Brandy Agerbeck’s Obama Speach Visual Capture

For those of you interested in visual thinking and graphic recording, take a look at this! Brandy was inspired to do a visual capture of Obama’s inaguration speech – something quite different than she normally does. 

Brandy Agerbecks Graphic Facilitation Work

I was really interested to read about her process…

… I ended up scribbling down the main points I heard in pencil on a notebook. Not a real-time drawing. And as I scribbled notes, I realized that it was critical to quote Obamas words. One of my skills is to distill points into shorter, clearer phrases. Because this content was recorded and would be quoted, it was good to keep it in Obamas voice, even if it took my shape, my synthesis.

After I scribbled the notes, I downloaded a transcript. I highlighted the phrases that resonated with me when I listened live. Next, I needed to figure out how to wrap these points around the Obama banner I had drawn as a centerpiece. I started knowing that the O would be a face saying a major point. I chose to make that “Greatness is never a given. It is earned.” I built the main point around the banner, though not strictly in linear order.

I was very curious what pieces of the speech would be made into soundbites. As I prepped this image, I listened to NPR and I was glad to hear a lot of the pieces of the drawing being repeating on air.

Her reflection about capturing Obama’s exact words brought to mind one of the challenges/questions I face when doing either text or visual summaries of group conversations. How important is individual recognition and ownership of the words? When are quotes essential and when does distillation add more. Clearly in this case there was a sole focus on Obama. But Brandy’s articulation of the point gave me food for thought.

What do you do when you summarize online or F2F group interactions? What is your harvesting practice?

7 thoughts on “Brandy Agerbeck’s Obama Speach Visual Capture”

  1. This is a very pretty piece of work, but it missed some of the points of the address that touched me. Who filters and how they filter is a critical point.

    When we are meeting we generally try to get people to put together short summaries of what they felt were important points. Sometimes audio comments are taken. There are so many approaches and I suspect their success is a function of the group and the subject matter.

    For Obama’s speech I would not have used words in a summary. An abstraction to pure images or perhaps music to augment the short piece would underscore the points more for me. Sadly I lack the talent to pull off this type of summary.

  2. Steve, thanks for getting us started. First, I would question your comment “I ladk the talent to pull off this type of summary.” Having seen some of your work, my reaction is “whatttt???”

    While there is often an intent towards neutrality in graphic recording (or any kind of harvesting and summarizing), I don’t know many of us who can pull that off. SO this idea of a group producing it’s own summary is very powerful.

    In think sometimes (as in this case) these works ARE forms of personal expression. So it would be VERY cool to see how we each would have done this. As I look back on my post, I think I transitioned from Brandy’s personal expression to a more general topic without indicating that. Oops.

    A friend, the artist Honoria Starbucks (, does very wordless (or word light), evocative captures that are quite different from what I would say is the more mainstream graphic recording style (as popularized by the Grove and others). There is an interesting style heritage in the community!

    As I watched the speech overseas, there were also a few moments of great discomfort when listening with other “non-American” ears. A speech meant for an American inauguration, but literally heard around the world. It is a new time in the world. So adding the visual is a huge contribution from where I sit.

    Now, to noodle more on that space between personal summary and group… juicy!

  3. Thanks for the post, Nancy. To Steve’s point about whether I got the main points or not – there will *always* be a subjective element. We’re human and are always resonating with things based on our experiences. I so rarely have the chance to get any corroboration on my synthesis. But Inauguration Day it was fascinating to listen to NPR and hearing reactions to the speech. When they did “Man on the street” interviews, what people picked up on varied wildly and was so interesting to hear the interpretations. I’ll definitely stand by drawing – I think I got most of the main points, and definitely not all the detail (that’s not what I do). I loved checking the different news outlets and hearing what points they culled and see how they aligned with what I culled.

    BUT to get to Nancy’s point/question – when I do my work, I try to create a “collective voice.” I use the group’s vernacular, but not verbatim. And I personally never attribute specific parts to specific people. I think it’s helps people shake individual politics (within any group, not political topics) and to get folks seeing the conversation as a whole, not just their perspective on it. I think my role as a freelancer/outsider is CRUCIAL. It’s not to say an internal person can’t harvest ideas effectively, just much more work to keep an objective ear.

    My .o2, or .04 or so.

  4. I’m supporting a group of (mostly) new facilitators of person-centred planning to improve their skills – and I gave some of them an exercise recently… which was to take a graphic record of a news programme (in the UK) which purely by chance had been from the day of the inauguration. One of the more difficult learning points has been about recording exact words… so I thought I’d turn to the internet today to see who else was talking about this. The top link on Google for the search [“graphic facilitation” “exact words”] was to this page – which as you can imagine was a bit of a surprise. I’d expected to find a few people talking about this in general – not some examples of graphic records of the same speech to refer people to (although I guess it’s not all that surprising really). Now I can’t resist making some comments of my own to add to this interesting discussion.

    I’d strongly agree that Barak Obama’s exact words are important in this. I do graphic facilitation as part of person-centred planning – and to my mind it is absolutely crucial in this context that what goes on the paper has been spoken by one of the participants (and that if possible there’s a very real focus on the words of the ‘focus person’ above all else, and their closest allies if this isn’t possible). Often the focus person (and their family) have been ignored, treated badly, made to feel irrelevant, humiliated, and so on. When we write their exact words on a huge sheet of paper – without interpretation (and with ‘filtering’ handled appropriately) there are often profound effects.

    I also recommend to facilitators that they should concentrate first on words – using decoration/images/symbols to liven up their work and to make it attractive – rather than concentrating on making something that looks good above all else. Given the reactions of people in person-centred planning situations (over many years) I’m now very sure this is the right decision. At the end of the planning process people are looking at the lists of positive words, or the list of planned actions (including names and dates) on the action plan. They are concerned with exactly what’s been said and by whom, and what the content of the paper means to them – not whether it looks good enough to hang on their wall (although many people say that’s just what they are going to do). I *do* want the graphic record to look as good as possible – for writing to be legible, for there to be plenty of colour, for sections of the graphic to be clearly separate from one another, and so on – but I emphasise content over beauty. If course if you were cynical about this you might point out that my artistic skills aren’t up to anything more beautiful too (at least when under pressure)…

    But my graphic facilitation is very different when I’m involved in consultancy or training situations. I may choose to use my own words in these cases – or to write a summary of what’s been said.

    I also have more time to bring images into play in these situations – but I’d still argue that the images don’t necessarily need to be beautiful. For instance I might ask people to think about the boggy marshland that they will need to cross to get to the future situation they dream of. A few very simple images of ‘boggy marshland’ will help people to think – but I’d argue that the idea of ‘boggy marshland’ captured simply in those words, or some green shading, or a couple of symbols, is far more important than an attractive drawing.

    What I do struggle with in these consultancy situations is the balance between my interpretation of what’s been said, and the fact that most groups have a leader who should be able to take back the leadership of the group when I leave. I think if we’re not careful we can make the role of the leader much more difficult – almost undermining them by emphasising the group voice. I often wonder if I ought to be treating the leader and any senior team a bit like the focus person and their family in person-centred planning. Of course what comes into play here is our judgement on whether our role is to emphasise the group voice – or to help the leader – or something else completely different.

    For this news programme I ended up with a big section containing crucial quotes from Barak Obama, two smaller sections containing quotes from two specific commentators, and a section containing quotes from the crowd. What I also did very intentionally was to completely omit any of the opinions of the news staff. So, for instance, I didn’t write phrases like ‘they came in their thousands’ or ‘this was a momentous day’ when said by the main newsreader/commentator.

    So perhaps the main point I’m trying to make here (in a rather long-winded fashion) is that choices about whose words to write – whether to concentrate on images – what to filter out – and so on, should depend on what we’re using the graphic facilitation for.

    Thanks very much for this page – I’m sure that the people I’m supporting will find it useful.

    1. Robert, fabulous observations – deeply appreciated. So many important things!

      In my experience, the practice of graphic recording, preciseness is highly valued. In the practice of using graphics as part of a facilitation practice, negotiated meaning seems to be the key for me. I’m a terrible graphic recorder. I struggle to maintain neutrality and to “turn off” my own personal filter and I fail regularly. But I find using visuals to open up a conversation around meaning is fabulous. It amazes me every time, even with very diverse groups. A drawing, unlike our perception of words as precise and accurate, is almost always negotiable. People don’t automatically assume they understand it, or that their interpretation of it is shared. This is a gift!

      As for the attractiveness of the drawing – I’m with you. It doesn’t need to be some perfect, artistic rendition ( although there is a time and a place for that sort of practice and I have to say, I’m never troubled by MORE beauty in my life instead of less). One of the barriers we all face in trying to use more drawing in our work is our inner censor about what is “good enough.” Last week I ran a very informal graphic facilitation intro workshop for a group of family mediators and a clear point of emphasis was leave the “I can’t draw” voice outside the room. Just put color on paper and see what happens. In the workshop it was a safe place to liberate our drawing spirits, but much harder say, in the workplace. I joke that i like to role model imperfection to put everyone else at ease, but the truth is that my drawing is pretty simple and functional. That said, chalk makes many things much more vivid and beautiful even if the drawing is simple or crude.

      The group voice and leadership questions is VERY wonderful and provocative. I’m chewing on that. I almost feel like I have two voices in my head, one that says — ‘well maybe the leader needs to be more of a servant leader and the group exercise distributed leadership.” The other voice says “don’t disempower natural leadership.” How do you make your choices in these situations? Is it your belief about what is “good leadership” or something that is part of the conversation, the work?

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