Guide to Mastering the Whiteboard – Small business information, insight and resources | Mon, 20 Aug 2018 18:14:55 +0000 en-US hourly 1 How to Turn Your Doodles Into Drawings Using Google’s New AutoDraw Tool Mon, 17 Apr 2017 15:48:30 +0000

We’ve never hidden our envy of admiration for people who can draw quickly — and actually get their message across. We’ve even devoted an entire guide to helping people get over their belief that they can’t draw (on a whiteboard). Perhaps that’s why we are impressed to see that some folks at Google have come up with a drawing program called AutoDraw, a web-based tool lets you doodle your version of a drawing, but then provides you the option of substitute a real drawing created by talented artists for your doodle.

It works like this:

  1. Go to
  2. Doodle the item you’d like to draw
  3. Keep your eye on the bar of sketches above the drawing panel
  4. Whey you see a suggestion that matches what you were doodling, click on it

We doubt that made much sense. So, let’s do a “picture is worth a thousand words”: Watch in the GIF below how a user’s doodle generates a bar of suggested objects. Click on one and bang, you have a drawing.

How do they do that?

It’s a project of Google’s Artificial Intelligence team. Google is using machine learning to determine what objects users mean in their doodles. When enough of us who aren’t great drawers let Google’s computers know what we really mean is “lightening” when we draw our squiggly lines, Google’s computers can start suggesting lightening as a possibility to others who doodle like me.
Currently, the number and types of pictures in the tool are limited. But as more illustrators (the real kind) start allowing samplings of their illustrations to be contributed to the pool of “real” art, there could be millions to choose from. (You may wonder, “why an artist would contribute drawings?” The answer: As a portfolio sampling of the custom work they can be commissioned to create.)

AutoDraw Promotional Video from Google

Google’s AutoDraw is coming at a time when traditional stock art services are using more tech-driven approaches to help users find the photos and illustrations they want. For example, has recently introduced a “search by image” feature that works like  Google’s image search feature. Upload an image and the service will suggest images in its database that are similar to the image uploaded.

iStock’s new image search feature.


Mastering the Whiteboard, Part 4: Leading a Whiteboard Meeting Mon, 10 Mar 2014 16:56:49 +0000

This is the final installment of a 4-part Guide called Mastering the Whiteboard With Skills You Learned in the First Grade, written and sketched by founder and head-helper Rex Hammock.

The topic of leading meetings is broad and entire books and organizations are devoted to it. These are merely a few ideas that will serve as the “first grade” of your journey to using a whiteboard to help make any type of meeting you lead the most productive possible.

A meeting’s success is determined before it begins.


  • Know the specific outcome sought in the meeting.
  • Everyone attending needs an agenda at least 24 hours ahead of time
  • Prior to the meeting, participants should know the specific outcome sought
  • Prior to the meeting, participants should know what will be expected of them in the meeting. (Better yet, give them a very specific homework assignment.)

Use 3×5 cards to prepare the meeting’s flow and visuals.


Think of these cards as small versions of the horizontal blocks you’ll be using on the whiteboard.

Decide what images you’ll want to draw and practice them a few times.


How easily you draw the easy-to-draw shapes will reinforce your role a meeting leader.

Organize your whiteboard into smartphone “photo-ready panes”


In your mind, divide the whiteboard into a horizontal grid of  boxes that will fit in the frame of smartphone’s camera. Participants all have smartphones, so make it easy for them to use them. If helpful, add notes or annotations to panes before taking photos.

Know where you’re going and how to get there.

Have major points thought out before the meeting begins. 1. Goal; 2. Tasks; 3. Team; 4. Assignments; or 1. What we know; 2. What we don’t know; 3. What we don’t know that we don’t know; 4. Next Steps.


Continue collaborating after the meeting.


Upload the photos to a shared document (like Google Apps, Microsoft Office 365 or  project management software like Basecamp) so that participants can add comments from their notes, or follow up with information assigned at the meeting. Add annotations for those who may not have been at the meeting.

Mastering the Whiteboard, Part 3: How to Draw Business Metaphors Tue, 18 Feb 2014 16:43:50 +0000

This is Part 3 of a 4-part Guide called Mastering the Whiteboard With Skills You Learned in the First Grade, written and sketched by founder and head-helper Rex Hammock.

As in the previous parts of this series, “Mastering the Whiteboard,” I’ll remind you that “drawing” on a whiteboard for the purpose of helping improve the flow of a meeting or presentation isn’t the same as the “drawing” one does as a professional illustrator. These posts are entirely focused on creating and using the types of “easy-to-draw” shapes you mastered in the first grade–the only kind you need to help move along a whiteboard session.

(If you haven’t seen them, it might be helpful for you to first look at the earlier “Introduction” “Lettering” and “Drawing Nouns” posts. In those, I’ve included some tips for practicing those skills that apply to this this part, as well.)

This post focuses on drawing shapes that can serve as metaphors for the types of issues and subjects one uses in business planning or presenting. However, you can apply these tips to the types of metaphors used in education or any topic for which you use a whiteboard to plan or present.

As with nouns, you’ll want to start with sketching quick metaphors that are nothing more than simple shapes. Squares, triangles, ovals can easily fit together for a “starter kit” glossary of go-to, easy-to-draw metaphors for business planning and presentation sessions using a whiteboard. Here are some of mine to help you get started building your collection:



A watch face is the obvious (and easiest) symbol to use when you’re referring to a point in time. A river or road can work well for representing the flow or movement of time.



When referring to organizing a team, an org-chart icon conveys the idea. If you’d like to portray a flatter organization, try circle people in a circle.



To get started, some simple shaped metaphors for a goal include a finish line, trophy or bullseye. Others: A square with a ribbon to represent the “prize” or a simple exclamation point.

Challenges (or Obstacles)

obstaclesA mountain? Steps? Wall? See how easy this is.


choice_metaphor-3-2Why mess with the classic fork in the road or doors to choose?



Again, why mess with a universally understood symbol? Instead of the growth line, perhaps replace shapes with items found in your industry?



Speaking of universally understood, this visual metaphor was used so much on whiteboards, it spawned the term “cloud-computing.” Always use a cloud as the metaphor for the internet if someone from IT is in the room.



When it comes to the virtual type of network, keep it simple. If you are suggesting a network of people connected by the internet, here’s the way to go.

Next part: Organizing the whiteboard to get from start to productive finish in the fastest possible time. (Come up with your own metaphor to symbolize that.)

Mastering the Whiteboard, Part 2: Easy to Draw Nouns Mon, 10 Feb 2014 11:40:21 +0000 As I say in each post in this series, they’re not about the kind of drawing that is art. They are about the artistry of using a whiteboard to help move a meeting from confusion to conclusion. Quick, easy drawings in the service of that goal is what this series is all about.

This and the next part of the series cover the two types of drawings that will help you in that goal: “Nouns” and “Metaphors.” While the terms “nouns” and “metaphors” evoke parts of speech, don’t get hung up on my visual grammar: Yes, I know that a metaphor can be a noun, and a noun can be a metaphor. But stick with this broad interpretation of the two terms: Nouns are actual things while metaphors serve as visual proxies for ideas, concepts, actions, etc. In part 4, I’ll show how the two work together to encourage and record the flow of a meeting.

Let’s get started:

Practice drawing simple shapes that you knew how to draw when you were 6 years old.


Just think of all the shapes that you can draw without any hesitation or concern that you aren’t an artist.

Combining simple shapes together is all it takes to “draw” first-grade whiteboard shapes.


When you start mashing-up shapes to create nous, you’ll start seeing the shapes in everyday things from the real world. When you do that, start sketching a collection of “simple shape objects.”

Start and keep a list of the “nouns” in your industry (or topic area).


You may want to have two lists: (1) Easy shapes (2) Challenging shapes

You’re not “cheating” if you review how others have created drawings of nouns using simple shapes.


Use Google image search with the following term “hand drawn icons.”

Practice the easy-shape nouns with a Moleskine sketch book.


Doodling in a Moleskine adds a bit of permanency and importance that doodling on the back of an envelope lacks.

The good news: You will discover there are 20 or so nouns in your subject area that are easy-to-draw mash-ups of simple shapes.


Tip 1: As soon as the shape you draw can be recognized by others, stop sketching.

Your only goal is to convey what the object is. There are no style points. And remember, if you draw something even you can’t recognize, label it.

Tip 2: Create a Pinterest board of simple line drawing resources.

Here’s ours:

Next up: You’ll find drawing metaphors as easy as drawing nouns. And they’re more fun.

Mastering the Whiteboard, Part 1: You Don’t Need to be Da Vinci to Draw a Stickman Sun, 02 Feb 2014 17:58:59 +0000 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:


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.

2014-01-31 23_37_48

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.



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.


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

nice weather

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.


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.



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


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.


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.


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.



Next: How to draw nouns.

Introduction: Mastering the Whiteboard With Skills You Learned in the First Grade Thu, 23 Jan 2014 17:46:51 +0000

I’m one of those people who feel naked without a dry-erase marker in my hand. (Although I’m also a fan of wet-erase markers, as well.) Using a whiteboard isn’t an artistic endeavor. It’s just retrieving some skills you lost in about the fifth or sixth grade when you decided you couldn’t draw.)

Just draw it.


The art of using a whiteboard to support the flow of a collaborative meeting has nothing to do with being a graphic artist or illustrator. Or, at least, that’s what I keep telling myself as I’m neither a graphic artist nor illustrator.

When it comes to the kind of work-oriented whiteboard use this series is about, the drawing part is so easy, any 6-year-old can do it. And I’m not saying that figuratively. In this series, starting with this introduction, you’ll see that the style of drawing I’ll be showing you is straight out of kindergarten and first grade. Even if you are one of those people who say, “I can’t draw anything,” let me assure you of the following: When you were 5 years old, you thought you could draw everything–and you could.

In this series, you’ll learn:

1. How to use a few words and easy-to-draw line shapes and objects on a whiteboard to move a collaborative session to a successful conclusion.

cloud icon

You can draw a recognizable version of the image above. Many billions of dollars have gone into the pockets of people who have drawn this shape on a whiteboard. It wasn’t their drawing skills that made that happen, but how they used this shape on a white board to develop or explain a billion-dollar concept. That’s what this series is about–except the part about a billion dollars.

2. How to print letters and draw pictures like you could before you developed that unreadable cursive scrawl you have.

lettering animation

3. How to draw the only two types of illustrations you need for a whiteboard session: “nouns” and “metaphors.”


4. How to create an alphabet of noun drawings and a gallery of metaphor drawings that work for your business or special topic.

Chances are, a half-dozen or so images in your pocket will cover 99% of the topics you’ll ever encounter.

5. How to organize the contents of a whiteboard to help transition the ideas to the next phase of the project.


6. How to apply physical whiteboard techniques and methods to online or interactive whiteboards.