I’m a whiteboard nerd. Hand me a dry-erase marker (although, my preference is the wet-erase kind) and I’ll start collaborating with anyone on any topic. Unfortunately, my whiteboard nerdiness is not accompanied by any of the talents or skills those professional whiteboard animators have who can do things like this:

whiteboard-gif

So, we need to get something straight about this series. You won’t learn how to draw awesome animated cartoons on a whiteboard. It’s my theory that such virtuosic whiteboarding comes from spending the summers of ones youth drawing caricatures of theme park visitors. Despite riding the roller-coaster of small business ownership, I’ve never actually worked at a theme park. Therefore, I’ve had to come up with a Plan B for using a whiteboard; one that doesn’t require actual drawing skills (as will become apparent quickly) and one that allows me to hone any skills necessary by doodling when caught in a boring situation.

My approach to using a whiteboard came to me one day, like a bolt of lightening.

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Or, more likely, I read it somewhere I now can’t remember. Anyway, the insight I probably got from someone else, is that there’s a time in everyone’s life when their printing and drawing skills are so awesome, people display their work on the doors of refrigerators in homes throughout the land. We’re all great artists in that magic time of creative output I’ll call,  “not yet 7 years old.” At least, that’s the age I looked across at the desk of the kid next to me and realized he could draw a horse that actually looked like a horse. I glanced at my 2 circles with randomly placed stick legs and decided to drop my aspirations of becoming a cartoonist and start fulfilling my other destiny of being quarterback for the University of Alabama. (Perhaps you heard, I dropped that a week later.)

I realized I could do everything I needed to do on a whiteboard with just 5 things I learned in the first grade, before I was a washed-up illustrator at 7.

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(ThinkStock)

My needs for using a whiteboard have nothing to do with theme-park quality caricature performance art that may one day become a UPS commercial. My need for using a whiteboard is about helping to get a meeting over in the fastest time, with the best possible solutions or creative ideas or streamlined plans.

To accomplish that, I decided all I needed to do was to relearn these first grade skills:

  1. Printing block letters.
  2. Drawing simple line shapes that are recognizable “nouns.”
  3. Drawing simple line shapes that serve as metaphors for ideas like Goals, Time, Teamwork, Success.
  4. Using those elements to provide a framework for a meeting’s beginning, middle and end. (In the first grade, that’s called drawing a picture book.)
  5. Making sure what’s on the board at the end of the meeting accurately collects and conveys the brilliance of the moment and, more importantly, makes sense to those who must turn it into something other than an outline for another meeting to figure out what was decided in the first meeting. (In the first grade, that means knowing it may be displayed later on a refrigerator door.)

During this and three following weekends in February, I’ll be covering all those topics. That means today is printing block letters day.

The most important thing you can do to master the use of a whiteboard is to PRINT in block letters like you learned in the first grade.

lettering animation

One of the excuses I hear from people who say they can’t use a whiteboard in a meeting is, “My handwriting is awful.” And frankly, I agree. Their handwriting is awful. But in the first grade, handwriting wasn’t in our skill set. I should point out that handwriting is a term some of us in the U.S. use when we mean the kind of writing that goes by such names as “cursive” or “joined-up” or “script” or, as I called it when growing up in the American South, “real-writing.” I’m told that learning cursive is no longer a requirement in many, if not most, grade schools in the U.S. That’s okay with me as the smartest people I know, say, brain surgeons, never mastered it. Printing block letters is a better skill for writing on a whiteboard, anyway. And, anyway, cursive was something you used to learn after you turned 7.

Advice (and Assignment) #1 – Never use cursive on a whiteboard. Instead, remember how you printed in the first grade and practice remastering it.

Practice, practice, practice printing both uppercase and lowercase block letters. (I didn’t say you didn’t have to practice to master how to use a whiteboard.) Your version of letters won’t look perfect (mine below are always a work in process). But if you work on them, you’ll be able to write words on a whiteboard that people will be able to read. They may even want to commission you to create some art for their refrigerator door.

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Advice #2: Use ALL CAPs (uppercase) letters VERY sparingly

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Like in an email, using ALL CAPs on a whiteboard is  SHOUTING.


Secret: It’s easier to read lower case than upper case on a whiteboard if there’s a tall person sitting in front of you.

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VS. upper-lower-2

Which is easier to read? To me, the top half of lower case letters are easier to read than uppercase. I’m sure there’s some existential lesson in that observation, but that’s not a part of this lesson plan.


Advice #3: If you use ALL CAPs words sparingly, they will come in handy when you REALLY, REALLY want to emphasize something.

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One more reason to print in block letters on a whiteboard: Evernote’s magic OCR feature.

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I discovered this quite by accident, so I was a bit disappointed to learn it was a big-deal feature  Evernote touts. If you have the premium version of Evernote, when you upload a photo, it scans the image with some kind of optical character recognition pixie dust, OCR, that finds words appearing on the images. If you write legibly on a whiteboard, the whiteboard photos you snap and upload will show up later when you search Evernote. (If what I said and picture above make no sense, here’s how it works.)


Advice #4: If you practice drawing OUTLINE ALL CAPs words, they make great loud words also.

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Outlined letters can be like drawings, but they take practice. “Ns” “Ms” and “Ws” take the most practice. Try one and you’ll see what I mean.


Advice #5: Don’t use words to label drawings, unless you have to.

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Some whiteboard “how-tos” suggest you print words next to certain drawings. I think that’s like telling people they’re idiots for not knowing that something that is the shape of a horse is a horse. However, if you are in the middle of drawing a horse and you don’t recognize what you’re drawing, it’s a handy fall-back.


Advice #6: The best thing about relearning block-letter printing is this: You can practice them while appearing to take notes.

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Next: How to draw nouns.

3
Mastering the Whiteboard, Part 2: Easy to Draw Nouns

Whiteboard drawing can be as simple as mashing up the basic shapes you learned by the first grade.

4
Mastering the Whiteboard, Part 3: How to Draw Business Metaphors

Part 3 of SmallBusiness.com’s Mastering the Whiteboard shows how to draw business metaphors with skills you learned in the first grade.

5
Mastering the Whiteboard, Part 4: Leading a Whiteboard Meeting

How to use simple whiteboard drawings and meeting techniques to make your whiteboard meetings more productive.

6
How to Turn Your Doodles Into Drawings Using Google’s New AutoDraw Tool

Can’t draw? Google’s AutoDraw thinks it can help.