Doodles: A Learning and Communication Superpower

A few years ago, I stumbled upon a superpower that has transformed the way I communicate and learn. The secret is, regardless of your artistic ability, you can use simple illustrations to learn and communicate more effectively. Here is my story.

At the ripe age of 10 years old, I decided to become a famous comic book artist. After all, I possessed a vast amount of experience doodling on my school papers. I finished all of two strips before running out of ideas.

Unfortunately, by the time I got to college, I had dismissed drawing as a foolish waste of time. After all, it was time to get serious about becoming a famous rock-and-roll guitar player. But, I digress.

Look, Ma! I'm a Boring Public Speaker!

Fast-forward to 2015. I had been speaking at meetups and conferences for several years. Some people told me I was a good speaker. I was having some amount of success.

However, I was on the brink of giving up on my dream of becoming a great speaker. No matter what I did to improve my content and delivery, it didn't seem I was having a significant impact on my audience.

Doodles to the Rescue

In my desperate search to cure my mediocrity, I came across Dan Roam's presentation "Show & Tell." As soon as I watched Dan's video on the power of hand-drawn illustrations, I was hooked.

I needed to create a new talk for the 2015 Orlando Code Camp. I set a goal to draw a handful of my slides. I downloaded a couple of drawing apps on to my iPad. Using a cheap $5 stylus, I began to draw.

I quickly discovered drawing could be frustrating at times, but ultimately fun. I didn't want to stop at just a few slides. I kept on drawing right up until the night before my talk. In the end, almost every slide in my new talk was a hand-drawn illustration.

March 28, 2015: the Day Everything Changed

Visual story telling is very powerful!

When I stood up to give my new talk, I knew things were different right away. I was having a good time. My audience was having a good time. By the end of the day, many people had let me know how much they enjoyed and appreciated my presentation!

Hey, I'm on to Something Big Here

Today, every presentation I give I try to incorporate as many illustrations I can. Hand-drawn illustrations enable me to:

  • Tell my story precisely the way I want to with more humor, excitement, and enthusiasm.
  • More easily remember what I want to say.
  • Engage and entertain my audience like never before.

I attended a talk at the Kansas City Developers Conference (KCDC) in 2017 on how our brains learn, given by Arthur Doler. In this talk, he said,

"Our brains love to be surprised." -- Arthur Doler

This is precisely why I believe there is no such thing as "bad" art. In the beginning, my illustrations were poorly drawn. They were full of mistakes, amateurish, childlike, and sometimes hilariously bad.

At the same time, my terrible illustrations were delightfully unique. They were fascinating, entertaining, and funny. And, absolutely captivating.

Doodles: Not Just for Presentations!

What I have learned in the last few years is that hand-drawn illustrations are useful for lots of things. I can use them in documentation to make concepts easier to understand. I can use them in articles, like this one, to make the content more exciting and engaging. I can use them on social media to entertain my friends, family, and followers. I can create stickers and t-shirts!

I can even use doodles to help me learn.

Remember taking notes in school? When I went back to read my notes, I was always surprised I could recall much more information than I wrote down. There's something about the power of writing notes by hand that helps reinforce learning.

I've discovered hand-written notes combined with doodles, such as bubbles, boxes, arrows, icons, and stick figures, helps me to engage and focus more intently. These visual "sketch notes" are not only fun to create, but extremely valuable. I can go back to my sketch notes months later and still recall a wealth of information.

IMG_2994.jpg (1)
My sketchnotes from the talk "How to Write a Blog Post" given by Dennis Shaw

Drawing doodles engages both right-brain creativity and left-brain logic to form a stronger connection with learning.

How about a meeting a week ago when I didn't take notes? POOF. Zip. Nothing.

Draw Your Way to Success!

I have silly doodles to thank for making a big impact on my audiences, writing, and learning. I hope my story encourages you to explore the incredible power of hand-drawn illustrations!

Here are a few resources to help you get started.

Happy doodling!

David Neal

David is on Twitter as