Guillaume Wiatr was clearly listening during two days of speakers and presentations at the 2018 GeekWire Summit in Seattle. He just also happened to be drawing the entire time.
Much like he’s done at the Summit since 2014, Wiatr returned to chronicle the ideas and dialogue presented as part of our annual technology conference. For Wiatr, it’s a natural process and part of his information-absorption skillset.
“We all want to doodle,” he said. “I just took doodling to the extreme level of creating large visual maps in front of people. But in essence it’s the same behavioral need.”
That behavioral need led Wiatr to start his own company, MetaHelm, a presentation coaching program geared toward business executives where Wiatr said he helps people maximize their chances of success and lower their anxiety when they have to present for high-stakes situations. His “graphic facilitation” work could help with such things as an investors pitch; presenting a new strategy at a large company; building a story to differentiate a business in a competitive market; or convincing donors to join a philanthropic cause.
“During the GeekWire Summit I demonstrate what happens in my facilitated sessions with clients, when I map complex information and make it visual,” Wiatr said. “It helps me, and my clients, see their ideas in real time and reengineer the flow of a presentation.”
Wiatr diverted from his usual analog technique of illustrating on large poster board and this year, like he did at the GeekWire Cloud Tech Summit in June, he took a digital approach.
Summit audience members at the Sheraton Seattle were able to follow along as his illustrative maps were projected on a screen to the left of the stage where discussions were happening. The goal was to share the graphics as quickly as possible, including through time-lapse videos of how they evolved.
Wiatr still uses his pen-to-paper technique for smaller groups where he has to facilitate something like the creation of a storyboard or the strategy for a company where people are not necessarily aligned.
“They’re kind of talking about the same thing but in different terms,” Wiatr said. “So I gather them in a room during what I call a studio session. Through a series of questions and activities I get to create that shared sense of meaning.”
At the Summit, where speakers filled a two-day agenda, Wiatr had to absorb and convey the meaning of each talk in real time. He’s gotten very good at recognizing, often in the first minute, whether a talk, and drawing, are going to be compelling.
“There’s always an aha moment, or a moment where it feels like all the dots seem to connect,” he said. “When I listen to a presenter I know quite quickly if the person has a plan, if the person knows where they want to lead the audience, or the opposite, if the person is just rambling and doesn’t know where she or he is going.”
Wiatr shed more light on that process in relation to two talks that he found particularly effective and the illustrations that came out of each.
Brent Frei and Mark Frei did a power talk about their company, TerraClear, which is looking for a tech solution to an age-old problem for farmers who have to pick rocks from fields by hand.
“I think these guys had a very simple way to explain something that at the same time feels very trivial but also quite complicated: how do you pick up rocks on a field? Pretty trivial, but to do it well is very scientific,” Wiatr said. “But these guys had an excellent way to describe their process in layman’s terms, but also in a way that emotionally resonates with the public. They were tying the reasons why they do this with personal reasons, with social reasons, with economic reasons, with technical reasons. The more you connect different facets of an idea, the better it resonates. So for me, I have more images that show up in my head and I can just illustrate.”
Ring founder and CEO Jamie Siminoff also impressed Wiatr. He called the interview with GeekWire’s Todd Bishop awesome in the sense that it was a complete story.
“Going visual is not always about a lot of little icons and illustrations. It is about how you can recreate a map of a narrative and a story arc,” Wiatr said. “And in this one you can kind of see, he started with walking empty handed from ‘Shark Tank’ to ending up being one of the judges. He walked us through his story, with a very simple message to keep trying, keep trying. That lended itself for something more compelling in my graphic.
“My map is pretty clear, there’s four big clear ideas,” Wiatr added. “Toward the end I added red graphics around the page that make the whole thing look like shark teeth. That was an afterthought. I had no idea the focus was going to be so much on ‘Shark Tank,’ and that lended itself so well.”
Take a look through all of Wiatr’s illustrations below from a variety of talks he listened in on. You’ll get a sense that all that drawing helps him better understand a story someone is sharing.
“It makes my listening 1,000 times more active,” Wiatr said. “Sometimes I will remember a talk or a presentation that I listened to three, four, five years ago because I translated it as an image in the moment. This is active listening. You will associate events and facts to what you were doing at the time when you learned about those facts or events.”