Here is the full transcript of Graham Shaw’s TEDx Talk: How to Draw to Remember More at TEDxVienna conference.
Graham Shaw – Communication specialist
I wonder if you can relate to this. Have you ever had trouble remembering information? Lines of writing like this? When I was at school, one way I used to learn was this: I used to read.
And reading’s a great way to learn, isn’t it? But you know, sometimes my expression would be a bit like this. Because what I used to find was that sometimes I’d be reading all these lines and they just weren’t going in. Is this familiar to you? And I’d sometimes turn the paper over and try to remember it and my mind had just gone blank and I couldn’t remember anything.
And then I’d start to get really worried. I’d start to sweat and fret and get all anxious, especially if it got near to the examination.
And I thought to myself, “I’m never going to remember any of this!” And I also thought to myself, “There must be an easier way, mustn’t there?” And there is.
Because if we take that information and we turn it into a picture with a drawing, we remember it. Because when we draw, we remember more! But you know the only trouble with that? People say, “That’s a great idea but I can’t draw.” But I believe everybody can draw certainly well enough to make learning memorable. And today I’d like to show you how to do that.
We’re going to start building up our visual toolkit with, firstly, a circle. So get your paper ready. Let’s have a go. Have your paper this way around like the flip chart. And we are going to start by simply drawing a circle like that.
Next, what I’d like you to do is draw two more circles and make them into eyes. Then a nose. And then a nice smile. And now over here, let’s try another one. Some more eyes, this time looking in this way and a nose.
And this time let’s do a different expression a circle which we can shade in and we’ve got a shocked expression.
Let’s try one more just down here. Another circle! And this time draw the eyes, but looking upward, and then a nose. And now watch carefully, if you blink, you might miss it. A thoughtful expression.
So that’s our first shape in our visual toolkit, a circle. And everything we’re going to do is going to be as easy as that. So just turn your page over and we’re going to build our visual tool kit up. This time again have your page in portrait style and we’re going to begin over here. And the first shape we’re going to do is a diamond.
So just draw that. Then we think, “What could we make it into?” Put a triangle on the end. Now I’m going to put a little eye there and a smile. Got a little fish! Perhaps some bubbles. There we are.
In the center draw a circle. Now connect the circle with a line to the fish. We’ll call that number one. Now draw a line up here. We’ll call that number two.
We’re going to do a circle again. Just watch. Here it goes. And next a couple of eyes looking that way. And now a nose and a smile. Something different. Two triangles on the top and next, three lines this way, three lines that way and we’ve got a cat! Let’s go over this way.
Number three. Let’s draw a circle at the top. Now let’s draw a line down and then another line here to make a leg.
Next, we’re going to draw a line at that way and now an arm to the side and the other one up like that. So we’ve got a figure. And if we put two little lines there could be a dancer. Let’s draw number four. That’s going to be a triangle. And let’s see what shape we could make that into and what picture we could make it into. It looks like a boat with another triangle and a little line underneath. We could even put a flag on top and a bit of water there.
Next, come down here. Number five. We’re going to draw a rectangle. Just watch. Just like that. And let’s put some circles here for wheels. We could make a little bus out of that rectangle. A horizontal line, two lines vertically for windows, and some people who are inside the bus.
Next, let’s draw a vertical line. Number six. A totally different shape this time. Let’s go with a shape that looks a bit like a cloud. But two vertical lines below and we can make it into a tree.
Finally, number seven down here. We haven’t done a square yet. Let’s do a square and we can put a triangle on top, so we combine the shapes in our visual tool kit. A little door and a couple of windows.
So there we are. We’ve used the shapes in our visual tool kit to create pictures and of course we could create many more different pictures with that. So… But the wonderful thing is the amazing power of your mind to see pictures when they are not there. Because as you look at the picture now by just taking a mental picture, it kinda going ‘click!’ in your mind. You can actually remember not only the pictures but exactly where they are located on the page.
So just turn your paper over so you can’t see and let’s do a little experiment here and just have a look. What I’m going to ask you to do now: I’m going to point to different places on the flip chart and only when I point to the fish, do I want you to put your hand up. So do you think the fish is up here? No. Is the fish over here? Is the fish here? Thank goodness for that.
What about the bus? Is the bus up here? Is the bus down here? You’ve got it, haven’t you? So, in fact you could remember any of them that I’d asked. And even if I’d made it more complicated, you probably could remember most of those drawings. So drawing is a good way of remembering and there’s some terrific research around this.
A particular study was done at the University of Waterloo in Canada. And what they did was they asked people to remember 30 words and they gave them 40 seconds per word. And they could either write the words for 40 seconds and list them. So say a word like ‘balloon’. They were all simple words like that. They wrote them.
Or the other task they were asked to do was draw a simple picture of it. So there’s my balloon. Then they were given a sort of distraction task like a kind of filler task that was to do with music, so completely different, and then a surprise memory test. What did they find? What they found was that people typically remembered twice as many pictures when they’d drawn them compared with when they’d written them.
So double the number of words were remembered when they’d been drawn. I thought that was terrific, of course. And the other thing I thought was really fascinating about it was: the quality of the drawings didn’t appear to matter. In other words, people didn’t need to be artistically brilliant in order to create a drawing that stuck in their mind. And they even looked at other ways of remembering to compare with drawing.
For example, they got people to visualize words, they got people to write descriptions of words, and they got people to look at pictures of words. In every single case drawing always came out on top. So drawing was a great way to remember that list of words. And in my experience, drawing can help us to remember much more than lists. We can remember facts, we can remember abstract concept, even whole topics with drawing.