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Facilitation Skills: Effective Meetings With Difficult People


When it comes to facilitation, it’s not enough to simply have a meeting agenda. Leading a successful discussion often comes down to managing different types of people—and the more difficult the personalities in the room, the harder it is. Successful facilitators adapt their style to meet the needs of the group, and by doing so, draw the best ideas out of their team.

We’ve identified some tough personas you might encounter in meetings and how to tweak your facilitation plan to better manage them. You might recognize these types from your own team, or—gasp!—you might even be one yourself.


While it seems like ramblers just like to hear themselves talk, many are actually thinking out loud and speaking before they have a fully formed idea. Brainstorming is great, but it’s more productive when ideas are better defined before being presented to a group. Ask ramblers to summarize their thoughts into a few bullet points, and then sketch them out to help them focus their thoughts.


Playing devil’s advocate has its place—but when a group is sharing ideas, arguing against their merits stifles productive discussion. Contrarians can cause less confident team members to hold back ideas, which can ultimately lead to fewer contributions to the group. Urge contrarians to expand on ideas rather than criticizing them, and to keep all comments positive. Set rules of the room right away if you know you’ll have a contrarian in the room.


In meetings, ideas will always arise that aren’t on the agenda. Sidetrackers can derail a meeting with too many off-topic discussions. This is where the “parking lot” comes in—a running list of items that come up during a meeting that are worth addressing at another time. The parking lot is helpful for allowing sidetrackers to be heard while also keeping the meeting on-track.

Insistent Sidetrackers

Some sidetrackers keep hammering away at an idea long after it’s been added to the parking lot, disrupting the discussion and making it more difficult to address items on the agenda. A way to deal with insistent sidetrackers is to allow the group to vote on whether to continue the discussion. If team members believe the topic is important enough to discuss, either allow a set amount of time for it, or schedule an alternate meeting.


Bulldozers push their own agenda—as opposed to working as part of a team. Bulldozers are similar to sidetrackers in that they derail meeting productivity, but the difference is that bulldozers stick to the topic at hand while dominating the discussion and interrupting other team members. As a facilitator, it’s important to protect those being bulldozed. Ask other group members to finish or repeat their points if interrupted. The more you give the floor to other people’s contributions, the less power the bulldozer will have over the group.

Quiet Types

There are a few different reasons why someone may be quiet during meetings. They may be shy, intimidated, or just someone who only speaks when they feel they have something important to say. Directly asking them for thoughts may make them uncomfortable, so it’s important to find easier ways for them to contribute. Have the group write down ideas to hand over to the facilitator. Alternatively, break into smaller groups for more focused problem-solving to help make this type feel more comfortable opening up.

For All Types: Empathy is Key

Empathy goes a long way toward dealing with people we perceive as difficult to work with in meetings. When prepping for a meeting, spend time not just on the agenda, but on the participants. One by one, what is each person’s biggest priority? Biggest fear? Biggest strength? Then design the experience to account for it and be prepared to change on the fly.

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Community Spotlight (and TDG New Hire!): Erin Lamberty


Thinking creatively from advertising to education design to yoga.

We were thinking the other day that we do a lot of talking on this newsletter, but the thing that excites us most about The Design Gym isn’t what we’re teaching – it’s what all you bad a%# folks are doing with the stuff you’re learning. It’s incredible.

Since we started, our community has taken this stuff to the NYC Mayor’s Office, the halls of our public schools, the boardrooms of some huge companies, the front lines of non-profit field work, and everywhere in between. Those stories are what it’s really all about, so we’re going to start featuring some of the most inspiring ones in our newsletter to inspire, share, and keep learning.

There was no better place to start than with Erin, because aside from being one of our very first students, she is also the newest member of The Design Gym team! She attended one of our very first Design Thinking Bootcamps over three years ago, and you may have seen her teaching and facilitating Bootcamps in the past two years. Bringing her officially on to the team to lead Community Education programs felt like a natural next step. If you don’t get a chance to celebrate with her at Happy Hour tonight, be sure to give her a high five next time you see her at an event.

We sat down with Erin to get her thoughts on design thinking, why she’s excited to join The Design Gym, and how she applies the design thinking method in her work – and even to her yoga teaching! She also speaks to her experience bringing

How did you first become interested in design thinking?
I was working in advertising, and I noticed a disconnect between what we were creating and what people actually wanted or needed. I started to look for opportunities to learn how to create experiences to better meet customer needs instead of just building what was cool or trendy at the time. That was about four years ago, and the rest is history 🙂

What do you see as the main value of design thinking?
Lately I’ve experienced more value in the process as a mindset for working through end solutions. I know that I will be constantly iterating and improving on what I’m creating so I now ship solutions sooner so that I can test, gather feedback, and then evolve what I’m doing or create something new.

What projects are you kicking off with The Design Gym right now?
I’ll be focusing on our Community Education programs and how we can create the best learning and practice based experiences. I will be working closely with our team of trainers to refine our content, create new materials, and prototype new program formats. I will also be developing systems that help us scale our operations as our programs expand.

What makes you most excited to be a part of The Design Gym team?
I love that The Design Gym is empowering more people with the tools to be designers. Design has traditionally been viewed just as visual, but design is really about understanding a problem and presenting a thoughtful solution, which doesn’t have to be visual at all. The solution might be an experience, or a behavioral change, or a process.

How do you apply design thinking to your yoga teaching?
Design thinking is about understanding people and I do the same in my yoga teaching. Every time I teach a class I come with a rough game plan, but I quickly read the room and energy so that I can guide students through an experience that is appropriate. My class themes each week are also inspired by a variety of sources (aka prompts!) – sometimes anatomy, sometimes poetry, but most times modern day life.
*This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.

Have your own stories about how you’ve brought design thinking, facilitation, or visual thinking to your team or life? We’re looking for more stories to feature, so just shoot us an email at hello@thedesigngym.com with a brief summary and we’ll reach out if it’s a good fit!

Stay awesome,

What’s LARP Got To Do, Got To Do With It?

Screen Shot 2015-11-05 at 6.40.00 PM

Earlier this month we made the annual trek to rural Maine for one of our favorite conferences, Poptech, where we heard a bunch of great speakers talk on the topic of Hybridity. One of the talks that caught our attention was from Alexa Clay, author of The Misfit Economy. Alexa does research on subcultures and the innovation created within and through them.

One of the subcultures she highlighted in her talk was that of LARPing. For those not in the know, here’s the scientifically sound Wikipedia definition:

“A live action role-playing game (LARP) is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters’ actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world while interacting with each other in character. The outcome of player actions may be mediated by game rules or determined by consensus among players. Event arrangers called gamemasters decide the setting and rules to be used and facilitate the play.”

You can do a simple Google Image search to see just how deep these groups of LARPers get in creating a completely different universe to live within. It might seem silly at first glance, but Alexa’s job is to connect dots, and she posed the question “How do we take this nerdy subculture and apply it to allow us to embody and live out realities?”. She explained hypothetical scenarios of financial institutions trying to understand the possible futures of crypto-currencies, or environmental activists creating full scale neighborhoods representative of what a world without climate change might look like. Our wheels were turning.

Prototyping is an essential part of most creative processes, and certainly the one we teach. One major component we focus on is what we call Role Prototypes, or prototypes that explore the human interactions and emotions with a product or service. One of the best ways to go about testing these human assumptions we have is through role playing.

Now we get it, most office environments don’t exactly ‘welcome’ impromptu theatrical performances during work hours. And of course acting can feel pretty awkward, especially with co-workers. But role playing in the prototyping sense isn’t about acting, it’s about tapping into the emotions that are built into our DNA, the human side of things that we’re all born with.

When was the last time you truly put yourself in your user’s shoes…we mean literally in your users shoes? As you’re exploring big ideas or new products, how can you mock-up the actual world that product is supposed to live within, and throw yourself smack dab in the middle of it? Then most importantly, take note of the emotions you’re feeling, because chances are they’re the ones your users will feel to, good and bad.


PS – Check out Alexa Clay’s full Poptech talk here.

PPS – If you’re interested in LARP-ing, VICE recently did a mini documentary on how some folks are using it as a positive social outlet. Check it out here.

PPPS – Tina Turner reference anyone? Anyone?

The Difference Between Employee Empathy and Customer Empathy


It’s 10:00pm. The team is sitting around a table, cranking. You can feel the tiredness hanging in the air, like a ghost that’s bent on making it’s presence known. The big due date has been looming for months but somehow it turned into tomorrow and you’ve found yourself in the situation that you all promised you wouldn’t be in month ago.

Then…out of the corner of your weary, bloodshot eye you see it. It’s [insert co-worker here], and they are on their cell phone.

Texting. TEXTING!?!

Again. AGAIN!?!

BAH $%&@!!!

Here you are, typing your heart on to put the finishing touches on [insert big deadline item here] and there they are – sitting over there relishing in the disconnect of their digital life. Well let me tell you, we’re not standing for it anymore. Nope, not today. Your mouth jars open and before you can catch yourself you see a bunch of startled faces responding to the ‘Hey! Let me tell you….’ statements that you clearly must’ve just vocalized. And all of a sudden, a very long night just turned into a much longer night.

So often in design thinking and creative work we talk about building user empathy, but rarely do we take the time to build empathy and dialogue with those sitting a few feet over. When a project comes in, our first inclination is to assign roles, put a plan on it, and get the ball rolling. It might work, right up until it doesn’t, and then it fails in a big way. It’s those moments in the 9th hour, with fires burning and emotions high that you start to question each other, and it just so happens those are the last moments you want to be questioning your own team. Sure, your team mate might have been just goofing off, but it very well might have been their mother’s birthday that they almost forgot, or one of their children that has been battling a cold, or just a well deserved break before diving back in. These false assumptions are the ones that show up in the worst ways at the worst times.

We use a really simple tool to help build this understanding early and often in team settings – Personal Persona Sheets:

As you’re kicking off a project, spend an 30-60 minutes having each person create their own Personal Persona sheet. It doesn’t need to take long, just 5-10 minutes. Then give each team member the floor for another 5-10 minutes to share out what they created. Here are the categories we ask each person to capture:

– Your Name

– Communication Style – How do you tend to bring thoughts to your team? Are you the person with the big, lofty ideas, or are you the person who is a master of seeing roadblocks? Should your teammates expect concrete, well thought out details, or half-baked ground breaking sketches?

– Personality Type – How do you typically show up? Are you an in your face, call it like it is person? Or are you the silent one processing to yourself? Or (dare say it) passive aggressive combination of the two?

– Strengths – In moments of need, what can your team count on you to shine in? Are you the team comedian? The visual facilitator? The one known for spurring coffee walks to unwind?

– Mindshare – The most oft forgotten, and perhaps most important. What else is going on in your life that might have you distracted or prevent you from being present in the moment? It could be family, personal, emotional, or something else, but let’s be honest – we’re all human. When your team catches you texting…again…what is it that’s going on?

You can customize these to whatever works best for you. Sometimes we include things like personal excitement for a given project, or biggest fears around the work being done, or skillsets most trying to improve. There are no right or wrong answers. The point is to have the conversation, to level set amongst the team before diving headfirst into the trenches of hard work. Give it a try, there’s little to lose.

The Meetings that Saved our Culture (Yes…Meetings)

With organizations, most people draw a direct correlation between larger with slower, more hierarchical, and less authentic communication. We reference the ‘cog in the machine’ stereotype as we dream of those teams that are faster, more entrepreneurial, and less complex. Ah, if only we were a startup.

Sound familiar? It’s because this dichotomy between big business and small business is pushed on us in the media on a daily basis. But any small business employee can be the first to tell you—while it is true things can move faster, it surely doesn’t mean that it’s any easier to keep a team happy and communicating. We’ve seen startups, public schools, global non-profits and Fortune 100 companies struggling from the same team issues, and size has no influence on their ability to remedy them. But rather their ability to have honest and open communication over and over. It’s a game of good relationships at the end of the day.


In our early days as a small team, we found the daily stresses and ambiguity of a new business overwhelming. From the outside, people saw fun events like Design Taco and innovative new class formats like the Studio Project, but internally communication was breaking, trust was dwindling, and general excitement for the business we were building was strained.

Luckily as a company that advocates for leaning into tough challenges, we did what any good design thinking process would advocate—we asked the hard questions, figured out some patterns, and crafted some solutions to begin prototyping. These were hard conversations over several meetings. But the further we got, the more we started to see clear patterns around what we needed:

It became painfully obvious that although these were the items most critical to our shared success, not a single meeting we held was focused around any of them. At the time, all of our meetings were a jumbled mess of team, culture, strategy, accountability, and general new business freak out sessions.

We all pulled out our technology and in about 10 minutes of calendaring our first round of prototypes were set. Little did we know but we were on our way to drastically remedying some major breakdowns in the team. Here are some of the meetings we still hold weekly that you might be interested in stealing or adapting for your team:

Positive Intention Touchpoints:

Uncomfortable Conversations (every Monday morning) – A safe place to air the grudges, gnawing annoyances, or even personal insecurities living in the back of our heads. These keep disruptive emotions contained, rather than bubbling up in passive or aggressive manners. Best done over Indian food outside of the office.

Weekly Celebrations (every Friday, end of day) – A chance to reflect on what went well, both personally and as a team.

Shared Passion Touchpoints:

Mindset Check-ins (every Monday Morning) – a chance to get the pulse on each person. Where is each individual’s head at? What are they sketching? What are they excited about? What are they scared about?

Strategy Sessions (quarterly) – Blending accountability conversations with strategic planning is exhausting and ineffective. Now we reflect and steer the ship in a direction each quarter and try not to question it too much while executing.

Fishing/Skiing Trips (full day every 1-2 months) – Why fishing and skiing? No reason other than that we all love them and they can all be done easily in 1 day. They both allow for lots of downtime on lifts and waiting for whales to bite, which gives us lots of time for reflection on the exciting thing we’re working on together.

Clear Roles Touchpoints:

Top 3 Goals (every Monday Morning) – A chance to share out the top 3 things we are each hoping to accomplish this week to move our sides of the business forward. We also discuss roadblocks and ask for help from each other if needed.

Brain Trusts (monthly) – A chance to share out what we’re working on to get builds and input from the team. We also use this as a chance to hold each other accountable to what we’ve set out for during the quarter, and course correct if needed. We choose a month to have enough time to balance unexpected fires with continuing to make progress.


Remember: Heads down working will drive the business, but heads up relationships will drive the team. Find those levers and build the rituals into every week. (TWEET THIS)



HIRING: Marketing Director (NYC)


Company overview

The Design Gym is an educational company that teaches some of the most forward thinking organizations in the world how to infuse their culture with greater autonomy and tools to enhance collaboration. We’ve had the pleasure of working with the NYC Dept. of Education, Capital One, Etsy, DonorsChoose.org, Marriott and Next Big Sound to name a few. In addition to our client work we teach public classes that make the tools of Design Thinking, facilitation, and creative thinking accessible to the fine folks of New York City. We have been experiencing substantial growth in the past 12 months and are thrilled to be inviting some motivated and creative folks to join us for the next chapter.

Job description

The Marketing Director will collaborate with the TDG Managing Partners to build and implement a cohesive strategy to support the growth of both sides of the business (public and corporate). This role begs a balance of a wide variety of skills, making it both exciting and challenging. Some of the hats that will need to be worn include: community catalyst, developer of strategic insights and archetypes, amplifier of the interesting, and translator to make messages cohesive across the two primary business units.

Responsibilities include:

– Working with Managing Partners to set key objectives for marketing and build cohesive strategy around those objectives

– Reviewing marketing analytics to assess effectiveness of strategy and make changes as needed

– Growing brand awareness in the NYC market to support ‘butt’s in seats’ for our public classes and business development for our client work

– Developing campaigns and strategies to help TDG break into new geographic markets

– Oversee our agency relationships, a team of freelancers and part-time marketers to support key business objectives.

– Developing and executing our content strategy, including writing our newsletter, filling social media queues, and partnering with internal and external stakeholders to develop thought leadership

– Brainstorming and planning unique events and activations to boost the brand

– Strengthening relationships with media outlets to expand PR

– Interviewing clients and community members to learn about where we fit in their life, and testimonials we can share more broadly

What we’re looking for:

– Someone with at least 5 – 8 years of experience in a diversity of marketing roles, having both overseen teams and delivered on implementation

– Ideally someone who has worked in a role motivating and moving communities of people, such as in community groups, growing companies, political organizing, fundraising or events promotion.

– A gifted writer who enjoys writing

– Experience with large scale content strategy and growing community lists via digital and in physical channels

– Ideally working experience with Mailchimp, Buffer, Google Analytics, and WordPress. Adobe Creative Suite is a plus.

– A person with the confidence to build their own plan, own it when it doesn’t work and find ways to work around roadblocks.

– A strong network and a track record for creating impact within that network for the betterment of the people in it.

– The ability to navigate ambiguity and bounce between high-level strategy and working through the details.

The single greatest factor we’ve found in successful team members is a strong sense of self-awareness. We’re not looking for a perfect person as we don’t come close to fitting that mold ourselves – but we do need a sharp collaborator with a strong sense of honesty and willingness to go all in on the work. Also, it’s just plain non-negotiable that you’re fun to be around – we play by the no ass holes rule.


Email us at jobs@thedesigngym.com with the subject line ‘Marketing Director’. Please include:

– Resume

– Something to let us know why you think you’re a good fit for the job (cover letter, interactions with TDG, portfolio, feature length film)

– 300 words or less on a community you’re inspired by and what you believe it is they’re rallying around


HIRING: Client Training Lead (NYC)


Company overview

The Design Gym is an educational company that teaches some of the most forward thinking organizations in the world how to infuse their culture with greater autonomy and tools to enhance collaboration. We’ve had the pleasure of working with the NYC Dept. of Education, Capital One, Etsy, DonorsChoose.org, Marriott and Next Big Sound to name a few. In addition to our client work we teach public classes that make the tools of Design Thinking, facilitation, and creative thinking accessible to the fine folks of New York City. We have been experiencing substantial growth in the past 12 months and are thrilled to be inviting some motivated and creative folks to join us for the next chapter.

Job description

As a Client Training Lead, you will be working with some of the world’s most inspiring companies, helping them to understand the working styles and tools required for a more creative and inspired culture. Our clients come to us with a deep desire to create change and open the next chapter of their growth, but are often lacking the common language, tools, or work environment to make it happen. Our job is to use education and learning experiences to empower their teams to do the best work of their careers.

Don’t be fooled – this is not your typical consulting gig. Unlike most places, we do not pretend to be the smartest people in the room, and shy away from touting our next academic theory or highly protected IP. We only work with clients that are incredibly inspiring, capable, and joyful to spend time with, and are proud to say that most all of our clients have developed into long term friends who are often stopping in at our public events. We’re looking for team members who share a similar passion and respect for the clients we choose to collaborate with.

Responsibilities include:

– Working with the Managing Partners to set key objectives for corporate education, including creation of new offerings, development of quarterly goals, and growth of the internal team and culture.

– Managing and deepening account relationships with current and past clients.

– Designing and executing client training, which ranges from one off learning experiences to multi-month cultural transformation engagements, and with clients of all shapes and sizes (literally a public middle school in South Brooklyn one week to the board room of a Fortune 10 company another)

– Ability to identify opportunities and sell new work, although cold calling is rarely a part of this. Our leads generally come through our public workshops and word of mouth, making sales a much more organic, human experience.

– Working with TDG team to elevate the brand through thought leadership opportunities in media and on stage.

– Writing proposals and brainstorming with prospective clients how to best influence change at their organizations

– Coordinating cross-client experiences and social activities (ex. fishing trips, family dinners, field trips)

What we’re looking for:

– Someone with at least 5-7 years of experience in a design strategist, brand strategist, management consulting, or relevant client facing role

– Deep knowledge of the design thinking process, with the experience and war stories to back it up

– An ability to balance a big, front of room personality with a humble and empathetic coaching mindset. Improv or acting background is a plus.

– Experience building and growing teams of people, setting internal culture norms, and onboarding new hires.

– Someone who is excited to assume a teaching and coaching relationship with clients, and thrives on creating impact and culture change over time.

– Someone with a proven habit of creating magical moments for the people they work around – there is nothing we love more than surprising and delighting the amazing clients we work with.

– A person with the confidence to build their own plan, own it when it doesn’t work and find ways to work around roadblocks.

– A strong network and a track record for creating impact within that network for the betterment of the people in it.

– From opening up a new client relationship to closing the contract, we’re looking for someone who has experience throughout the entire sales process.

– Someone comfortable traveling, on average 1-3 days at a time, a few times each month.

– The ability to navigate ambiguity and bounce between high-level strategy and working through the details.

The single greatest factor we’ve found in successful team members is a strong sense of self-awareness. We’re not looking for a perfect person as we don’t come close to fitting that mold ourselves – but we do need a sharp collaborator with a strong sense of honesty and willingness to go all in on the work. Also, it’s just plain non-negotiable that you’re fun to be around – we play by the no ass holes rule.


Email us at jobs@thedesigngym.com with the subject line ‘Client Training Lead’. Please include:

– Resume

– Something to let us know why you think you’re a good fit for the job (cover letter, interactions with TDG, portfolio, feature length film)

– 300 words or less on how you transformed a client relationship or partnership into something that had profound impact on both you and the business.


On Our Mind: Designing Your Team


Between our public workshops, community of creative professionals, and corporate clients, we have had a unique chance to peak inside some of the most innovative and creative organizations in the world. The tensions that show up time and time again—experimentation vs. execution, heads down vs. collaborative, open feedback vs. never ending debate—often become bottlenecks to great thinking. Sound familiar?

Ironically though, the teams we’ve seen that are most successful in balancing both radical thinking and consistent progress are using these exact pain points as the very levers to access such great work. Here’s the steps we’ve noticed they almost always have in common:

1) Extreme self-awareness of their pain points – Most good things in life don’t come without hard work—a good team culture is no different. Expecting that your team difficulties will resolve themselves, or that a few off-sites are enough to make your team gel is simply short sighted. Successful teams are constantly assessing what’s working, where friction points exist, and how the team feels about it. Answering these tough problems rarely comes in the form of one-off solutions, so find ways to create regular team rituals that assess these things consistently over time. Investing time in team check-ins, inspiration sharing, and debriefing pays its weight in gold down the road.

2) Shared Acknowledgement – If you took a poll of your team, most likely responses would be pretty consistent as to where the breakdowns are. But for some reason, despite our silent alignment, we have fear of building constructive dialogue around these issues. By creating a space to have a structured, constructive, and facilitated conversation, the problems become shared responsibilities of the team. Remember no team is perfect, so acknowledging the problems together is simply the first step to being able to solve them and grow together.

3) Deliberate Prototyping and Measurement – With most complex problems, there are infinite ways to solve them. Steadily improving your team structure and rituals is no different, so don’t get lost overthinking the perfect solutions. Rather anchor the pain points as fun challenges for the team to tackle together. Structure brainstorms or platforms for collecting ideas on how to solve for the pain points, vote on the top ones, and set up a prototyping calendar. Give each idea 2-3 weeks and then check in on how it’s working. If it’s not successful, try the next one. The shared experience of testing and debriefing the experiments will build team unity and shared ownership in and of itself.

Have some examples of how your team stays honest with each other and collaborates in unique ways? Tweet them to us here and we’ll share favorites with the community.

Visual Thinking: Sketching, An Essential Tool

“I can’t draw.”

We hear it over and over again when we discuss visual thinking. And our answer is always, “Yes you can. And you should.”

When we were kids, we never said we couldn’t draw. We didn’t even think about it—we simply picked up a marker or crayon and go. We put our ideas on paper; those ideas beget other ideas; and at the end, our completed drawing told a story.

As we get older, many of us who choose to work in less creative fields move away from drawing, and when we do, we lose a valuable tool for organizing our thoughts, improving learning, and communicating ideas.

Drawing—or sketching—is a game-changer for good team collaboration. It’s the fastest and easiest way to convey your thoughts, to help shape the conversation in meetings and get everyone on the same page. Yet so many people don’t feel comfortable standing at the whiteboard with a marker in hand. We want to change that.

Sketching is an Important Learning Tool

When you have a meeting, there’s a good chance that the people sitting around the table don’t all process information the same way. There are three basic learning modalities:

  • Visual learners learn by seeing. They need diagrams, graphs and charts to help them understand concepts.
  • Kinesthetic learners learn by doing. They respond to hands-on exercises and experiences.
  • Auditory learners learn by hearing. They easily grasp information in a lecture or discussion setting.

If your meetings consist of simply talking, you’re probably not getting the most valuable contributions from the visual and kinesthetic learners. Sketching is an effective tool because it unifies all three of those modalities, meaning everyone in the room can quickly wrap their heads around new ideas and add to the discussion.

When we see teams stuck in an endless cycle of talking but not solving problems, we send each member out of the room with a piece of paper and a pen and tell them to sketch what’s in their heads. The results are incredible. Once people are able to map out their thoughts, they’re then able to share them with the group in a concrete way.

Sketching is Easier than You Think

Sunni Brown is an expert in sketching, or as she prefers to call it, doodling. Her visual alphabet consists of 12 forms that she says are the “fundamental building blocks for drawing everything in the known universe.” If you still think you’re one of those people who can’t draw, answer these questions:

  • Can you draw a spiral?
  • Can you draw a triangle?
  • Can you draw a line?

If you answered “yes” to the above questions, you’ve already mastered three out 12. And the other nine are just as easy. The thing to remember is that sketches aren’t art. Your pictures don’t have to be pretty or complex. They just have to communicate your ideas. In the early stages, they can even be messy—you can always clean them up later, after you’ve fully fleshed out your idea.

We’re holding a Sketching Bootcamp in NYC on November 21, 2015, where we’ll spend a whole day drawing and sharing our understanding of four basic concepts:

  • Visual Vocabulary: Learning basic forms to represent people, places, actions and time
  • Process Mapping: Understanding how to put the small pieces together to form the big picture
  • Frameworks: Working with existing visual frameworks like flowcharts, pyramid diagrams and journey maps
  • Summarizing and Presenting Data: How to utilize the above concepts to sell ideas and solve problems

Our bootcamp is a great tool for learning, but if you don’t live in NYC, you can still explore the fundamentals of sketching. After all, you know how to sketch—you have since you were a kid. So grab a pen and go.

How to Get Your Point Across (Without Even Being in the Room)


When we think of storytelling, we often think of our favorite TED talks, a riveting speech that moved culture forward, or the hilarious tale your friend told you over dinner last night. But when we start using storytelling techniques in the hundreds of interactions we have each day, we can transform the way communication takes place.

Whether it’s giving a presentation to your senior leadership team, pitching a new idea to your colleague, or asking that special someone a very important question, here are the 4 steps we’ve found to make sure your story lives on after you leave the room. Pick an important conversation you’re having today and block off 15 minutes to run through them.

1. Know Your Audience

We talk often about building empathy with your users, but in this case we need to get in the head of our audience. Where is their head usually at? What gets them excited? What else might be distracting them? If you want your story to stick, then make it about them.

2. Find An Emotion To Leave Behind

Plan for that moment you walk out of the room. What do you want them to be thinking about? How do you want them to feel? What would you like them to be doing next? These are all things you can influence, but only if you’ve been deliberate in thinking through them.

3. Plan For The Achilles Heel Question

If you’ve done a good job at understanding your audience, then you should have a pretty good idea what red flags are going to be most apparent to them. Ask yourself what they’ll be most uncertain, skeptical, challenging, or inquisitive about, and make sure you’ve thought through it first. It doesn’t mean you’ll have everything solved, but have some ideas about how you could address them down the road.

4. Create The Arc (Backwards)

Now is the fun part. If you’ve done your diligence on the first 3 steps, you have created the ideal end state of the conversation—not for you, but for your audience. Now it’s just a matter of planning how you will get there. If you know your audience is going to be skeptical on your insight, how can you highlight some research or data to help make the story larger than you? If you know they have trouble wrapping their head around a big idea, how can you create a pilot that’s so easy to kick off they couldn’t possibly say no? If you know they’re a highly emotional person, how can you help them experience what you’re saying, rather than just hearing it? Then explore your mediums and create some artifacts.

Remember: You know you told a good story if your audience is the next one to tell it. (TWEET THIS).