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The art of note-taking: How this GeekWire Summit artist turns conversations into inspiring visual maps

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Guillaume Wiatr sits next to the GeekWire Summit stage and creates murals visualizing ideas from the discussions. (Photos by Dan DeLong for GeekWire)

Note-taking can be a mundane and repetitive process that doesn’t always help inspire innovative new ideas. But that all changes when Guillaume Wiatr puts pen to paper.

Wiatr, CEO and founder of MetaHelm, has become a fixture at the GeekWire Summit. The 44-year-old positions himself just off the main stage at our annual tech conference with a large white canvas that he uses to sketch drawings inspired by the fireside chats and panel discussions.


Wiatr sketches notes for the fake news panel at the GeekWire Summit.

Wiatr joined us for the third-straight year last week at the 2017 GeekWire Summit in Seattle, where on-stage discussions ranged from Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on developing breakthroughs in quantum computing, to Fred Hutch President Dr. Gary Gilliland on fighting cancer, to Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson on battling Donald Trump.

The one constant throughout the two-day conference was Wiatr and his canvas.

“I visualize their talks and turn their ideas into images,” Wiatr said in an interview. “I create maps of conversations.”

Wiatr’s creative process is a combination of listening, identifying patterns, and ultimately turning words into the “maps of conversations.” The end result is visual web recounting key parts of a discussion that also ties together any overarching themes.


Wiatr’s notes from a fireside chat with Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (left) and a Power Talk from University of Washington Professor Margaret O’Mara. (click to enlarge)

Wiatr’s notes from a fireside chat with Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson (left) and a Power Talk from Venture Kits CEO Leslie Feinzaig. (click to enlarge)

Wiatr’s notes from a Power Talk by Duke Professor Missy Cummings (left) and a fireside chat with Fred Hutch President Dr. Gary Gilliland. (click to enlarge)

While sketching, Wiatr said he’s doing something called “dual-coding,” a theory about how humans think in images.

“When you think about something, you don’t see a written word — you think of an image,” Wiatr explained. “We think in patterns, too. I’m actively using this. Everyone can do it, but it takes practice and technique to turn it into something larger.”


Wiatr’s notes from a talk by WSOS scholar Citlaly Ramirez (left); The VC View panel (center); and a fireside chat with Jeff Wilke, CEO Worldwide Consumer, Amazon.

Wiatr’s notes from a Power Talk by neuroscientist Christof Koch, chief scientific officer at Seattle’s Allen Institute for Brain Science, and a fireside chat with Amazon exec Toni Reid, who leads the company’s Alexa and Echo Devices group.

Wiatr’s notes from a fireside chat with Instacart CEO and founder Apoorva Mehta (left) and Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

Originally from Normandy, France, Wiatr immigrated to Seattle nine years ago. He worked a variety of odd jobs — landscaping; tutoring kids; playing jazz piano — and started attending conferences, in part to learn from thought leaders and to also improve his English. That’s when Wiatr, a self-described “doodler” since childhood, began “sketchnoting” and saw the value in this form of artistic note-taking.

“I was tired of jotting down leaner notes; I’d just forget about it,” he explained. “Now with [sketchnoting], I get really re-energized and inspired.”


Wiatr’s notes from the fake news panel.

Wiatr’s notes from the Inventions We Love presentations and a fireside chat with theBoardlist founder Sukhinder Singh Cassidy and Zillow Group CEO Spencer Rascoff.

Wiatr’s notes from a Power Talk by Cirkled In CEO Reetu Gupta; C4 Database Management CEO Todd Stabelfeldt; and Stripe co-founder John Collison.

What started as a personal hobby soon turned into career for Wiatr, who was a senior visual strategist for Seattle startup Point B before launching his own visualization strategy consulting firm, Metahelm.

Wiatr, who has a business background, works with companies to improve communication and collaboration during meetings. While he sketches silently at the GeekWire Summit, his work with Metahelm clients is much more a two-way process, with Wiatr embedding himself in meetings and asking questions to help him paint a better picture.

“When I help facilitate the conversation, that’s when the magic really happens,” he noted. “I get to candidly clarify thoughts or words.”


Photo via Erik Molano/ Photon Factory.

Metahelm clients range from Fortune 500 companies to startups.

“Startups pitch to me and I represent their pitch,” Wiatr said. “We can see the weak and strong points.”

Wiatr said his mission at Metahelm — which combines meta, the Greek prefix meaning beyond, and helm, equipment used to steer a ship — is to help reinvent the way leaders and teams work together. He said what he does is accessible to anybody and wants to see more folks get creative with their note-taking process.

“This is not artistry — I use squares and circles and triangles and lines,” Wiatr explained. “As our world becomes more complex, sometimes the solutions are the simplest ones. Pick up a pen and drive the conversation and help expand people’s minds with drawing.”

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