Preparing your #Sketchnotes

Note taking has taken on a whole new meaning for me since I started making Sketchnotes. For the uninitiated sketchnotes are all about.

If you haven’t already, I recommend you check out Mike Rohde’s Sketchnote Handbook.

If, like me, you want to sketch your notes at a conference or event, and worry about missing important details or not being ready, here’s a cheat-sheet for you.

  • Pens: Get your pens (including back-up pens if you think you’ll run out of ink) ready and somewhere you can easily get at them. Also worth keeping an eye on is where you can store them for easy access whilst you’re sketching – pocket, bag, table, etc. There’s nothing worse than dropping your pens, book, phone, etc. when you’re trying to pay attention. Try and use at least two colours, and be consistent in how you use them (shading, highlighting, etc.) across all your sketches.
  • Page-per-note: Prepare each page of your notebook with the details of the speaker and/or presentation. Include name, Twitter name, presentation title, etc. in your own design. This way you know what space you’re working with for the presentation, and who it is for. Be careful to make sure you check if titles change!

ALTC sketchnote

image source: ALT (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

  • Speed: If you think the presenter will go too quickly use a different notebook or page for rushed concepts and re-draw them later when you’ve got time. This is good practice and revision on whether you got the details of the talk you wanted to.
  • Upload/publish: If you publish your sketches to somewhere like Flickr then create your album before the event. This will make it easier to upload each sketch when you’re ready, and get a useable short URL from it when it’s published – e.g. It’s also worth mentioning here to make a note of what tags you’re going to use (and location) for each sketch.
  • Pre-tweet: Prepare a tweet with the correct hashtag and presenter name, and any other text you want to tweet. Leave space for the characters needed for the link to the photo.
  • Practice: Before the event, or when you have time, practice drawing basic shapes, faces, arrows, objects, stylised font and writing, icons, etc.

Mike Rohde

Image source: Mike Rohde (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

If you use something like Paper 53 or other digital sketching Apps on phones or tablets to sketch you can still prepare for the sketching and how/where you’ll publish them.

  • Time: Don’t try and sketchnote every talk, be selective about who and what you make notes of. I tend to sketch the keynotes or features speakers, and one or two key presentations that I want to keep a (detailed) record of, and generally make smaller, lighter notes of other talks and nuggets of information from other presenters. it also makes it easy to keep up with everything that’s going on.
  • Post-event: It’s now that I usually photo each sketch (maybe after a little more sketching to improve or fill in the gaps) and upload to Flickr (here are my ALTC sketches, and ones for BbTLC14). Try different locations and lighting for the photo, try to eliminate shadows and unnecessary borders in the photo around the page (not an issue if you sketch digitally).

Many of my friends now use sketchnotes (yes you, Sheila! Well done) or some form of note-taking at events now, and there are a whole multitude of different styles and approaches, all of them valid and wonderful. There is no right or wrong way to sketchnote, but a little preparation can help with doing it smoothly and without stress or worry about missing something.

PS. I can’t draw. I know I can’t, and it bugs me. My straight lines are not straight and my cats or dogs look like alien invaders worthy of being squashed in the most hideous ways imaginable. But that’s not the point: I like it, and I remember more of the meeting, event, or presentation than I used to. This is why I sketchnote! What about you?

If you want to try sketchnotes, or want to improve your sketches then I found two excellent activities from Kevin Thorne based on two TED Talks of your choice:

  1. Live Sketch the first talk. Just practice listening and sketching the notes and visual concepts. No starting over and no cleaning up afterward. If you make a mistake, try to incorporate it into the sketch…or just write “oops!”
  2. Post-Sketch the second talk. Again, try listening to the key points and concepts and sketch as much as you can. Try using some of the tips mentioned above during the live sketch. This time you’re allowed to go back and polish up the sketch. However, pretend you’re at a large conference and you may not have a lot of time. Keep the post-sketch time at a reasonable limit such as 10-15 minutes for each sketch.

Main image source: David Hopkins (CC BY-NC 2.0)