Tag Archives: webex

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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Recorded archive: Digital Tools workshop

Friday’s Digital Tools for Graphic Recording workshop was recorded, and you can view the streaming archive here. It’s a WebEx recording, so you may need to download a client to view it.

I apologize in advance for the brief periods where my screen and I vanish (it happens twice). Don’t worry — I come back 🙂  I’m hoping to be able to edit those out eventually, but at the moment, I’m still trying to work out how to edit a WebEx recording — I can adjust the start and end times, or at least I could if I had a PC and not a Mac, but I can’t change anything in the middle! (And trust me, there’s quite a lot I could safely edit out…)

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Post-workshop Debrief

Workshop Title

Last Friday, I led a workshop at The Grove called Digital Tools for Graphic Recording. Anne Merkelson moderated the session, and Tomi Nagai-Rothe and Ed Palmer provided backup and technical support. Over 130 people attended the free online workshop, which was scheduled to go for an hour but ended up running about 90 minutes. I learned a lot — especially about giving an online workshop to that many people — and I also mentioned a bunch of tools and offered to make my Sketchbook Pro brush sets available for download. Read on for all that info.

Lessons Learned

WebEx Lessons. We had some technical issues — at least, I did. I got kicked out of the conference twice when the WebEx client quit on me. (Thanks, everyone, for hanging in there til I got back!) We’re still not sure exactly what happened.

This was a much larger workshop than I’ve run before, and I now have some pre-workshop housekeeping steps that I’ll take care of next time. My thanks go to the attendees who helped me take care of these tasks on the fly this time! Next time, pre-flight will include:

  1. Setting the conference options in advance to mute the beeps when people enter and leave.
  2. Muting everyone at once! I knew there had to be a way to do that, but I sure couldn’t find it until someone showed me where it was.
  3. Logging in as myself and also as admin, then passing presenter control to myself so the admin account isn’t required the whole time. We have a theory that the client crashes were related to the fact that I was logged in as the admin.

There are a few other things I might do differently next time:

  1. We learned afterward that some people tried to access the session from their iPads and were not able to. I don’t have information about the nature of the problems, but next time I’ll recommend that participants use computers.
  2. It appeared that some people who joined the session after I had started sharing my screen couldn’t find the chat window. I did cotton on and help them locate it eventually, but next time I would add instructions for this to the introduction of the session.

We did some things right, which means attendees probably didn’t notice them. I’ll mention those, too:

  1. In addition to the presenter (me), we had one person who was focusing only on collecting and moderating questions, and two people who were focused on helping people who had connection troubles.
  2. The session “started” 15 minutes before the official start time so that people could come in, test their connection, make sure they could see and hear, and so on.
  3. I had the right headset! If you’re on a Mac, you want a USB headset, not the kind with a pink and a green connector.
  4. I remembered to hit “record!”

Presentation Lessons. I heard some feedback that the middle section of the presentation got kind of visually confusing. I had opened all my palettes in Sketchbook Pro (SBP), just as I do when I’m recording, but it would have made more sense to open them one at a time as I was talking about them (brushes only when I was talking about brushes, layers only for the layers piece, and so on).

Another comment was that I did a lot of things in SBP without explaining or narrating what I was doing. This may well have been confusing, especially to people who aren’t familar with the software. In the future I’ll try to be more explicit about saying what my mouse is doing!

Links & Notes

Here’s a list of links to some things I talked about. If I said something you wanted to look up and it’s not listed here, post a question in the comments and I’ll add it.

Workshop Agenda

Some of the key points I made were these:

  1. There are lots of options for digital graphic recording. When choosing which to use, match the tools to your own comfort and skill level and also to the meeting’s venue and outcomes.
  2. Set up your file in advance to facilitate the kind of distribution you will want. Use a low-res (72 dpi or thereabouts) for images that will be emailed and printed small-scale, on letter-sized paper. Use higher resolution (300 dpi) and a larger canvas size for images that will need to be printed larger. Remember that Sketchbook Pro has a limit on how large you can make your file — this is a flexible combination of print dimensions and resolution.
  3. Set up a custom brush set with the brushes you will need most. Create at least two sizes of each brush, one for thick lines like titles, and one for fine lines and details.
  4. Learn to use layers; I use at least three: one for outlines and details, one under that for colors, and one under that for shading and shadows.

Brush Sets

These sets are the ones I use most when I’m using Sketchbook Pro for graphic recording. They work on the computer, but not on the iPad (whole different brush thing there), and only with Sketchbook Pro. I use SBP 5.0, and they might not work with an earlier version. I know they’ll work on a Mac but I’m not sure if they’ll work on a PC too. (Let me know if you find out.)

They’re provided here with no warranty of any kind; if they run amok and wreak havoc on your computer, you will have my deepest sympathy, but that’s about it 🙂

Rachel’s favorite Sketchbook Pro brush set for graphic recording (72 dpi): use these brushes when you’re recording at screen resolution.

Rachel’s favorite Sketchbook Pro brush set for graphic recording (300 dpi): use these brushes when you’re recording at print resolution. They’re bigger so the lines will show up properly.

To install the brush sets:

  1. Download the file(s) and save them on your computer somewhere that you will be able to find them again. They should end in .zip.
  2. Launch Sketchbook Pro.
  3. If your brush palette isn’t open, go to Window > Brush Palette to make it appear.
  4. Click and hold in the little tiny circle of circles in the top right of the brush palette (see below).
  5. Swipe your mouse straight down through the icon with three brushes and an arrow pointing down (tooltip says: Import Brush Set).
  6. Navigate to where you saved the brush sets. Click one of the .zip files and click Open. Ta da!
  7. Repeat steps 4-6 to load the other brush set, if you wanted both.

If you get the little spinny ball and the brush set doesn’t load the first time, don’t panic. Repeat steps 4-6 and it should work the second time.


The menu you need is here.

Unanswered Questions

There were a few questions from the workshop that we didn’t have time to address:

Q: Can you hook up an iPad to a projector through a VGA connector? Does it work if you are on WebEx? 

A: This question has a two-part answer. Yes, you can hook the iPad to a projector; however, you can’t control WebEx from it to the same extent as you can on a computer. The iPad doesn’t work like a VGA tablet. The tablet is an input device, like your mouse or keyboard; it talks to your computer, which can be connected to WebEx. The iPad is another computer, not an input device, so you can’t use it to control your computer* to run WebEx. There is an iPad app for WebEx, but it doesn’t give you all the functions you need to record a webmeeting.

* The caveat here is that technically you can use certain apps to control your computer from your iPad. They’re not yet robust or fast enough to allow the iPad to replace a tablet for real-time graphic recording in a web meeting, though.

Q: It seems there are a couple ways to look at it. (1) Facilitate a virtual digital meeting and record as you go, or (2) use a moderator, facilitator and recorder. When is that better than (3) using a video conference with the camera on the paper you are using on the wall — then you document for archiving after the meeting? 

A: In my personal opinion, (2) is better than (1) most of the time. A small meeting can be recorded and facilitated by one person, especially if everyone in the meeting knows one another and the content is not too emotional or controversial. Some graphic recorders, too, are skilled enough to handle more challenging meetings this way (I’m not one of them). Larger meetings, or meetings where the facilitator will frequently be called upon to manage the group’s energy, will benefit from having a separate graphic recorder and facilitator. Another attendee also suggested a third person, a moderator who handles the web conference itself. An excellent idea.

When choosing between (1) or (2) and (3) — recording in a web meeting versus using a webcam and paper — the factors in play are the comfort level of the facilitator/recorder and attendees with one method or the other, the equipment you have available, and what you want to do with the recording after the meeting. Personal preference is another factor. Neither method is inherently better than the other.

Q: How do you print all the different layers? Will a complete picture show up on one page of paper? 

A: All the layers that are visible will be included in the print. You can also flatten the file into one layer when you’re done, if you’re sure that you don’t need the layers any longer. I always keep one layered version and use “Save As” to make a flattened one, if I need to.

Q: What’s the maximum number of layers you use?

A: I’m a layer hog! When I forget to keep track, I can end up with a lot. I know I’ve had stacks up in the twenties before. Typically, I try to keep it to three or four, and on the iPad you can’t have more than six in SBP.

Thanks to all those who attended, and especially to those who helped me out with WebEx and made suggestions for future improvements.

Updated May 24, 2013, to fix missing images after the blog moved.

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Registration Open: Free Creative Lettering Webinar on August 23


Registration is open for the one-hour online seminar on creative lettering I’ll be leading for The Grove on August 23. Check the article for the registration link and instructions. See you there!

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Second IFVP Online Graphic Jam!

Today’s IFVP Online Graphic Jam met via WebEx, hosted by me. It was a bit of a mixed bag; at least four people were unable to connect because WebEx either didn’t work with their (admittedly older) OS, or because even though they had updated Java, WebEx insisted that they hadn’t and wouldn’t open. Bummer #1.

The whiteboard isn’t nearly as smooth as Elluminate’s, either, as you can see from the images here. Even those who were using tablets and pens had shaky lines. Bummer #2.

I logged in from my iPad as well, thinking it would be perfect for drawing on the whiteboard. Alas, the iPad can watch, but can’t join in. No tools at all except chat. Bummer #3.

And when I saved out the whiteboards, they were all stretched and weird, like this:


What’s up with that, WebEx?

On the plus side, once we figured out how to give everyone control of the pen so they could share the whiteboard (not very intuitive), we had some fun graphically jammin’!

The Graphic Jam, for those who don’t know, is where a bunch of people quickly draw a symbol or illustration of a particular concept. We tried to limit ourselves to 30 seconds per topic, but our timekeeper was lousy and kept getting distracted watching all the other drawings unfold! (Yes, that would be me.) It was fun to have that immediate opportunity to review everyone’s work — it’s a little more delayed in a paper-based jam.

Naturally, our lousy timekeeper also forgot to hit “record” on the session, but at least I did manage to save out the drawings that we made:


 The first is the initial warm-up free for all, when everyone played with the tools to see what they were like, all at once, with no particular aim in mind. Next we each drew how we felt just then in a grid — you can see a couple of folks who were sleepy (it was very early or late in the day for them) and me with my hair all standing on end as I coped with the technology. I was still recovering from having to wade through obscure menus to enable drawing for everyone on the shared whiteboard. We also noted what we were drawing with (tablet, mouse, etc.).

The next few drawings are the graphic jam. The concepts we selected were, in the order they’re shown in the gallery: quality, speed, travel, and information overload. We tried to keep it to 30 seconds, but like I said, our timekeeper shouldn’t quit her day job.

The last drawing is one that we did all together, without speaking or writing any words. The task was to illustrate collaboration, collaboratively. It was interesting to try to jump in and be helpful and build on what others were doing.

Finally, we had a very brief discussion/Q&A about different tools for digital storytelling. 

The next jam isn’t scheduled. We’re looking for people who have access to other meeting tools, like Adobe Connect, or who are willing to host a group using one of the free collaborative tools available. If you’re interested, let me know!

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