When listening to a speaker, usually I genuinely want to listen and learn (while else would I be there?), but sometimes paying attention can be a challenge even with the most engaging speakers. A few years ago I searched for tips on how to better pay attention to speakers and I came across sketchnoting. Sketchnotes are basically little pictures and words instead of traditional written notes. You may have seen a professional sketchnoter at a conference. There is even a TED talk about them!


I found Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Handbook and I thought I would give sketchnoting a try. My take: sketchnotes are awesome. And I am terrible at drawing. Like really terrible. But even with my limited drawing ability, sketchnotes work great for me.

Sketchnoting forces you to pay attention and find the key ideas of any talk. The act of having to draw a concept really focuses the brain on what is actually being said. You pick out the important stuff and I have found my retention is greatly improved.

Going back later and reviewing sketchnotes is also a much better experience than traditional notes. The pictures act as a trigger to bring back the memories of the moment. Even the context around what was said is more easily recalled than with traditional note taking.

I have tried sketchnoting on paper notebooks and an iPad. The iPad can be cooler as it has different colors and brush styles, but it can also be a distraction (dang you twitter). Both forms work; the key is having a notebook with you.

A friend of mine actually sketchnoted his entire MBA experience. Check out his book The Visual MBA on Amazon. There are also a bunch of sketchnotes on Instagram.

visual mba

(Edit 3/21/22: another resource. Drawing in college to improve student engagement.

You can find me on Twitter @rhettweller or drop me a note.