Sketchnote School: 6 Steps to Great Conference Sketchnotes

Communicating visually is one of those skills many believe they can’t achieve. There are others on the interwebs and authors of books that have extensive examples, tutorials, and styles to help you get started. Even with great books like Dan Roam’s, Back of the Napkin and Mike Rohde’s book, The Sketchnote Handbook some still struggle with the idea of capturing what they see in their “mind’s eye” and transferring those concepts to paper.

My Sketchbooks
My Sketchbooks

This is my spin on the craft. Many of you that know me know that I sketch…a lot! And I love sharing and teaching what I know. Over the next several weeks I’ll be posting a series of posts leading up to The Elearning Guild’s DevLearn 2014 Conference & Expo. At the conference I’ll pull it all together in a session titled, “Skecthnoting: How to Capture Ideas and Concepts with Visual Narratives.” If you’re attending DevLearn this year or not, this series is designed to get you started at sketchnoting. We have a few surprises in store for those of you that skecthnote the conference, too!

Current Sketchnoting culture

There are many who discuss the theories and techniques around visual communication such as Dave Gray’s thoughts around Visual Thinking and Irving Bierderman’s research on the Geon Theory of Object Recognition. I even introduced my own theory in ’08 that every object is first a shape. There are also many well-known sketchnoters like Mike Rohde, author of The Sketchnote Handbook and co-founder of the Sketchnote Army, enthusiast Sacha ChuaCraighton Berman at Core77’s Sketchnote Channel, Eva-Lotta Lamm who publishes her annual Sketchnotes Book, and Sunni Brown who’s Leading the Doodle Revolution. What an amazing time we live in to have access to such great thinkers and designers!

It goes without saying there is a vast amount of information today that discuss visual thinking, sequential narratives, graphic communication, and graphic facilitation. With respect to sketching and ALL respect to those mentioned above, visually communicating all comes back to how we process information and recreate in the form of sketchnotes.

Where did Sketchnoting originate?

My guess is as long as we (human race) started drawing on cave walls to tell stories. In recent times though, the trend I have noticed is Sketchnoting’s popularity seems to have originated from the UX Design and Web Design communities and has been around for over 5+ years. Although, not so much Sketchnoting in the Training & Development industry or Elearning communities on a similar scale (not to be confused with Graphic Facilitation). I have my thoughts as to why, but that’s for a later discussion. 

In our industry we’re referred to as Instructional Designers. One of our jobs is also Visual Designers that present instructional content in a visually attractive, meaningful, and relevant manner. Sketchnoting is just different medium with a similar process.

I’ve always had the ability to see and express thoughts visually and have literally been sketching, drawing, and sketchnoting as long as I could hold a pencil. I understand the fundamentals necessary to learn a new skill. For instance, I’m not a very good writer and my grammar quite honestly is embarrassing at times (if you haven’t already noticed). When it comes to physical exercise I’m not a very good runner either. Yet, I’m willing to learn. More importantly I’m open to learning from others who make it look effortless. All that’s left is practice.

What is Sketchnoting?

In a mouthful, my definition of Sketchnoting is:

Sketchnoting is a form of Visual Writing by expressing ideas, concepts, and important thoughts in a meaningful flow by listening, processing, and transferring what you hear by sketching either by analog or digital.

I’ve made this claim before and I’ll make it here – I can teach anyone how to communicate graphically and express concepts visually in 15 minutes or less. Communicating visually is a skill like any other that simply requires learning a few fundamental structures beyond just knowing the visual alphabet. Similar to learning math or a verbal language, there’s grammatical structure of sorts.


Here’s the big secret…Sketchnoting has zero to do with drawing skills and has everything to do with how you process information through listening and then visually representing your thoughts on paper.

Sketchnote School

In the next few weeks and in my own way with a little NuggetHead spin, I’ll be sharing the structure of Sketchnotes as I’ve developed over the years and have learned from others. This post is the introduction. The next two posts will be about preparing. The following three posts are all about the bits and pieces that make up a sketchnote. Finally, the last post will be about the pretty stuff.

Introduction – 6 Steps to Great Conference Sketchnotes. [You Are Here]

STEP 1 – Preparing: Live sketching or Post-sketching?

STEP 2 – Preparing: Format, Visual Flow, and Materials.

STEP 3 – Characters and Locations: Who and where?

STEP 4 – Text and Dialogue: Headers, Titles, Captions, and Speech bubbles.

STEP 5 – Icons and Concepts: Developing your own style.

STEP 6 – Action, Emotion, Color, and Adornments.



Each week I’ll close with an assignment(s). To kick things off I’d encourage you to see who’s skectchnoting today and their various styles by visiting these:

Sketchnote Army

Sketchnote Flickr Group

Tumblr #Sketchnote tag

Twitter #Sketchnote tag

With the openness to learn and the willingness to practice, you’ll be Skecthnoting your first conference in no time!

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  1. Tracy Parish says

    Interested to follow and sketch along as I’m still looking to get better at this and need all the tips i can get. Practice, practice, practice.

  2. Dionne Hamilton Smith says

    Very interesting. I sketchnote in private (journalling). Perhaps following your school will push my closet artist into the public domain!

  3. Kaana Marylin Leaf says

    (no, that’s not my real name) I have a question: why is Step Six unavailable? It gives me an Error 404 when I click it…


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