Virtual Meeting Tool: The Check-in Grid

Getting people comfortable in a virtual meeting can be a challenge, especially if you plan to use some of the more advanced features of your web conferencing tools. Even if that’s not in your agenda, it’s helpful to have folks take a minute to check in once the group has assembled. You’re familiar, I’m sure, with the awkward-silence-and-simultaneous-speaking method of going around the virtual room. How about trying a visual alternative in your next meeting? This one was shared with me by a student in one of my digital facilitation workshops.

The check-in grid is a quick, easy and fun way to avoid the awkward stumbling while still giving everyone a chance to have his or her voice heard. It also lets folks experience the group whiteboard feature of a web conferencing tool during a safe and low-stakes activity, so that later, when you ask them to dot vote or contribute to a group visual, they aren’t totally lost.

You’ll need to enable the collaborative whiteboard feature in your web conferencing tool. Some of them require you to do this when you set the meeting up, and others let you activate it once the meeting has begun. (See below for alternative ideas if your system just doesn’t have this feature.)

Start by drawing a grid on the collaborative whiteboard that has at least enough squares for each person to have one (including yourself). You can do this in advance of the meeting, or while people are gathering in the call, or right after you call the meeting to order when everyone is present.

the check in grid - it looks like a tic tac toe board.

Draw a simple grid.

 

Next, set the stage for participation by saying that you’d like to have the group do a visual check-in. When you give the signal, everyone will pick an empty square and use the drawing tools to draw a simple face that reflects how they are feeling right now. Alternatively, you could frame the instructions in one of these other ways:

Draw a simple face that shows…
• …how you are feeling about our progress so far.
• …how you are feeling right now about the issue we have come together to discuss (name the issue so it’s clear).
• …how your weekend went.

And so on. Explain that there will be a little pandemonium for a moment as people sort out which square to use. Point out that there are enough for everyone, so if two people start to use one square, one of them should just choose a different one instead.

Show people where the drawing tools are and how they work, if they don’t already know. You can invite everyone to make a test mark outside the grid if they want to practice.

When everyone is ready, tell them to go ahead. Let them sort out the squares themselves – it’s a mess at first, but it will work out. It’s okay if they talk. Wait until it looks like most people have chosen before drawing your own image in an unused square.

filled-in version of the check in grid

Makes you want to know what’s up with the cat person, doesn’t it?

 

When everyone has finished, start at the top left and go along the rows. Ask each artist to identify him or herself and say something about why they chose to draw what they did. Acknowledge each person’s contribution.

There you go! You’ve given everyone a chance to speak and share something about themselves, and you’ve established a speaking order that you can use throughout the meeting to help avoid talking over one another.

Bonus Points:
Once everyone is done drawing but before you go around for the verbal check-in, take a screen shot or download the image, open it in your drawing program, share your screen, and graphically record everyone’s remarks around the outside of the grid. Only do this if you can manage it very smoothly and quickly, or you will lose the good energy built up by the drawing.

No collaborative whiteboard? No problem!
Alternative #1: Ask everyone to draw a quick face on a scrap of paper, take a photo with their phone, and either upload it to the web conferencing tool (if that’s easy) or email it to you right away. Flip through the uploaded drawings in the web conference, or share your screen and open them one by one on your computer. Have each person explain as above.

Alternative #2: There are a lot of free shared whiteboarding tools that you can use for your meeting. Flockdraw is one. You just create a whiteboard and share the link, and everyone can draw together using its incredibly simple interface. There are many other options too — just keep searching until you find one that you like.

flockdraw screenshot

A co-conspirator and I created this in about fifteen seconds on our first Flockdraw visit.

 

Alternative #3: Instead of drawing a face, everyone can use the whiteboard type tool to write one word that describes how they are doing (or answers whatever question you have asked them).

Give it a try — let me know how it goes!

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Virtual meeting nightmares: funny, sad, and way too true

This lovely little piece, created by Tripp & Tyler to promote Leadercast Live, came to my attention this week:

I laughed. Then I cried. Many of my colleagues had similar reactions. The video points out some of the common events that make so many online meetings so incredibly dysfunctional: ineffective introductions, bad audio, people talking over one another because of a lack of visual cues, and of course the Technology Factor.

We have a lot of skills for coping with these issues in face-to-face meetings, but we’re still working out the promising practices for handling the same issues in online meetings. Throw in some technology tools — which sometimes work and sometimes don’t — and a group of people who have different kinds of equipment and different levels of comfort and skill with the tools, and you’ve got a situation that is uncomfortable at best and disastrous at worst, especially for the meeting facilitator. We’ve all been that guy out in the hallway, talking to the wall, slowly realizing that no one else can hear us.

The good news is that the tools are growing simpler and more cross-platform. Enterprise-level tools that have been around for a long time in terms of Internet timeframes (think WebEx and similar systems) are evolving, and new tools are emerging (think Join.Me and Skype and so on). Instead of requiring special plug-ins or client versions of the software or different setups for different operating systems, the tools are being adapted to work on any platform, be it PC, Mac OS, or the different mobile flavors. The users of the tools don’t need to do as much to make them work, because the tools are becoming more flexible.

More good news is that we’re developing methods to cope with the social aspects of online meetings regardless of the technology we’re using. Not everyone can manage multi-party video calls — although that’s getting cheaper and easier too — so we’re working out ways to handle basic interactions like introductions, orientation to the meeting purpose, and conversations that lead to real work, even when you can’t see your colleagues. Visual methods that support these interactions can be employed without much special equipment at all, and the payoff in terms of lower frustration, greater efficiency, and higher engagement is huge.

So go ahead and laugh at the poor folks in the video. Then think about which of those painful moments you encounter the most — and how you can address that one issue in your next online meeting. I’d love to hear your ideas… and I’ll share some of mine too. Let’s make awkward online meetings a thing of the past.

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What’s with all the words?

The other title I considered for this post is Only You Attend the Meeting in Your Head. This is about two related questions that I get from time to time. From prospective clients or people who are curious about visual practice, I hear: “How do you decide how to balance text and images in your work?” From fellow practitioners, I hear: “My client asked me to record using only pictures. Got any advice?” Advice? Maybe. Opinions? Always. Read on.

Graphic recorders, as you know, capture a presentation or a discussion in a visual way. To me, “a visual way” implies a few different things:


  1. The people having the discussion, or listening to the presentation, can see what is being captured. (Otherwise, I call it “visual notetaking” and not “graphic recording,” but YMMV.)


    David records

    David Sibbet recording reflections at IFVP 2008. The whole group can glance over and see the chart as he creates it.

  2. The graphic recorder organizes the information on the page or screen while she is recording it. The completed map is clear and easy to navigate. The information is presented in an engaging and maybe a beautiful way.*

    2a. For a discussion, this means that related ideas are grouped or linked visually, even if they are expressed at very different times in the conversation. Important or repeated ideas are highlighted somehow. Group agreements are clearly indicated. In other words, the graphic recorder helps organize and annotate the group’s thinking. At Elliott Masie’s Learning 2013, where I remotely captured a series of plenary interview sessions this week, this was described as ‘curating,’ a term I like.




    Color, shading, and placement indicates related concepts. Remotely digitally recorded for Elliott Masie’s Learning 2013.

    2b.For a presentation, the speaker’s key points are captured, usually in the sequence they are presented. This is because someone — the presenter — has already curated the subject matter. (One hopes.)

  3. Some key points, important concepts, evocative moments, or relationships between ideas are annotated or captured with images as well as, or instead of, words.


    Avril recording

    Avril Orloff blending words and images (beautifully) to capture a presentation at IFVP 2010 in Redwood City

Notice that the pictures part of ‘visual’ is way down in #3. I did that on purpose because in my practice, I emphasize #1 and #2.

Every now and then, when I’m scoping a project with a client, she will say something like this: “… and I want you to capture everything with pictures. I don’t want a lot of words, just pictures.”

So here’s the thing with that.

The first rule of graphic recording is this: Capture the speaker’s exact words. There are two reasons to do this. One is that the speaker will only understand he has been heard when he sees his own words written down on your chart. The second reason is that there are always two meetings going on: the one in the room, and the one in your head. The only experience that you can guarantee everyone is having is the one that is happening there in the room. The only person attending the meeting in your head is you. (Honest.) If you change the speaker’s words, even if you are interpreting or paraphrasing, you are recording the meeting in your head, which no one but you is attending.

If you use only pictures to capture the discussion, you are interpreting everything. Pictures can enhance understanding only if the context is clear. Without the shared context of the words, the meaning is apt to be lost, and when participants review the charts after the meeting they will not recall as much as they would if you had also captured some of the exact words they heard in the room. There are very, very few universally recognized images, and they generally communicate very simple concepts — not the complex ideas and relationships between them that are the substance of a facilitated working session or a really good presentation.

When a client asks me to record using only images, I try to get a little more information about what they want to do with the finished work — what their outcomes are. If they want the piece to remind people of the conversation and be a resource for future discussion, it’s critical for the words people actually heard to show up in the chart. If they are looking for a commemorative mural to frame and hang as a work of art, I happily direct them to other practitioners who will give them something much more in line with what they are after. It’s not wrong to want that as an outcome. I’m just not the best person to deliver it.

There are many, many flavors of visual practice, and many applications for the different approaches. Just like any other method or tool, some applications are a better fit with some approaches than with others. Match your tools and methods to your outcomes, and you’re golden.

* If I’m doing graphic facilitation — working directly with the group as opposed to working only with the chart while another facilitator handles the process and group dynamics — my charts are often not, strictly speaking, beautiful. I’m okay with this. The information is there, and it’s organized, and people can read it. When I’m doing straight graphic recording, I go in for beauty a bit more. I also know some wonderful practitioners who achieve beauty at very high levels no matter what their role.

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This makes me so happy.

You know how Wikipedia has a convention to put ‘citation needed’ after facts that don’t include citations? Look at this excerpt from the List of Cetaceans page on Wikipedia, and be delighted:

Excerpt from Wikipedia page.

How cool is that?

 

And by all means, if you can outline those cetaceans, please do.

Via Craig Smith via BoingBoing.

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What I See When You’re Using Your Smartphone

When you see someone standing on the sidewalk looking at a smartphone, what do you see? I’ve heard people describe it this way:

bored person standing in front of a brick wall

What you may imagine when you see someone with a smartphone.

 

I can understand that, but that’s not what I see. When I see someone looking at a smartphone, or iPad, or computer, this is what I see:

 

person looking through a window at a rich world of interactions

This is what I see when I see someone with a smartphone.

 

We don’t stare at our devices because we are fascinated with the way they look (at least, not after we’ve owned them for more than 24 hours). We stare through our devices. They are windows, not walls.

Granted, people are sometimes unwise in choosing when to open those windows, and sometimes we miss nearby things because we’re looking farther off. But don’t imagine that the device is what’s holding our attention. The device is just a window.

And as long as I’m on this subject, here’s a related one that’s been kicking around in my head for a while.

Technology != Not Human

Or, to put it a little less esoterically, ‘technology-mediated’ does not equal ‘not human.’

Last week, I once again heard a variation on the theme of I don’t like to use technology to communicate/draw/read/insert-your-activity-here because it doesn’t feel human.

I don’t buy it. I don’t mind at all if you don’t want to use technology for a given purpose, don’t get me wrong. But I don’t buy into the idea that the tool I’m using makes me less human, or makes my interactions less real, or my creativity less mine.

As my friend Lynn Kearny put it when I asked her if she felt using technology de-humanizes the activity being done, “Well, I ain’t never seen no hoss do it.” People communicate with people, whatever the medium. People create art, and people experience the art created by others. The tools will affect the experience, but it’s still essentially a human experience.

When I’m taking visual notes on my iPad, it’s a very different experience than when I’m doing it on paper. Lots of people don’t care for how that experience feels, and I have no problem with that. I also like taking notes on paper. But drawing on paper isn’t realer than drawing on an iPad. It isn’t a more human way to draw. You might as well say that drawing on paper is less human than drawing on cave walls, or chalking on sidewalks is less human than painting with oils on canvas. What does the medium have to do with how human the activity is?

The medium affects the experience of creating the work, and it may affect the qualities (please note, qualities plural, not quality) of the completed work. It doesn’t take anything away from the creator of the work.

So don’t use technology if you don’t care to. But don’t tell me I’m being less human for choosing it as a medium when it suits my outcomes.

 

The illustrations in this post were created by the fabulous Marianne Rodgers and are copyright © 2013 Marianne Rodgers. Find her work, and hire her to do some for you, at Mindtwin.net.

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my Doug Engelbart story

There are many stories to tell about Doug Engelbart. He touched so many lives, and many stories are being told right now, in remembrance and celebration. There are stories about the invention of the mouse. Stories about his early work at SRI on packet switching. And of course, stories about the Mother of All Demos. I have a story about him, too, but mine isn’t about any of those events. My story takes place at a cocktail party in Menlo Park, about four or five years ago.

Rachel Smith with Doug Engelbart

Rachel Smith with Doug Engelbart. Photo by Larry Johnson.

At the time, I was vice president of services for the New Media Consortium (NMC). We were participating in a jointly-sponsored event to commemmorate the 40th anniversary of the Mother of All Demos called the Program for the Future. We heard panels and talks, gave a talk about NMC, and saw a screening of the Mother of all Demos. Many of my technology heroes were there. It was a bit like being in the presence of royalty, or miracle workers, or both at the same time. It was dazzling and awe-inspiring.

In the evening, we attended a cocktail party at the home of one of the organizers. I was standing with a group that included Doug, chatting and exchanging our favorite mobile apps, completely amazed to be having this normal coversation (well, normal for techies, I guess) with such incredible people.

Suddenly, my attention was distracted by an abrupt noise from the room behind me. I half turned to see what it was, and while I was looking away, I felt a swift, gentle yank on my ponytail! I turned quickly back and saw astonishment and the beginnings of amusement on every face — except Doug’s. He was wearing an expression of the most perfect innocence, for all the world as though he were absorbed in thought. I had no idea what to do — laugh? object? pretend nothing had happened? Then he gave me the tiniest possible wink, and I couldn’t help it, and I burst out laughing. He grinned like a schoolboy.

My story of Doug Engelbart is that moment: that instant when I understood him as more than the passionate, brilliant inventor and thinker he undoubtedly was. My story is that playful moment, the moment when Doug Engelbart pulled my ponytail and pretended he hadn’t.

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I really want to love VideoScribe…

… but I just can’t. I *like* Sparkol’s VideoScribe, but I don’t *love* it. But that doesn’t mean it’s not lovable. I know people who have done very cool things with it, like Chipp Walters’ overview of Agilix xLi, along with many other examples — see the Sparkol YouTube channel for lots more. And I do think the “behind glass” hand is pretty neat.

I’ve only used the free trial versions (desktop and iPad app), so it’s also possible that the paid version is a whole different animal. I made a silly little movie about the beginning of the book Watership Down by Richard Adams, because I’m in the middle of reading that with my son and it’s on my mind. It took about 45 minutes to create this, starting from not really knowing how to use VideoScribe at all. If I were to make something similar now it would only take about 15 minutes. The learning curve isn’t bad at all.

Here’s my take on it:

When I compare it to my current workflow for creating this kind of movie, I find VideoScribe to be limiting. I’m used to being able to create images from scratch and control how they appear. I did create my own drawing in Illustrator (the image of the downs in the sample movie here), but as you can see, it didn’t come out quite the way I wanted it to in the video. I used the brush pen in Illustrator to get a brushy line quality, but in the movie you see the outline of each stroke and then all the strokes fill in at the end, so it looks odd.

I also wanted to add audio effects at different places in the movie, and I could not figure out how to do this. When I recorded an audio effect as a voiceover (just myself saying “Ta-da!”), it played at the very beginning, and I didn’t see a way to shift it to the point where I wanted it to be. It may be that there is a way to do it and I couldn’t find it, or it may be that this is only something you can do in the full-price version. Or it may not be possible at all.

However, it’s much less complicated to create a movie using VideoScribe than it is to do it the way I currently do it (with Brushes 1 and Final Cut Pro X). VideoScribe also has an advantage over Brushes 1 in that you can actually obtain it, which is significant for folks who are just starting out (the original Brushes is no longer available on the App Store, and the new one doesn’t let you work with the movie files in the same way). VideoScribe’s library of imagery seems to be extensive and can be supplemented by custom material, and it’s nice to have all the parts in one place: images, soundtrack, voiceover, and output. I use four different applications or services to achieve the same end.

Is VideoScribe right for you? Well, if you are looking for a relatively easy way to get into creating this kind of movie, and you don’t need an OCD-level of control over the output, and you’re willing to put in some time to learn the ins and outs of its unique user interface, then it might be. It’s certainly less complicated than working with a video crew — you can sit down and work on it any time, without reference to other people’s schedules, and you don’t need special lighting or space. The results are definitely polished enough to use for client work. It’s much easier to learn to use than Final Cut Pro X or even iMovie, and there are fewer moving parts to worry about. If you do decide to try it out, be aware that there’s a 7-day free trial. Don’t start until you have some time to devote to it, so you can give it a fair shot. I’d be curious to learn what you think if you try it.

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Same site, new look (and changes under the hood)

Digital Visual Facilitation has had a facelift! (Also, an unplanned mini-vacation.) Both are a result of the news that Posterous, this blog’s former home, is closing down at the end of April. Over the past week or so, I’ve moved the blog to another host and converted it from Posterous to WordPress. The only issue I ran into is that some of the embedded links to movies, photos, and slide shows stopped working after the move and had to be relinked. I think I’ve caught them all, but if you find something odd, just drop me a note and I’ll get it fixed.

The process of moving house wasn’t difficult at all, really. I started with Sarah Gooding’s instructions for the process, and used a workaround described by Antonio Cangiano:

  1. I started by making a backup of my Posterous site as described here, and then downloading the backup to my computer.
  2. Next, I needed a place to set up the blog on the web again. Since digitalfacilitation.net simply pointed to ninmah.posterous.com, I removed that pointer and set up an empty WordPress install at digitalfacilitation.net.
  3. Then I tried to use the Posterous Importer plug-in for WordPress, but it didn’t appear to work (the little “working” indicator just spun and nothing happened). I tried twice (just in case, right?) and then looked for an alternative method. Following the “Quick Tip” link in Gooding’s instructions, I found Antonio Cangiano’s instructions for a workaround.
  4. Using the backup of my Posterous site, I created a new, empty blog at WordPress.com — apparently the Posterous Importer plug-in works on wordpress.com but not on private WordPress installations — and imported the Posterous backup into it. Once it was there, I exported it to WordPress eXtended RSS (WXR) format — an extra step, but it worked like a charm.
  5. Finally, I returned to my new, still empty WordPress installation at the new digitalfacilitation.net, and imported the WXR export.
  6. The very last step was to go through the posts and fix the missing images, videos, and slide shows. In each case, the URL was there, just not in a format that WordPress could use. For most of them, I pasted the URL into my browser and got fresh embed code from the original item to paste back into the blog post.

The mini-vacation was a result of a bug in the domain transfer system at my hosting provider, and was unrelated to the move. I decided to consolidate things by moving the domain registration for digitalfacilitation.net to the same provider where I’m now hosting it, and where my other blog is hosted. They had an issue that caused the domain to fall off the internet (there’s probably a more accurate technical explanation for what really happened) for a few days.

At any rate, welcome (back) to the new digitalfacilitation.net!

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Two Apps to Watch: bContext and Underlay Stripper

Well, one app, and one tool that makes another app work better:

bContext

bContext is an iPad app that lets you record drawings and annotate them with audio. Thanks to some embedded editing tools, you can import images and draw over them, record yourself talking about what you are drawing, and create a video of the whole process. The drawing tools are not quite ready for the kind of detailed work I tend to do on my iPad — yet — but I have high hopes that they will be.

I had the pleasure of meeting bContext’s co-founders, CEO Massimo Scapini and CTO Felipe Saint-Jean, a couple of weeks ago when they were in town for TechCrunch’s Disrupt SF 2012 conference, and they gave me a tour of some of the new features that are coming up. I also got to put a in good word for some of my favorite wishlist features. This is definitely an app to keep your eye on!

Underlay Stripper

Underlay Stripper is a tool created by Altuit that runs on the computer (it’s not an iPad app) and works with the Brushes iPad app. I don’t believe it has been released yet, but I was able to beta test it and I am hooked. It lets you remove a layer from a Brushes drawing so that it doesn’t appear in the final image and video. This may not sound like a lot, but if you do iPad movies with Brushes, it’s huge: you can drop your sketch into the bottom layer, draw the movie on top of it, and then strip the sketch out so it doesn’t show in the final video. Fabulous!

I’ve used the beta extensively, and it’s reliable and simple to use. Keep your eye open for the official release — it’s a tool worth having.

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Cleaning Chart Images with ScanScribe

The instructions below come from David Sibbet of The Grove and were updated by Cynthia Derosier of Good Juju. I’ve just edited them a little and am reposting them for convenience. If you’re looking for another method of cleaning chart images, I have previously posted instructions for cleaning chart images with Photoshop

Cleaning Up Your Charts

Once you’ve taken photos of your charts, you can run them through a program called ScanScribe to drop out the shadows and the gray or yellowish background that results from photographing paper charts. It’s quick and easy, once you get ScanScribe set up. It’s not like most applications — it’s really a script, so you have to be prepared to fiddle a little bit, but once it’s working it’s a great tool for the job. Like David, I haven’t used it’s other features, but I know it’s capable of more than just whitening images. ScanScribe is available for Mac and Windows platforms.

David Sibbet says, “The best program [for cleaning chart images] is still ScanScribe, a never-released piece of software from Xerox [now Parc]. The interface isn’t very intuitive, but it does a great job keeping your yellows intact. You can change the exposure settings: 4 or 7 seem to work best. You can also correct for keystoning under the edit function. TIFF files work best. These are the only functions I’ve ever used and it seems to work very well.”

Using ScanScribe

  1. Download ScanScribe from the Parc site: http://www2.parc.com/isl/groups/pda/scanscribe/
  2. Save it to a spot on your computer where you will be able to find it (perhaps make a ScanScribe folder inside your Applications or Programs folder).
  3. Double click on the Scan app. This will launch a terminal program that then opens the software, so don’t be alarmed when the new program opens.
  4. Under EXECUTION, open “SCANSCRIBE.” 
  5. Go to “Options” set your Automatic FB/BG Color Processing on Image Load/ background sensitivity to 4 (or 7 — you can experiment).
  6. Under FILE open the folder where you have your chart pictures. It doesn’t have menus that open automatically so you have to go through each click manually.
  7. Open your file. It may take a little while to process, during which time it can look like nothing is happening. After a bit, your photo should open. When it opens, the photo will be magically whitened! (If not, see the notes below).
  8. To adjust for keystoning, go to Edit/Keystone Unwarp. This gives you a box that you can change by using your cursor on the corners. Drag corners to where you want them to be on the photos. Then click the button in the window frame that says “run Keystone” and the picture will unwarp.
  9. Save As a TIFF file if possible, or a JPG if you can’t work with TIFFs.

Notes

Cynthia reports that she had a very large TIFF file and had to reduce its file size in order for the program to work. If you load the photo and have done all the steps correctly but still see no change, you may need to reduce the file size. Cynthia noticed that the script at the bottom indicated the computer was out of memory for a TIFF file, but did not run out of memory for a JPG of the same size.

I have noticed that ScanScribe can have difficulty opening files if they are too deep in my computer’s file system — that is, if they are inside a lot of nested folders. I think this is because all the folder names get added to the path name for the image, and perhaps the long path name exceeds some limitation in ScanScribe, but that’s just a guess. To get around the issue, I created a folder inside my Pictures folder called “For ScanScribe,” and I just drop all the photos in there that I want to clean up. ScanScribe remembers the last folder it opened images from, so this is a handy way to avoid having to click through your folders to find your images. I just save the edited versions right back into that same folder, and then move everything to where I actually want it when I’m done to keep the folder clean.

If you have additional questions, please check the ScanScribe discussion forum

 

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