Penmanship for Architects?

For anyone who needs to describe important, complex ideas — especially those needing visualization using a whiteboard — please pay attention.  I have learned the hard way how much more effective/confident your communication can be if you follow some simple steps when you walk to a whiteboard or open a fresh pad of paper.  “I learned” by screwing this up.  In fact, I screwed up often, and no one really stopped me to give me any feedback…until I got a very direct piece of feedback from a gentleman we brought into our organization to help me coach and build architecture practices.  Here was his comment as I was trying to convey my vision of a new design for a team we were launching:

“Slow down.  I’m here and you have my attention.  You must think this is important enough to take our time together.  If it’s important, slow down and do it better.  This is your time too.”

Pretty direct, huh?  …Well, that’s stuck with me.

Here are some things I’m working on myself.  I hope these tips help you too.

  • Use a minimal set of images/symbols:  Stay with the basics – boxes, arrows, circles, and lines if possible. Prefer simple things to more advanced modeling techniques – everybody understands boxes and arrows, and not everyone understands UML.
  • Speak and think out loud while drawing to help the audience understand what you’re drawing.
  • Ask for Feedback to ensure your audience understands. Sketching is not one-way communication. If you are unsure whether a message got through or a drawing is understood, ask.
  • Slow Down! (and practice)  Probably the most important piece of advice I have is to SLOW DOWN and draw neatly.  Of course, there is a trade off here.  Don’t draw for 10 minutes silently and mess up the flow of dialog and message delivery.  Some have said that the words (your message) is most important, but if they could grok your idea with words only, why are you drawing?  Slow down and be deliberate.  Practice, practice, practice so it is natural and ideas are drawn quickly.  This will aide in your ability to pace the drawing with your message.  Your message will be much more impactful, and people will have a deeper sense of trust in your ideas as well.


(Below taken from this ProSketching Post)

Drawing on a whiteboard is a lot like public speaking: if we rush it, we won’t sound very confident in our ideas, what we draw will look like an unruly mess, and others won’t be as confident in our ideas either. How often have you seen this sort of thing on the whiteboard, scratched your head and wondered what it was:
Just slow down. Slow. Down. Breathe. Spend just a few extra seconds as you draw, and be more deliberate with each line. It will inject so much more confidence in what you draw and what you say. And when you project more confidence, others will have more confidence in your ideas. And they’ll remember them longer, too. Try to aim for something that’s just a bit neater, like this:

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