Transcript: Rachel Smith on Drawing in Class at TEDxUFM

Rachel Smith

The following is the full transcript of Rachel Smith’s TEDx Talk titled “Drawing in Class” at TEDxUFM event.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here: Drawing in class by Rachel Smith at TEDxUFM


When I was in high school, I was a pretty good student and I took very good notes. And my teachers really appreciated that.

My notes looked a lot like this most of the time. So you look at these notes and you say to yourself “This is great. This student is clearly paying attention in my class.” That’s what it looks like.

The trouble is that sometimes, my notes looked a little more like this. And this was a little hard, a little more problematic, because to the teachers it looked like I was drawing in class. And so I would get a different reaction.

But for me, it was just as easy to listen closely to what the teacher was saying if I was drawing images as it was if I was writing words. Sometimes, it was actually easier for me to listen and pay attention if my hand was doing something, and it didn’t matter if the images that were coming out had anything to do with what I was hearing. It was just easier for me to focus if I was drawing.

But teachers would stand in the front of the room and see me in the back of the room, because my last name started with an S and so I was always in the back. And they would say, “She’s drawing in class again.” And they’d make me stop and then they’d make me stand up in front of the class and recite some exercises to induce me to pay attention better next time.

And maybe, after class, I’d have to stay and clean off the blackboard and then I’d always get the same lecture which went something like this: “Rachel, you’re such a good student, but if you don’t pay attention, you’re not going to do well.”

Guess what I do for a living now? Any guesses? 25 years later, it turns out that what I do for a living is pay attention. I get up in front of a group and the group talks, and while they’re doing that, I pay attention. And I pay attention totally, and completely, and with everything that I am.

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And while I’m paying attention to what the group is saying, I take notes. And those notes look something like this. This is called graphic recording. I use huge sheets of paper on the wall, and I use big markers, and I listen to the group’s conversation and I record it, using words and images.

Sometimes there are more words and sometimes there are more images, but usually the notes come out looking something like this. This helps the group in several ways: It lets them see what they’re doing, it lets them see their work in a way that’s not normally possible in a meeting or a conversation. It lets them see the big picture together. They can make connections between pieces of information that come up at different times in the meeting. They can follow the thread of a conversation through a multi-day meeting because it’s all around them on the walls, all the time. It really helps the group to see what they’re accomplishing as they do it, and that’s my contribution. I make the group’s work visible.

I also use visual note-taking to take my own personal notes, when I’m listening to speeches, or lectures, or meetings, what have you. A couple of things are different than when I was in high school. I’m using different tools, so my notes look a little different. I also draw on an internal library of images that I’ve developed over the years and that I carry with me, that I can just draw very quickly when I need them. They’re just ready for me to use.

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