A conversation with Heather Martinez. Director & Tech Host Academy
“We need more people being of service. And it’s not just the appointed tech host, it’s their responsibility. You could have teams of people where they know all of these skills, they’re going to function better as a team because they know how to behave this way. But I think still there aren’t enough tech hosts or service-minded people in these meetings to be able to do that.” – Heather Martinez
In this episode of Control the Room, I had the pleasure of speaking with Heather Martinez about her career serving clients with graphic recording and facilitation tech help. She starts with how her experience in graphic recording led to her new business. Later, Heather discusses why creating your own graphic style is important. We then discuss how our views have an impact on how we show up in the world. Listen in for tips you can learn from calligraphers, sign painters, and graphic artists.
[1:50] How Heather Got Her Start Serving As A Tech Host.
[14:05] Why We Need More People To Be Of Service In Facilitated Sessions.
[20:32] How To To Build Confidence As A Tech Host.
[30:55] Facilitation Tips From Calligraphers, Sign Painters, And Graphic Artists.
[45:10] The Importance Of A Possibility Seeking Mindset.
Links | Resources
Heather on Linkedin
Heather on Instagram
Heather on Facebook
About the Guest
Heather Leavitt Martinez started her work as a visual practitioner in 2011 while working at KornFerry, a leadership development company. She quickly realized that she wanted to create a team of graphic facilitators, so she pitched her idea to a systems engineering start-up in Washington, DC. She became a co-founder, art director, and scrum master of the Visioneering team. As a senior consultant for the intelligence community, Heather worked closely with organizational change managers to write facilitation guides and support multi-day offsites for directors of agencies.
Shortly after the administration change in 2016, Heather left DC and took a gap year to travel across North America in a 1947 teardrop trailer. During this time, she kept a blog, wrote a book, created a platform to train other visual practitioners, and attended three-month-long artist residencies to focus on her fine art.
Heather has arts administration training from the National Guild of Community Schools of the Arts, Colorado Creative Industries (CCI), and received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and CCI to expand her art career coaching model. Heather recently left her Director of Design and Visualization position at Kadabra, a leadership development firm, to pursue her work as the director at Tech Host Academy and spend time teaching lettering in her new studio space at The ArtRoom at the Smiley building.
About Voltage Control
Voltage Control is a change agency that helps enterprises sustain innovation and teams work better together with custom-designed meetings and workshops, both in-person and virtual. Our master facilitators offer trusted guidance and custom coaching to companies who want to transform ineffective meetings, reignite stalled projects, and cut through assumptions. Based in Austin, Voltage Control designs and leads public and private workshops that range from small meetings to large conference-style gatherings.
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Douglas: Welcome to the Control Room Podcast. A series devoted to the exploration of meeting culture and uncovering cures to the common meeting. Some meetings have tight control, and others are loose. To control the room means achieving outcomes while striking a balance between imposing and removing structure, asserting and distributing power, leaning in and leaning out, all in the service of having a truly magical meeting. Thanks for listening. If you’d like to join us live for a session sometime, you can join our weekly controlled room, Facilitation Lab. It’s a free event to meet fellow facilitators and explore new techniques so you can apply the things you learn in the podcast in real-time with other facilitators. Sign up today at voltagecontrol.com/facilitation-lab. If you’d like to learn more about my book, Magical Meetings, you can download the Magical Meetings Quick start guide, a free PDF reference with some of the most important pieces of advice from the book. Download a copy today at magicalmeetings.com.
Today, I’m with Heather Leavitt Martinez at Tech Host Academy, where she teaches tech hosting skills to support online environments we can all thrive in. She is also the author of Lettering Journey: Fast. Functional. Fun! And she teaches facilitators how to improve their handwriting and rapid lettering skills. Welcome to the show, Heather.
Heather: Thank you so much, Doug. It’s such a pleasure to be here.
Douglas: Ah, it’s great to have you. It’s been a long time coming, I think. Gosh, it might have been six months or so now since I had you on the live stream and really looking forward to this conversation. And as usual, let’s get started with a little story or a little history. How did you get your start in this work of lettering, and helping people excel online and in our work environments?
Heather: Yeah, thanks for asking. So the lettering happened first and then tech hosting happened of course later. The lettering really started when I was in Washington, DC. I just started a new team called The Visioneering Team, and we were supporting the intelligence community. And I was at a meetup and I was called out to say, okay, you’re a professional. We want to put all the pro visual practitioners up at the front of the room so that other people can ask questions. And I said, “I’ve only been in this job for a week.” I mean, I’ve been graphic recording and doing this type of work for a couple of years, but this was the first real in-house job. And a girl asked me, “How do you stay confident while you are graphic recording in front of crowds and in front of the audience?” And I said, “I am not.”
And she says, “What do you mean?” I said, “I’m pretty much scared all the time.” And she was like, “What? This isn’t very encouraging, so what would you do?” And I turned around and I looked at the wall because that’s where I’d been writing some words and drawing some pictures at this meetup. And I said, “Well, I would say that I’m going to pull from my strengths if I’m going to do anything to feel more confident.” And she said, “Well, what are your strengths?” And I wasn’t sure how to answer any of these questions. And I just looked again and I said, “I think it’s my lettering.” And from that moment on, everyone started looking at my lettering, asking me about my lettering, and I thought, well, I better get better at this. I had pretty good handwriting, but instead I decided to study with master calligraphers, sign painters because they work quickly and graffiti artists because they work even faster.
And so I studied with a lot of them and every time I studied with them, I would pull out my markers that I use as a facilitator, and I would translate what I learned from them into the styles that I was learning and using the markers that we use as facilitators. So that’s how I got my start in lettering. And then it just continued. No one else that I knew of was really teaching classes throughout the visual practitioner field. And so I did a couple of European tours, went to Europe twice, and taught at a lot of facilitation organizations, and some independent facilitators came and took my workshops. And from there, I wrote the book and it’s just been a lot of lettering fun since. It’s certainly been a journey.
Douglas: And then that led to the Tech Host Academy, that is the most recent development.
Heather: So when I left Washington, DC, that’s when I started teaching online lettering. And then when the pandemic hit, I was already graphic facilitating and graphic recording online for a couple of years already. But as you remember, it was like everybody, everyone all of a sudden was online. And so that’s when I realized I kind of became everybody’s tech IT person. Every organization that I was working with, current clients, I was very involved in the calligraphy community, and there were a lot of people in that community that had never been online, weren’t interested in being online, a much older generation. And so I kind of held a lot of non-tech savvy people, kind of held their hands through that transition. And it took me a while to finally … I put together a small class mainly for calligraphers and guilds. And then later on, especially as it kept going, I kept thinking, well, people are going to get better at being online. They’re just naturally going to get better over time.
And now it’s been over two years and I still sit in meetings and in events every week that I think, oh, this is terrible. They need a tech host. So what I did is every meeting I was in from the very beginning, if something was going wrong, I started keeping a list of how would you make it go right? What would make this meeting be better? Both on the technical side, on the facilitation side. And I would give some of that information back as feedback to my clients. Sometimes it even got me new work because I would say, “Hey, if you’d like me to tech host your next session.” I had to educate people what tech hosting was. And now I went ahead and built an entire course on it. And I help both facilitators, presenters and online learners who just want to make better online experiences, I help train them to become tech hosts.
Douglas: So I’m super curious. I want to dig into a few things there. Maybe we’ll just go to the most recent thing which was you mentioned hearing from folks around what would make things better, either through the tech logistics or the facilitation. What are the top three things that come to mind from those experiences?
Heather: In terms of making them better?
Douglas: Yeah, the things you heard, just those top three that jump out. They don’t have to be statistically the top three prevalent, but what are the first three to come to mind when you think back to those moments?
Heather: Yeah, thank you for asking it in that way. For some of my online learners, I get a lot of, “Wow, I take a lot of online classes and I left this session feeling energized and excited rather than burned out.” And I knew I was doing something right by helping that person. So I started asking people, and it’s funny, the tech is not the main thing. I mean that’s what people feel and that’s their pain point. Because if one person is having a tech issue, they can pretty much bring down a whole meeting. And so for me, it’s not just about the tech, but that’s the piece that people really feel.
But I would say a couple of other things that I’ve heard is people really like the sound of my voice, and I always tell them the microphone and they’re like, “No, no, no, you’re very soothing and you come in and I feel comfortable around you.” Which I love because now I know that we’re providing psychological safety. But then I tease and I say, “No, if I take off this microphone, I sound like Minnie Mouse. It’s totally the mic.” So people always ask me, “What’s your mic? What do you have on?” And I tell them what the tech part is because that’s what they want to know. People just want to know the gear, they want to know what it is I’m doing. But no, it’s a nice compliment to hear about my voice, that type of thing.
And then I’d say the final thing is really about, people are wondering how do I know what they need? I can almost anticipate what some of the participants need before they need it. I’m really on top of it. And that’s one of the things I love about Lauren Green. She’s one of the experts that I work with here at Tech Host Academy. She says, “You just have to google faster than anybody else in the room to be a tech host.” And I’m like, well, it’s a little bit more complicated than that, but it’s really true. You have to be anticipatory, you have to know what’s going to come next and kind of understand how meetings work, what the purpose of the meeting is, how to support that facilitator, and to kind of understand the level of tech savviness, if that’s a word, of the participants so that you can support them.
Douglas: Coming back to the voice thing, it reminds me of how … Well, I own a recording studio, have done a lot of recording over the years. And in the studio world, we have ways to monitor the sound. We don’t just commit that recording to, well, I usually say to tape. Not many people use tape anymore these days. But I guess commit it to disk without checking it to make sure that what it sounds like on playback. We might hear it coming through in the room. We might even hear it coming through the equipment, but do we hear it coming back off the recording device? And I think that’s something that people that weren’t even musicians or experienced with recording aren’t aware of because you set up Zoom, you flip open your laptop or whatever and you join the meeting, you have no idea how other people are experiencing you.
So I highly recommend even just recording a Zoom meeting with yourself, or even just get your spouse in there and then record it. They can tell you what they’re noticing. Even screen sharing, people share their screen without realizing that all their tabs are visible, all this other stuff. And so it’s really important to be able to see and hear and just be aware of that experience of the other participants.
Heather: Yeah, I’m glad you brought that up. And you have a really keen ear. You really have a trained ear for those things. Facilitators have a certain way of hearing because they’re listening for certain things and how people are talking and they might hear the tone. But you’re getting into something really specific. And if you don’t mind, I’d like to share what’s worked for me. I think closed captions and doing closed captions manually is what’s helped me the most understand how I’m showing up and how I can make the meetings better for my participants. So for instance, after I’m done with a meeting, and after I do the post production, I’ll upload that to an app that will give me the closed captions and I will listen to that again, the whole thing and make manual edits to it if a word comes out strange or something like that. And that’s really helped me understand how I show up.
But also I have this motto at Tech Host Academy and that is something that we need to follow and that’s protect the investment. And the investment is not just making sure that the people in the room who are live are having a great experience, but who’s listening to the recording? And do they feel like they’re a part of that experience even though they’re not in there live? And so one of the things that you’ll often hear from people at the beginning at a meeting to set the etiquette is let’s keep ourselves muted unless you have something relevant or timely to ask or say because it helps keep it a nice clean recording. We don’t want to hear rustling papers, people typing, horns in the background kind of thing. But at the same time, we want to keep it authentic and please feel free to unmute because we want this to be a type of conversation.
But I find that I have a couple of people even in my class, but a lot of participants who just like to stay unmuted and I can’t figure out why, what psychologically is going on. I’ve even taught my students, well maybe it’s because they think when they’re hitting the mute button that they’re actually muting themselves when they’re unmuting themselves. Like they’re confused about what that little toggle is doing. And so that’s why at the beginning of some longer sessions where we’re going to have a lot of recordings, I’ll set the etiquette and we’ll say, let’s test our audio right now. I let them know that I will mute you if I hear any background noise. Not to take it personally, that kind of thing. Because really what I’m doing is I’m protecting that investment to make sure that we have a nice clean recording.
But it’s an interesting balance when you’re in online sessions of do we stay unmuted so we can have this lively conversation and in this authentic place to be? Or do we make sure everybody’s muted so that our recording is good? And I think that comes out to also being a part of the purpose of the meeting too.
Douglas: Yeah, that’s a good point to consider the purpose and intent and we should be honoring that. Every move has consequences, there’s benefits to a decision and then we have to live with some of the pitfalls of those decisions too. And I really love your point about reminding people that I might mute you to maintain the environment, the quality of our audio. And it’s not meant to say we don’t want to hear from you. Please feel free to unmute yourself and join in. But it does slow things down sometimes because people have to fumble with the mute button and maybe they say something but they’re muted and they’re like, oh whatever. The conversation’s moved on so we just miss out on that moment. So yeah, we have to balance those.
Heather: We do. And as a tech host, if you see everybody on the screen and you see someone talking, you can quickly ask them to unmute, or if you have the power to unmute for them so that you don’t have to go through that. And that’s what I mean by being anticipatory. You kind of have to know what to expect and when you know how savvy your audience is, sometimes at the beginning you can say, “Okay, if everyone has their keyboard set up so that you can just touch the space bar to unmute and mute yourself, that’s great.” But if some people don’t have that setting in Zoom or they’ve overridden it with something else, or they just don’t even know that, then it takes a little bit of time to educate them. So I think part of it too is knowing how savvy that audience is to be able to help them.
Douglas: 100%. And the thing I will come back to you there is your point around noticing that someone’s speaking when they’re muted. And the thing I’ll say is as a facilitator, it’s so amazing to have a co-facilitator, or a tech host, or a scribe, or someone who is appointed that job of helping look for those signals. Because it’s way more difficult to manage and hold space for all those things in the virtual space than it is in the room.
Heather: That’s right.
Douglas: In the room, it’s a completely different environment. It’s almost like our skin and our sixth sense can pick up on some of the things happening in the room, but we can’t do that virtually. And so having more eyeballs on the chat, on just watching the screen for the way people are moving. Such a gift. So I love what you’re doing with the academy and creating more people that are skilled in doing these things because we need more of them.
Heather: We need more people being of service. And it’s not just the appointed tech host, it’s their responsibility. You could have teams of people where they know all of these skills, they’re going to function better as a team because they know how to behave this way. But I think still there aren’t enough tech hosts or service mind people in these meetings to be able to do that.
I love what you said about being in the room. I personally think that some online meetings can be more productive than in person meetings, but there is a certain sense of being in person that of course we can all appreciate. And one of the things when you said that about that sixth sense, there’s also a kinesthetic benefit of being in the room. We’re flat images when we’re on screen, when we’re in an online meeting, we’re just a bunch of flat images. So it’s really hard to see movement and kinesthetically, meaning if I’m a facilitator at the front of the room, I can actually use my body language or move across the room or get close to someone while I’m doing something else and that sends a whole nother message, doesn’t it?
Douglas: It does, 100%. And it’s a really powerful statement you just made, and I want to come back to it around if you’re training more people, they don’t even have to be in a role or employed as a tech host, but if they understand these moves, they understand how to show up, they’re aware of what can happen and what could happen, they can help the outcome of the session be so much better. And that’s something that we talk about in the book, Magical Meetings, which is how to be a magical meeting participant.
Heather: Nice. Yeah.
Douglas: And we advise people, once you have these facilitation skills, it can be tempting to let usurp the meaning. We’re not suggesting that you do that. No one enjoys having someone come in and take over, but wow, what an opportunity to help someone out in a big way. Or even just notice that someone hasn’t been contributing and say, “Hey, we haven’t heard from Susan in a while.” And you don’t have to be facilitator to point that out. So I think when you said that about the tech host, I totally agree. It’s right in our ethos and our philosophy around the more people that become aware and skilled in this way of thinking, this way of meeting and working, the better that people just exist in general. It doesn’t have to be any official thing that we sat down and planned out. It’s just like, hey, this is how we’re showing up now.
Heather: That’s right. It’s really modeling the way. And it’s also about we don’t get a handbook on how to behave in society. And then we didn’t get a handbook when we all started getting online and we can just look at posts and how people show up and not their best selves. And that can fall into meetings as well and online sessions. And I love what you’re saying about that. But I will say, there have been opportunities where I think, oh my gosh, I could totally jump in right now, save us 20 minutes and then we can all have a better meeting. But if jumping in is going to cause a disruption or cause something between me and the facilitator or the meeting organizer, maybe this isn’t my place. But I have been in meetings where there’s been a lot of technical issues and people will private chat me, “Will you please save this meeting?” And it’s like, I wasn’t hired to do that. It’s not really my place. I’m the participant. And I will either private chat someone or unmute and say, “Can I help you with this?”
And it’s a fine line. I think you’re right that just because we know this information doesn’t mean we get to be in charge. We can’t do that. But yeah. Can I share with you, one of our mottos at Tech Host Academy?
Douglas: Sure, of course.
Heather: And it kind of goes with this, and it’s lead with service, support with grace and partner with integrity. And the reason why I bring that up is because service minded people like you and I, facilitators, we’re going to see how we can help out. But we really need to support with grace. Where is our time and when do we step in? And then when I say partner with integrity, it’s sort of like, look, my role here is to be a participant, not to be the facilitator. So maybe that’s not my place to do this, but maybe after the meeting I can say, “Hey, I really enjoyed this session. I learned a lot in this way. I did see where there was an opportunity with this and you probably saw it too, but if you need some tech hosting support, I’d love to partner with you.” And I don’t say that to everybody. I say that to my ideal clients, or people that I want to work with and ones that I feel like, I think this could be a good fit.
Douglas: This stuff you’re talking about is making me think a lot about confidence.
Douglas: This thing around being underconfident and overconfident, and also just over time you start to build a sense of what’s appropriate as far as … Because sometimes it’s okay to jump in and be like, “Okay, okay, okay, let’s just do this a little different.” And then everyone’s totally grateful and thankful for it. And I think part of it’s knowing your relationships, having situational awareness, and really knowing the context and being a little clairvoyant on how people are going to take it.
Heather: That’s right.
Douglas: Do you have good judgment on these people and how they’re going to respond to it? And it can be tough. And I think some of that just comes with experience of just having failed a bunch and just kind of dialing it in. It’s like, I love the figure skater analogy. Figure skaters go to crazy extreme angles but don’t fall over. And they learned how to do that by falling over a bunch. And so sometimes you’ve just got to get out there and build confidence and practice.
Heather: I love that you said that, and I feel like that’s a huge testimonial that I get from a lot of my students are like, “I just feel more confident.” I’m like, “Yeah, but I can’t advertise that. I can’t tell people, Oh, you’re going to feel more confident. I’m teaching confidence.” I do it with my lettering too. I’m really teaching confidence. That’s all I’m teaching. But I’m using lettering and tech hosting as a vehicle to get there. And you are absolutely right. How many times as a facilitator, if you’re sitting in a meeting that’s being facilitated by someone else, that you think to yourself, okay, I see where this is going. I can almost expect what’s going to happen next. And the facilitator goes in a different direction and you think to yourself, oh, I would do something very differently right now.
But you know it’s not your place. Or maybe it is, maybe you see the facilitator is struggling and maybe you can just ask one question that can shift the whole conversation that helps them and helps the group. And you can say it in such a way that it’s almost like you didn’t say it, a voice just said it. It can be almost anonymous in a way. It wasn’t you, the ego, saying it. It was a helper, a service minded person saying it in service to the group and the purpose.
Douglas: I love that. It reminds me of some coaching we do during design sprints when we’re doing Ask The Experts. And the goal is to allow the experts to tell us things so we can learn from them. And I tell the teams that we’re facilitating, “Something will come up during this interview that you know the team needs to be aware of. I encourage you, instead of telling them this thing, pose a question to the expert that allows them to introduce that thing.” And so I love that your point around posing a question because oftentimes there’s just such a way to approach things with grace. We don’t have to be the ones with the answer, but maybe if we ask a genuine gracious question, then it gives the facilitator or anyone in the limelight the opportunity to maybe switch gears a little bit.
Douglas: Or at least help the group in a new way.
Heather: Absolutely. So those kind of questions are so important. I’m an appreciative [inaudible 00:22:53] facilitator and I say really practitioner because it’s the basis of what we do at Tech Host Academy. It’s the basis of how I operate and work. And so to ask a question and to be able to really, and I’m much better in writing than I am in speaking, especially off the cuff. But to know some of those kinds of ways to ask generative questions, to ask unconditionally positive questions so that you know that the way you ask the question, the way you inquire is going to shift in the direction, not of your ego or what you want, or what you know, but what is going to support the group in getting where they want to go? Because you’ve already established the purpose of the meeting or the vision that we’re all working towards. What’s that perfect question that gets everyone to be thinking and can generate a conversation in the direction that it needs to go? Not where you want it to go, but where you’ve kind of all agreed for it to go.
Douglas: That kind of gets into the difference between inquiry versus advocacy. How do we frame a question that really is not a veiled attempt to advocate for something versus just like, let’s just get into a mode of inquiry?
Heather: Right. And it can make some people crazy. I was facilitating and asking appreciative inquiry questions and I had some very right-minded consensus, they wanted to get to consensus quickly. Participants that are like, “What are we doing here?” We’re exploring, we’re harvesting the knowledge that’s in the room and we’re asking questions that we’ve never asked before so that we can have conversations that we’ve never had before. And they were feeling like, “Well, we’re not getting there fast enough.” Well no, people are like popcorn. There’s a few more people in the room that haven’t popped yet. Let’s hear what they have to say.
Douglas: Yeah, that’s really important. And we always like to say that whether you’re opening, I.E. generating ideas or closing, where you’re kind of restricting or constraining or filtering ideas, making those decisions, someone’s going to be unhappy. Because classically, during opening and generating, your decision makers and your engineer types that are wanting to figure it all out and get the constraints on the table, it drives them crazy because that’s not their love language. And then likewise, the super creative dreamers. When you start adding the constraints, they’re just like, “Oh, why aren’t we ideating anymore?”
Douglas: So I think as a facilitator we’ve got to understand that there’s no perfect zone for anybody and how do we hold space for all of them?
Heather: So sometimes when I’m facilitating, and this isn’t about tech hosting at all, because when I’m tech host, I’m quiet, I set the etiquette at the beginning and then I am the silent supporter until the very end when I say, here’s what we’ll do to follow up or whatever my role is there. Are you familiar, and I’m sure many of the listeners are of Sam [inaudible 00:25:42] work, group participatory decision making. And in my head I have that visual. It’s throughout his entire book of divergence and convergence. And as I’m speaking to a group, if I’m finding that some people have already popped, and they’re ready to converge, and there are other people who want to keep ideating, I will actually say, “Let’s take a balcony moment here and see what’s going on.”
And I will draw out Sam [inaudible 00:26:10], that visual and I will say, “This is the way meetings go and this is what we’re experiencing right now.” In order to get through this Groan Zone, which is what he calls it, how can we create some criteria for decision making? Do we need to talk about this anymore? Or are we ready to explore what that might look like as we get closer to consensus? I just show them what I know and then they feel smarter for knowing it, then they can be engaged
Douglas: 100%. And I like that move. I think a meta move there is even just the polling of the group. And I think so many facilitators get caught up in the, I’ve got to know what to do, I’ve got to have the game plan, I’m expected to be the expert, I’ve got to have the method, the activity, I’ve just got to be ready for the next move. And quite often the masterful move is to say, “Okay everyone, given what just happened, what do you think we should do?”
Heather: Where are we right now?
Douglas: Give them some options. It’s so much more liberating when people feel they’re in the driver’s seat.
Heather: That’s right.
Douglas: I want to come back to something you mentioned a moment ago about how the lettering was something you were teaching, but ultimately it was just a … Well you didn’t use the word facade, but it is a way of getting to the confidence.
Heather: Oh, it’s a vehicle.
Douglas: Yeah, exactly. And so I wanted to just throw this out here because it reminded me of this concept of distraction. And in physical fitness there’s quite a few techniques around distraction where if you have a weak muscle, or a muscle that is damaged, or the brain has kind shut it down because of a past injury, you can actually use distraction techniques to make the brain stop paying attention to it. And then it starts working fine, which then allows you to rehabilitate it. So in a way, even though lettering’s an important part of bring stuff to the table, it could be a distraction from the fear and from the uncertainty, and the things that are blocking people, and holding them back from progress is like, let’s just focus on this, but I’m really distracting you from the real learning, which are these foundational … You’re getting the osmosis of all this other goodness that might be really scary to think about if we were just to throw that at you.
Heather: Yeah. And letters are literal. I mean, they have meaning. Every letter in relationship to another letter creates a word that has meaning. And so they’re so literal. And so two things are happening there. First it’s literal. Second, and you may have heard me say this before because I say it all the time, and that is we have had some kind of a mark making tool in our hand since before we started making memories. So we have a muscle memory of making letters. We are adults, we know how to make letters, we’ve been making them all of our lives so we should feel confident about it. But get a room full of facilitators together that are focusing on their lettering. And I have them do a quick warm up and I start hearing everyone say, “Oh my gosh, this is being back at school. Oh yeah. I remember being back at school, I was taught by so and so. They hit me with a ruler.”
You start to hear all these terrible, traumatic stories around learning lettering. Or “I never learned how to hold it right, how should I hold it?” And I’m like, “You are an adult. I am not going to ask you to hold your marker in a different way now. Let’s look at how you’re holding it. Let’s make sure it’s comfortable so you can feel better about it.” And so I used to spend a lot of time just trying to address people’s negative thoughts about it. Now, like you talked about distraction.
Now I use lettering as a way to look at the way we’re creating some marks. I slow them down to learn how to create that muscle memory. And then I give them activities to speed them back up. And they’re almost distracted, they’re not even focused on their actual letters anymore. Now they’re up there in front of the room writing big and fast and it looks good. And that is what helps their confidence. And so I’m not meaning to trick them, but I am distracting them by using different ways of teaching lettering so that they can get good without having to get muddled in that, oh my gosh, I’ve never had good handwriting. I mean I hear all that from the beginning. And then after about an hour, they all feel differently about it and they’re surprised. “I can’t believe how good my handwriting is.” Yeah.
Douglas: That’s so cool. So something I was curious about from your opening story was how you studied with calligraphy, and sign writers, and graffiti artists. And I’m really curious, what is one thing that you learned from each of those people? So one thing you learned from calligraphy, one thing you learned from sign makers and one thing you learned from graffiti artists.
Heather: All right, I love this question because I think about it all the time. Calligraphers work so slowly so I couldn’t take the speed with me. From them, I learned form, how important letter forms are, spacing and the relationships of letters.
Now with sign painters, this is a rascally bunch. You want to drink a lot of beer, and work on walls and get really hot, making a lot of signs in a basement or out in the sun. These people are incredible. They have so many tricks, so many pro tips that you will feel like you’re cheating. And I pass that on to my students. They’ll say, “We can do that. Isn’t that cheating?” I’m like, “Professional sign painters do it. That’s who I learned it from.” And then they love that. Things like how to put a border around a chart so fast and so straight that you’ll feel like you’re doing it wrong. “Wait a minute. I didn’t know that that was even possible.”
And then with graffiti artists, I learned how to work fast without getting caught. Meaning I have actually made, while I’m graphic recording, I’ve made other things happen. Writing other things and posting them in other places that people didn’t even realize that I’ve done it. So yeah, that was a lot of fun. And actually the thing that graffiti artists taught me about, that I didn’t expect was that they taught me about culture. I was blown away when they taught me their language and what all the different types of tags and masterpieces, throw ups, their language and what they all mean. And how the stories of people, and how they’ve disrespected each other, and how you respect each other, that they can communicate without even being together by what they’re putting on walls. That I think is what really fascinated me.
Douglas: That point around the graffiti artist moving fast made me think about even a mental shift. I think there’s quite often times when people do a thing and they want to be recognized for doing the thing and that slows down the process. Because if you were to make a thing and then sit back and wait for someone to notice it, so it’s like, see, look what I just did. There’s a lot of time in that waiting that could have been spent making another thing.
Douglas: The image I had in my head of you kind of just not being noticed and going, and doing this thing, and doing that thing, and being over here and not worrying about if anyone saw you do it. There’s some beauty in that grace and silence of floating through the space. I wonder how many people get caught up in the, not that they don’t have the ability to move fast, but that they’re kind of waiting to be noticed.
Heather: Wow, that is powerful. If I were to bring it back in the graphic recording piece, because I was an artist for many, many years. And I felt like that waiting, it was too long for me. I wasn’t getting the kind of feedback that I needed from my audience. And so I had a teacher once tell me, “Well you just have the wrong visual language. It’s your subject matter.” And I went, “I don’t know, I think it’s my audience.” And he’s like, “Well, people are going to react however they react.” And once I became a graphic recorder, it was like, I have an audience here and it’s my job to serve them by using these techniques in these ways, by scribing, making visual notes for them. And I would get immediate feedback. I mean, sometimes it would happen as soon as I wrote it down. Sometimes it happens a little later after lunch when people are looking at the recording and talking about it. That gave me some satisfaction.
But the thing where I’m doing something on the side and it’s showing up in different places, sometimes I have larger, really big sticky notes where I will write down quotes of the speaker that maybe it doesn’t fit with the graphic recording I’m doing. Or maybe it’s just something that I found really interesting. And I’ll write that down, and then I’ll start sticking them up near the other graphic recordings when they get posted, and people see those as key quotes, key takeaways, wise words from the experts that we’ve been listening to. And then people would say, “Where did these come from? Who did these?” They don’t realize it’s still me because I’m doing them on the floor or I’m holding them in my hand and then I post them later on. Those are kind of fun. And they also make really nice little social media snippets too.
Douglas: Super cool.
Heather: If I waited for people to tell me how great it was, yeah, I think I’d be disappointed. I think sometimes we have to do some of this work because we find pleasure in it ourselves.
Douglas: I think there’s some wisdom there. You were talking about making of marks, and even in the calligraphy, the space and the shape and I started to think about glyphs.
Douglas: And I was wondering if you’ve created ever any systems of your own shapes or even in work with a team, shapes that might be unique to them to provide meaning and punctuate moments. I don’t know if that ever showed up in your work, but it struck me as like, oh wow, she’s kind of touching on runes and glyphs and things. And I was wondering if that ever shows up?
Heather: Oh, that’s a really great question. It’s something that if I’m working with a team of people who want to learn all at the same time from me, I think it’s really important that we don’t have the same handwriting. I mean, your handwriting is your personality. But I did have a group where I was trying to find the commonality in all of them. Look, if all of you wrote in this one style, then the viewer wouldn’t know who wrote it, meaning it would almost look seamless. I help them identify their style, and then sometimes out of that they can do some marks. I have a really fun exercise where I have people make these random marks. And then from that, we create our own signature style. And so that can happen also on an individual level, but I’m just helping them go through that exercise for them to discover it themselves. I don’t know that they’re actually making new meaning or new letters, but we are using those unique marks that each one of them made to create a whole new lettering style for themselves.
Douglas: Wow. Very cool.
Heather: Maybe that answers your question. Maybe I got a little distracted and went somewhere else.
Douglas: No, it’s good. I’m always curious to see where my thoughts lead people to new connections. So it’s fascinating for sure.
Heather: Yeah, I love it.
Douglas: I think glyphs, I recently met Matt and Gal Taylor from MG Taylor. I’m excited to have them on the show soon, and I know all their models have glyphs associated with them so that they can easily reference the models with shapes. And I knew a recording engineer that used to label his console with glyphs so that he wasn’t thinking in his left brain, when he was looking at the mix. But if he wrote the word piano down, he’s interpreting it with the left brain. But if he put a shape down or a symbol for piano, then that’s more right brain. And his theory was that it kept him more creative when he is mixing, because he could just be in the flow of this creative ensemble that he’s making. So that was kind of what I was getting at around the glyphs and if that ever showed up, because when you were talking about the lettering, it’s like, oh wow, do you ever invent your own letters that might be custom to you or your clients? It’s fascinating.
Heather: Not in that way, but I can certainly relate. And I love that you said that because again, lettering is so literal, it’s so left brain. And so what I do when I’m having a discovery meeting with a client is I’m thinking about how am I either as a tech host or a visual practitioner going to support that client in their desired outcomes or purpose? And I’ll start writing symbols that represent different exercises or methodologies. So they might be talking about how do we take what we’ve learned and use that in the future. And I’ll write a panarchy symbol and it’s like, that’ll be an exercise that we might go through that’s a liberating structures exercise. And I also have a different variation of how to run that. Or it might be I’m drawing an iceberg, or I’m drawing a flag, or I’m drawing some really simple images as they’re speaking to remind myself to bring up this particular exercise or activity to help lead that conversation, help support that conversation.
So I use a lot of that. That’s sort of my shorthand. So if anyone’s ever watching me take notes or if my client’s watching me take notes, they’re like, “What does that mean?” Then I think, well, here’s a learning opportunity, here’s what I was thinking and where that came from. Because I agree with you. Once I start writing down words, puts me in a very literal sense and I don’t make the same kind of connections in a creative way if I’m writing words.
Douglas: Absolutely. Well, I want to make sure that we have time to hear about your walk this morning, because you mentioned that, you dropped that little nugget for me in our pre-show chat and I’m really curious to hear about it.
Heather: Oh my gosh. Well, I probably should have started with that. So I’m out walking in my morning walk and I see these paragliders that have launched off the side of the mountain. And I don’t know about you, Doug. Have you ever wanted to jump out of a plane or paraglide or parasail?
Douglas: I’ve parasailed before and it was a lot of fun, but jumping out of a plane kind of sketches me out a little more.
Heather: Okay, so let’s talk about parasailing, that’s what these folks were doing. They were parasailing. And I’ve always had this infatuation with that kind of activity, even though I’ve never done it because I love the idea of being able to have that bird’s eye view. And so that’s what I was just thinking about this morning is, wow, their views must be incredible. However, and I don’t know how your experience with parasailing was. Were you connected to someone the first time you did it? Were you strapped to someone else so that you didn’t get hurt or they would teach you the way?
Douglas: No. It was tandem, but it was me and my wife. So we went up together, but we didn’t have a coach or anything.
Heather: Right. Okay. But you had to learn somehow?
Douglas: Actually it was amazingly simple because basically it was in Australia and it was in ’99, so who knows if now … They’re not as litigious there so maybe it’s different in the US, but it was almost like a winch kind of device. And so the parachute, and we were strapped in and that we were, the boat was going along and they just started letting the winch out more and more and more. So you just kind of rose up in the air. So it was very graceful versus jumping out of a plane, there’s a lot of apparatus that could go wrong because the parachute has to unfold and you’re way up in the air versus the other where you’re just kind of slowly lifting up. So if something’s going wrong, you don’t even lift up.
Heather: No, I’ve done that one. When it’s from a boat, yeah, it’s almost like fail safe.
Heather: But if you are going to do something like jump out plane or if you’re parasailing, just launching yourself off the side of a mountain, I just guess, well, there’s got to be someone that you’re strapped to in case you faint or something like that, someone’s going to pull the cord for you or help guide you in such a way. And I was just thinking about that this morning about how we’re all online now so we can all just kind of tech host our own meetings. No, we kind of need someone to help us out. But when we have that point of view, that wonderful bird eye view, we’re able to see more of what’s going on in a meeting. Whereas if you are someone who attends a lot of meetings and you just plug in your computer, get online, go to the meeting, you might have more of what I would call like a mouse energy. Someone who’s in it, they’re in the weeds, they’re in the thick of it and they don’t see what needs to be happening.
But I love going between those, we call it, is it Ron Heifetz, the balcony and the dance floor. And seeing that image this morning as I was hiking on the side of a mountain, I wasn’t as high as the parasailors were. But just seeing that and being reminded that our views really do have an impact on how we show up. And that’s what always makes me think about every meeting needs a tech host, because we can see everything that’s going on and we can have an impact on that. Or if we get down in the weeds with someone having a technical issue, we have to kind of imagine what their point of view is as well.
Douglas: Wow. Super cool. I think at the end of the day, I love these analogies where we’re going into an environment that it’s kind of no way to know how it will unfold. We can anticipate some things because of prior experiences, but we don’t know everything about what’s going to happen. There’s going to be some emergent qualities, to your point, will they faint? And so if someone’s built up experience, you don’t know how you might react to situations. So having fail safes and having guides makes a ton of sense. I think it’s a great analogy for facilitators and tech hosts alike.
Heather: Yeah, it really is. And we’ve got things. We’ve got tools to our disposal. We know what our agenda is going to be. A lot of people who are attending the meeting could see who’s on the meeting list. And okay, what are some patterns there? What are some of the behaviors that are already set up that you’re going to have to navigate? I think we’re in a place now in our, I would even say, infancy or adolescence of working online, that we have an opportunity to do things differently. Oh my gosh. And I can’t wait to see what the next generation does with this technology to help us progress further, faster. Hopefully they’re going to tell us that we’ve been doing it wrong, so we can do it differently. And I just think that with every meeting we have an opportunity to show up as our best self and hopefully in service to the purpose of the meeting. So I think there’s a lot of opportunity there. So thank you for saying that and for reminding me too how very relevant all of this is.
Douglas: Absolutely. And it brings us to a great point that we can end on. I want to give you an opportunity to leave our listeners with a final thought.
Heather: I would say, just from everything that we said today, I would love to challenge the listeners, if they don’t do this already, to take a more possibility seeking mindset. We live in such a problem centric world. If we’re faced with something new, or an opportunity for change, or a problem, maybe ask yourself what’s possible here? And what could I do, or what could I ask to generate creative solutions rather than focusing on the problems that are in front of me? And so I guess my final thought was just, and this comes from appreciative inquiry is how can we identify what’s possible and what can we gain from that by asking that question?
Douglas: It’s been a pleasure having you on the show, Heather. Thank you so much for joining me. I really enjoyed the conversation and look forward to talking again soon.
Heather: Thank you, Doug. Such an honor.
Douglas: Thanks for joining me for another episode of Control the Room. Don’t forget to subscribe to receive updates when new episodes are released. If you want to know more, head over to our blog where I post weekly articles and resources about radical inclusion, team health and working better, voltagecontrol.com.