How I learned visual facilitation in 4 months and why it changed everything I do

Mário Melo
6 min readDec 11, 2018

I am a software developer that became a Scrum trainer. Until 6 months ago I had never drawn anything that would make me feel proud about. But this changed quite quickly.

What was I doing 6 months ago

I've been giving Scrum classes since 2014, and my first class had a presentation with 271 slides. Although it might seem too much at first glance, let me explain you that this was a 5 day, 8 hours a day course. It means that I had roughly one slide for each 10 minutes of course.

I also run a software development company and have an office full of whiteboards where the most complex thing I have ever sketched was a 7 step flow diagram.

It all started with presentations

Back then I was very unhappy with Powerpoint and I was in a constant search for the best presentation software I could use.

I tried Prezi and was amazed by it until I tracked the time it took me to create/update a presentation with it.

Then I discovered HaikuDeck and fell in love with its practical approach, but abandoned it because of the loading times and the pdf format.

Then I tried reveal.js and found it awesome because I could write them in markdown and store them in a git repository (if you didn't understand this sentence, don't worry), but then I saw that it was very hard to run the presentation in other computers or ask for someone else to update it.

Then I gave up.

The "A-HA" moment

One day, I was explaining a concept to the students and I drew something on a flipchart page. When I was turning the page, a student asked me if he could take a picture to remember the concept later. I obviously said it was ok, but my face flushed when I perceived the souvenir he would take from my class:

Month 0: This used to be my usual flipchart

At this point I decided that I needed to draw better. It might sound a little too obvious (because it is), but it hit me that drawings are a great way to communicate my ideas to the students.

But I couldn’t draw. At least I thought so.

What did I do to learn how to draw?

Ok, I bought a lot of things and some of them aren't really cheap. I know that. But I was really decided to learn how to draw, and after some practice, I was able to do something like that:

Month 1: The iPad allowed me a lot of "undos". By the way, have you noticed that the reflex on the mirror is wrong?

I felt almost comfortable enough to try that on class. So, I went to the next one without any slide. Actually, I decided to left my computer home.

But before that, I trie my new skills speaking at a Factalk: a brown bag session for my colleagues at Facta (yes, our talks have an awesome name!). After all, it was the perfect fail safe environment for such an experiment.

Month 2: Black marker, paper, crayon and tape. And a lot of "slides" visible at the same time.

By the end of the session the wall was covered with 19 "slides", and everybody could see them all at the same time. Had I made a digital presentation, the audience would see 1 slide out of 19 at any given time. That represents roughly 5% of the content.

The feedback I got from this session gave me confidence to try this in a real class.

A class without slides

After a 10 hour flight, I was ready and confident to put my skills to test in a real class. Well… more nervous than confident, but ready.

At the very beginning of my slideless class I noticed a great benefit about it: a lot of dependencies were eliminated the moment I left my computer home.

Should I bring a VGA-HDMI adaptor? Is this projector a 4:3 or a 16:9? Which type of power outlet this country uses? Do they Wi-Fi there?

More than often I caught myself asking for adaptors and cables during my first training sessions. There was even a time when the projector broke and it completely froze my class in an endless boring moment.

Now I had paper, markers and crayons (yes, crayons!). And with them, I was able to create my own slides on demand.

Month 3: I stuck to black marker and crayons, but started to compose objects and shapes

Creating slides on demand is yet another benefit of this kind of presentation. Sometimes the students would ask questions that were answered either on a previous slide or on a slide that wasn't shown yet. Now, instead of figuring out whether the answer was on the slide 37 or 78 I could just walk on the room and point to the physical slide as the class could recapitulate the concept.

There were also 2 things that caught my attention during this class:

  • A student went home to solve a personal problem, and when he got back he saw a new drawing on a wall and asked me if I could explain that again.
  • As it was a 2 day training, the students spent the first 5 minutes of the second morning taking a walk in the room and looking at the flipcharts on the walls.

After gathering feedback from this class I was speechless. Although the drawings were far from beautiful, every student mentioned them in a very positive way. That was enough fuel for me to further improve this brand new skill.

Taking it a little bit further

My girlfriend gave a me an awesome birthday gift: a book about visual facilitation called UZMO by Martin Haussmann. I also bought myself a set of Neuland Markers and started studying the Bikablo Technique.

This led me to a better use of colors and shadows and gave me a lot of techniques about building infographics: a new and neat way to summarize each topic of my classes.

Month 4: A portuguese flipchart about Team Building: better lettering along with shapes, colors and containers

In 4 months I went from being ashamed of my own drawings to having students collecting the flipcharts at the end of the classes to decorate their workplace.

It took time and practice, but much less than I first imagined. Actually, I never thought it'd be possible.

Now I draw while taking personal notes in meetings, during my own presentations, while helping other trainers to create visual reminders of their contents, to create workbooks for my trainings and even for keynotes. My notes are richer and easier to understand. Besides, they're fun to create!

It took me only 4 months to go from the first image on this post to the last one. I know I still have a lot to improve, but I felt the need to share my progress because I know a lot people that keep repeating to themselves that they can't draw.

If you are one of these people that "can't draw", I challenge you to give it a try.

And I hope to hear from you in 4 months!


1- You can draw, you just need practice.

2- Watch every video you can from Graham Shaw:

3- Build your visual vocabulary

4- Study a technique such as Bikablo

5- You want to communicate an idea as soon as possible. Don't try to outperform Leonardo da Vinci.

6- Look for Graham Shaw, Alex Glod and Martin Haussmann.

7- Buy a marker, a sketch notebook, some crayons and practice 30 minutes a day.



Mário Melo

An agilist addicted to new technologies that sometimes needs to take a break and beat some goombas