forward by a current that was out of her control. As I start to draw I re-walk the path in my mind, picking up and sorting through the messages as I go. Pulling out the pieces I want to re-stitch into my new version of their story taking form on my page as a mingling of words and images.


The day is nearing a close and my page is almost full. Once again I look across the whole page and the story it tells. Several themes have come to light across the sessions of the day. I add some final words and icons to ensure the story is complete. Now to finish it off with a border that frames it all together. It is done. I will be handing my customer a large hand-drawn poster that captures the story of their conference. Each person in attendance will be able to use it to remember what was covered. They will be able to share it with their teams when they return to the office. The story of the day will live on long after my ink has dried.


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