The phrase, “a picture is worth a thousands words” held more true than ever last Thursday at Communitech’s Tech Leadership Conference.

As speakers including Eddie Obeng and Susan Cain captivated an audience of more than 800 attendees from Waterloo Region and beyond, a few talented illustrators were busy documenting the key themes of the presentations in the form of inviting sketches.

The practice is called graphic recording, and it combines drawing with facilitation to produce a visual understanding of a presentation.

Sam Bradd and Liisa Sorsa are two of the four graphic recorders who attended TLC. Sorsa manages a Toronto-based graphic recording business called Think Link Graphics. A few provinces over, Bradd manages his own company, Drawing Change, out of Vancouver.

While the two may work from different locations, they agree on what constitutes the crux of the trade.

“It’s really a listening skill; listening and synthesizing back to the audience what they’ve heard, in a visual way,” said Sorsa.

Contrary to expectations, the two do not come from a background in visual arts. Working with people is what allowed them to succeed in the graphics profession, they said.

Sam Bradd illustrates Susan Cain's keynote address at Communitech's Tech Leadership Conference. (Communitech photo: Meghan Kreller)

Sam Bradd illustrates Susan Cain’s keynote address at Communitech’s Tech Leadership Conference. (Communitech photo: Meghan Kreller)

“My background is actually in non-profit administration, human resources and labour relations,” said Bradd.

“I was working on training new employees at Bell,” said Sorsa. “I used the whiteboard a lot, before I even knew about any of this.”

The two have a passion for art and for human relations. Their careers sprung from the realization that graphic recording is as much about understanding people as it is about sketching.

“I had no idea until recently that there was a field of people doing this,” said Bradd. “It’s not just about keynotes. People are doing it in different ways; in small groups, conferences, focus groups. This was my big ‘aha’ moment.”

The business background that Bradd and Sorsa share has heavily influenced the work they do today. The idea of making business between people smarter and better is what drives their companies.

“Most meetings are terrible. I’m on a mission to make meetings not terrible,” said Bradd. “There are a few really basic ways to make that happen. Susan Cain is onto it with introverts and extroverts. Using visuals is another part of it. Knowing why you’re having a meeting is the third one.”

Bradd pointed out that graphic illustration is more than a tool to summarize a meeting. The drawings bring visual clarity to often long-winded dialogue. Bradd and Sorsa said their services are particularly useful for senior executives of organizations.

“They are busy, busy people. It’s there in front of them. They can literally see it. I’ve just saved you three hours of you reading a meeting report,” Bradd said.

Bradd summed it up best when he said, “Even though the world is more digital, it’s more complicated. The more complex things are the more we need to have people who have really good communication skills.”

The two leave the message that innovation should be brought past product development and into our meeting rooms. Using more visual, holistic communication, business will be able to make better-understood decisions. With a picture staring back at them, it would be pretty hard not to.

About The Author

Alexandra Satok

Alexandra Satok is an incoming third-year business student at Wilfrid Laurier University. She is delighted to be spending the summer in Waterloo, working as an External Relations Co-op at Communitech. She enjoys looking at the sustainable side of entrepreneurship and has started social ventures at her university campus. Alexandra hopes to put her passion into practice and create her own startup in the future.