Elevate Events with Doodling

Sketching and doodling improves our comprehension and creative thinking. After watching Sunni Brown's TED talk on the subject Kevin knew immediately he wanted to invite her to our studio, to see how these techniques could elevate events

Kevin Van der Straeten
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Sketching and doodling improves our comprehension and creative thinking. After watching Sunni Brown's TED talk on the subject I knew immediately I wanted to invite her to our studio, to see how these techniques could elevate events.


Hi Sunni, welcome to our studio.


Thank you.


Well, I saw your TED talk on doodling and sketching and I immediately knew I want to invite her to our studio. Can you imagine why?


Well, my first guess is that you are a doodler?


Yes, I like to doodle. But then I also saw the potential for the event industry, Yes.


And that's why I wanted to invite you. We won't do the TED talk over again we will put a link to everybody who wants to see it. But just, in brief, can you tell us what it was about?


Yes, and I love that you saw the relationship between doodling and events. Because as you know that's part of what we do too as we create these great events. Where people use visual language to create an experience, right. So I don't know if you read my mind or if I mentioned that in the talk, I can't remember. But yes… what was your question?


If you can tell...


Oh yes, what was the talk about?


Yes, indeed.


Okay, so at the time, and I'll try to do a summary, at the time I noticed that people were very hesitant to use visual language even rudimentary visual language, for all of the things that you can use it for. So it was kind of, in a place of… it only was belonging to artists… or it only was belonging to people who identified as creatives. And I recognized it as a tool that had a lot of potential. And so that's why I started talking about that and advocating for that. And to your point it has applications in all kinds of situations. Events and meetings and facilitated retreats and group experiences for problem-solving and so forth. And so the TED talk which I referred to as the Doodle Revolution, and I have a book called the Doodle Revolution, and was really me throwing down the gauntlet about, you know, we need to pay attention to this. Because a lot of people are doing it, and it's valuable, you know.


In our talk to prepare for this interview, you mentioned, you have four techniques to elevate events. Can you tell us something about that?


Oh yes, for sure. They are visual thinking, design thinking, applied gamification which, this is all kind of jargony you know, and then applied improvisation and so. Because I am like a huge fan of participatory experiential learning. I like learning with your whole body and I like learning with other people. And I like creating meaningful experiences, right. So like most of the time, you go to events or meetings and they're just like sort of non-interesting. Like they're not designed very thoughtfully.


They are just boring, let's put it that way.


I told you I'm not awake yet so I couldn't find the word boring. They don't have meaningful interactions among people. And that drives me crazy because you bring all these people together and what is the point of that, if you haven't really thoughtfully designed how we learn from each other and get inspired by each other and all that. So, I can't remember what I was saying...


We were talking about the four techniques.


Oh yeah, techniques. Oh yes, so anyway without going too deeply into them they are basically different ways to use multiple sensory experiences, to create experiences for people to participate. So like visual thinking would have more of an emphasis on visual language and doodling and drawing, like basic drawing for grownups, you know. Design thinking is more like an investigative method. So you ask very specific pointed questions to understand the routes of challenges and problems. Improvisation, is like a way for people to sort of shed some of their identities. They get a way of being with each other. And then gamification is like the activation of like, I call them thought experiments. Whereas like, what if we did this? Or what would it look like if this was no longer here? So it's like sort of hypothetical scenarios that you… And this is all with people getting together to do whatever the purpose of the event is to do. And we just weave those techniques together to create a really cool experience.


You're actually starting a global learning company based on game storming.


That's very new. Are you talking about game storming group?


Yes, indeed.


Okay, cool, because I run my own company but recently Dave my co, I don't know if you've seen the book Game Storming but it's got a lot of fans. My co-author and I are thinking about starting a company called game storming group. And Dave, this guy named Dave Mastronardi… we don't quite know what the business model will be, but we know that there is so much excitement around that applied gamification, that it makes no sense to not leverage that excitement. But that's like very early stages. Did I send a Tweet about that? Gosh, I have the biggest mouth.


We do our research. We know everything.


Good for you.


But that means that you really believe in this and that the applications also for events are very big.


Oh huge. Oh yes and I don't know if you've seen photographs of some of the events that we've designed.


No, not yet, tell me about it.


Yes. I should send you afterwards some photographs. We have some really… So here's an example. We do small, four group and top 5000. So they're scalable, these methods are scalable. But one of the events we did last year was about empathic design. So you know just understanding what people are actually interested in before you design for them. But in order to do that like an example of how you get people into other people’s frame of mind is we had, when people first walked in, we had different things that they could put on or wear. Like, some people had to put in two earplugs so then they have partial hearing. Some people had… because this is also designing for disability too right. And some people were in wheelchairs, some people had eye patches. Some people could not use words that started with S. So we would have linguistic disabilities and really differing abilities. And that was a way to introduce people to the notion that your perspective is not the only one in the world. And, it's worthwhile to move into another point of view before you design. And that was just the opening. And we had two days together. So the rest of the day those insights flowed from the intention of learning empathy and then ultimately designing for that. And I have photographs that are hilarious. You know people with moustaches. People with their hands taped together so that they know what it's like to not have mobility in your hands.


I like that example. Do you also have other examples where you use gamification or the visual technique, thinking techniques, at events.


Yes, and we're actually working… I'm going to Austria soon to design with a client. But yes, I have hundreds of examples, because I've been doing this for so long. I mean I know I look very young but really I'm like 70.


Okay is there one you think is interesting to share with us?


Yes, I think so. There is one with this big global company called 3M and they have… They were asking provocative questions. Because I have team members too and they go out to the events and lead a lot of them. But they were asking provocative questions around, what else you can do with sticky notes? Because like sticky notes have been used for every imaginable thing, right. And so they want to crowd source from people that were wondering by about, what are things we would never think to do with sticky notes but you can. And so we had these giant panoramic, three-dimensional cubes. We had artists and illustrators that would do some of the rapid concepts with the people. In case they couldn't do it all themselves or draw themselves. And then eventually we filled out… it was probably over the course of two days but people… The traffic was sprinkling in and out. But ultimately 3M was getting a lot of really great ideas about how to repurpose or repackage, or target different audiences based on just asking a few questions and letting people draw their responses, in three dimensional space. And I have photographs of that too.


Did you start the sticky notes wars?


I wish I did. but mine would have all been really nice, like, 'I love you' and 'you're a good person'. So it wouldn't have caught on, because it's not a battle. You know.


Okay. You're also working on your third book, Deep Self Design. What is that about?


Oh my gosh, that's such a good question. It's like every book I write has a different process. And Game Storming was nice and easy because there was three of us and we all knew what we were doing. Doodle Revolution was like writing a dragon or something. It was so hard and I did it by myself, you know. And I did all the illustrations, and oh my God. And Deep Self Design is doing something different. The content is… it's really about applied design thinking for your inside world, right. What we're always up to is talking to ourselves and then making beliefs about what we're saying to ourselves. And then behaving according to what we say to ourselves. And so I'm using some of the same games that I use to do external work to do internal work. Which is like intimidating and freaky for people but I actually make it really fun, and I did. You should go see my talk on creative mornings Denver. Because I made it a game, of learning one thing. We might say to ourselves consistently that is an obstacle for being on a team. Or for creating something you really love, or for writing a book if you've always wanted to. They are like narrators. And so I'm teaching people to understand them to be personas which is like a design concept. And then to actually work with the narrators in a different way. So it just makes perfect sense that I go there right, you know, like, where it was, what I do.


One last question and that's something I read about you, you don't like keynotes but you like to call it play notes. What's that about?


Well, that's a great question. You guys did do your homework. Keynotes are usually one way delivery. It's a person who is probably very smart and interesting standing on a stage as sort of a performance. Or like a thought leadership, like I'm an expert delivering content to an audience. And because I am a visual thinker and I've been advocating for visual thinking for a long time, I can't comfortably rely on auditory content only. It's like people have a listening span, when you're in an audience, have very short listening spans, and also a lot of people need to move and they need to draw and they need to take in content differently. So there's a lot of reasons I don't like keynotes to be honest. One of them is they're not multi-sensory, they’re very rarely multi-sensory. Also, they're not participatory. I like play notes because play notes are not about me, they are about the audience. And everything that I do is about the audience. If I wanted to be celebrated, like some kind of figurehead I would run for president. I would much rather make them the hero and let them take the learning experience into their own hands. And so that's what we do. My co-facilitators, we design play notes where people will be part of the process.


And how does that look like? Do you give them tasks to do?


Yes, like everybody has to sweep at the end of the… No, like for example… remember improvisation is one of our tools. I would never make people uncomfortable. We're very sensitive to introverts and people that don't want to do that. But ultimately we might do a demo of something on a stage. If we want someone to unlearn something for example, if they have some habit and we want to teach him to unlearn it, then my co-facilitator and I might do a short demo, 20 seconds, and then have them do it with each other. Or we might have them draw different pictures and then show the pictures to each other. Like there is a hundred different ways, really a thousand different ways, to invite them to participate. It really depends on what the goal of the session is and then we help them take the learning into their own hands. But it's always using visual thinking design, improve games. And then we'll sprinkle in a little bit of learning content, but it's not like a long lecture like… you know. And people love it, they really like it. And then when they leave they remember it because it was really like, physical, and visual and emotional. And then they remember it. So it matters.


Okay, Sunni. I want to thank you very much for sharing your insights in our show. Thank you so much.


I appreciate it. I love the green background, very handsome.


Thank you. And you at home thank you for watching our show. I hope to see you next week.