Some years ago, I made one of my biggest professional mistakes.

I was hired to make a visual recording in a live event for a big company. I had just arrived to Italy two years before and I couldn’t speak Italian very well.

The speakers started talking. I started to work in the visual map in a very big board in the left part of the stage. Meanwhile a camera man was next to me recording and zooming my hand. Those images, were projected simultaneously on a big video wall above the stage.

An hour later, my hand was tired, and I turned around to make a very quick break. And then I saw it: sitting in the first line was the person who had hired me, with a terrified face. She started to point to my map and I understood what her lips were telling me: THERE-ARE-A-LOT-OF-SPELLING-MISTAKES! I was petrified and panic, but because I didn’t want to miss the speech I turned back to work trying to finish mapping the last 15 minutes of the conference. I tried to avoid writing words for what was left, but the mistakes were done .

As soon as the conference ended, and while I was waiting for the worst scenario, a line of people formed in front of me. They wanted to congratulate me, asked me where I had learnt to draw these kind of visual maps (graphic recording was something new some years ago), and how cool my drawings were.

That day I learnt two things:

1 – Never to accept a job as a graphic recorder in a live event in a language I don’t know really well.

2 – Nobody reads your maps
This doesn’t mean you can make spelling mistakes because nobody will read them. Of course you have to write properly but what I’m trying to explain here is that, no matter how much text you write on maps, no matter how much design you put on those letterings…probably they won’t be read.

Think about past, present and future of what you are scribing. Nobody will read again what you drew a couple of minutes before, and neither will read the whole map once the work is completed. People focus on what you are drawing now. Why? because there is nothing more hypnotic than to see a hand making a drawing. The highest level of attention of your audience is in the present. What comes after and before will be glanced very quickly.

Keep your map simple. The more irrelevant information on a map, the less people will focus their attention on it. Don’t write paragraphs. Write keywords.

What about the maps that are made in collaborative sessions? These are maps that at the end, are plenty of text, postits and circles . You know what? no one will read them or at least they will read it once and never more. So why we do these kind of collaborative maps? Because, although they can generate significant content, the most important thing is that they work as a team building tool. Coworkers that perhaps say hi in the coffee machine and never spoke to each other, they begin to interact, generate ideas and act as a group. It’s not about the map and it’s content, it’s about the moment the map creates while it is being made.

Whether you are mapping a speech on a live event, facilitating graphically people’s ideas on a meeting or just working on a collaborative map, always try to say more with less.