Soapbox: You Should Be in Pictures

How to utilize graphic training tools for wider reach and retention.

By Diane De Re, President, 321 FastDraw Inc.

Since the dawn of time, mankind has used images to communicate. From the El Castillo cave in Cantabria, Spain, with artwork of bison, horses, aurochs, and deer painted on the cave walls by our ancestors nearly 40,000 years ago, to ancient Egypt as far back as 3200 B.C. where hieroglyphs were used as a writing system, it is clear that the use of artwork is one of our most basic and powerful forms of communication, seemingly hardwired into our genetics.

There is some speculation that the cave paintings were used as a training tool for hunters. The word, “hieroglyph,” means “sacred carving” in Greek and utilized pictures and logos alongside the Egyptians’ traditional alphabet to represent words. For example, if a picture looked like a man, it represented the word, “man.”

With this knowledge, it should be obvious that graphic training tools can be utilized effectively in today’s business world to teach large audiences that may have language/cultural barriers. Many companies whose employees, clients, and customers are located around the globe know that when it comes to communication of the culture and messages they want to project, it is important for them to find the lowest common denominator.

Graphic training tools that combine images with narration and music to tell a story are hardly new. But this doesn’t mean there aren’t new ways and platforms to create these tools in order to shake up viewers’ preconceptions about this training format. Being an effective teacher means making students feel like they aren’t “learning” but rather experiencing and enjoying a story.

Doodle Dandy

321 FastDraw tells stories using a whiteboard drawing technique in which a hand is filmed drawing the story and sped up to match the narration. Using images, words, narration, and music in one presentation, the technique reaches aural, visual, and kinesthetic learners all at the same time. The simple doodling technique bridges the gap between these different types of learners—after all, who in the world doesn’t doodle?

Creative graphic training takes the idea of doodling and turns it on its ear. The viewer is able to grasp highly complex ideas, remember important numbers and percentages, and understand culture and point of view from the tone and humor of the narration. Combining these learning tools into one presentation can create a higher retention rate of the material presented.

Brad Trask, senior consultant at Gagen MacDonald, a strategy execution firm focused on employee engagement, leadership development, and culture change, was tasked with creating awareness and adoption of a new leadership model for a global health-care company. The training tool would need to be adopted by all levels of the company, from senior executives to factory workers, with 130,000 employees globally spanning nine languages.

“We found the 321 FastDraw technique a valuable tool for this project,” Trask notes. “We needed to make an emotional connection and at the same time take complex strategy and break it down into digestible parts.”

Trask initially was concerned that the client would deem the animated videos cartoonish, but they provoked just the opposite reaction: The client loved them. Not only did the application successfully roll out in September 2012, but the client found the resource could live on by repurposing images from the video and using stills from the video for other presentations.

“In a more global organization, imagery doesn’t always require a translation,” adds Trask. “This client wanted employees to acknowledge that each business division was the best at what they do, but as an enterprise, they needed to connect with each other to gain insights that might lead to innovation faster. We found that storytelling was an engaging tactic to showcase the ambition of their leadership model. The story format brings the broader strategy and the behaviors required of each employee to a more approachable level.”

Clarity of Purpose

Trainers who want to reach the hearts and heads of their employees need to be more forward thinking and work to connect across many media to achieve the desired results. You have to behave differently and make sure you are not the ones standing in your own way when it comes presenting materials.

That said, the more clarity you have before you start the process, the better. Understand what you want to communicate and the outcome you want before creating the script. This will save time and money when you bring in the creative partners who will develop your video.

“It was clear what we wanted to communicate long before we brought in 321 FastDraw,” Trask says. “My advice to other trainers looking to use this type of tool is don’t build the plane while flying it.”

Creative partners should be able to work all of your key messages into the script and also be able to present a few different styles for you to pick between before the drawing process begins. In addition, it is important to find creative partners that have a sense of humor and can bring it to the presentation.

The use of graphic training tools can humanize your brand and ultimately lead to a wider reach within your organization and greater retention of learning materials. It also can be a creative alternative to PowerPoint and other static presentation formats. Let the doodling begin!


  • When using a graphics type of tool, don’t build the plane while flying it. Understand what you want to communicate and the outcome you want before creating the script.
  • Choose creative partners that can work all of your key messages into the script, bring a sense of humor to your presentation, and present a few different styles for you to pick between before the drawing process begins.
  • Think about how you can repurpose images from the video and use stills from the video for other presentations.

Diane De Re is president of 321 FastDraw Inc., a Chicago-based multimedia firm that helps companies, organizations, and institutions convey information through video speed sketches that feel cutting edge, yet old school. For more information, visit

Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.