Is doodling during a business meeting a good idea? Doodlers appear to not be paying attention. They sit there, head down and just doodle away like a meeting is not even taking place.
Ask former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton about what doodling in a meeting can be perceived as. She was “caught” doodling during a 2012 United Nations Security Council meeting. She disguised her doodling as taking notes but in the end, she was doodling.
How can someone doodle during such an important, high-profile meeting?
What do you do?
Before we answer that question, let’s look inward.
What do your papers look like when you walk out of a meeting? Are there random shapes, lines, pictures or filled-in letters on those papers? More than likely there are.
I can’t sit more than five minutes in a meeting without doodling in some form or fashion. If there is typed font on a paper, I fill in all the spaces inside letters like an O or B. I’ll do it all the way down the page to keep up with the presentation.
Do I stop listening while doodling? Not at all. If I didn’t doodle, I’m pretty confident I would day dream instead. Doodling keeps me focused on what is being said.
Is it bad?
This topic came to mind the other day while I was doodling during a meeting. It was a meeting with fewer than 10 people and I was sitting right in the middle of the room.
I felt like everyone’s eyes were on me. I was being watched. I would doodle, then pause, then start doodling again. During each stoppage, I’d look up and make eye contact around the room so I wouldn’t be viewed as not paying attention.
In fact, I was paying very close attention to the comments being made. However, perceptions matter. At least when your boss is in the room, perceptions matter.
I actively participated in the meeting but I had to keep doodling. It helped me concentrate on what was being said.
Is it bad to doodle in a business meeting, or in any setting for that matter? No, it is not.
Jackie Andrade, in a 2009 paper titled, What Does Doodling do?, demonstrated that doodling helps our memories. In the study, one group of participants was asked to “doodle” while listening to a mock telephone message. The other group was to just listen to the message. The “doodle” group recalled 29% more information than the non-doodle group.
This study shows what we all seem to know as true. Doodling is a good thing. It helps us concentrate and recall data points which we would not be able to recall if we were day dreaming instead of doodling.
Sunni Brown literally wrote the book on the subject of doodling. Her book, The Doodle Revolution, as she puts it, serves as a “kick-starter guide for igniting and applying simple visual language to any challenge.” Has a boss ever told you doodling was so powerful?
To see more of Sunni, besides just the book, check out her company’s website here and watch her TED talk below:
In essence, Ms. Brown tells us that doodling is a powerful tooth to help us think.
She believes so much in the power of doodling that her whole business revolves around helping people doodle. She has built it into a movement. It’s quite amazing.
The study and the book above show the power of doodling and why it is not a bad habit. However, there are times when doodling is not appropriate.
If you are in a one-on-one meeting, perhaps with a boss or a prospect, doodling would not be a good idea. In these one-on-one meetings, you cannot doodle if you are making eye contact. Making eye contact will help you focus on what the other person is saying.
While you don’t want to “stare” at the other person in these meetings, you want to make eye contact more often than not during the meeting. When you are not making eye contact, you should be looking at other reference material or taking notes.
Doodling in this type of business meeting would not be appropriate.
In larger meetings where you are not the center of attention, you can doodle until your heart’s content. Especially during extended or all-day meetings, i.e., conferences, doodling may be necessary to retain the messages your hear.
One thing I’m at which I need to improve is taking notes. If there is an agenda, syllabus or slides of the presentation, I may take a few random notes here and there. I should probably take more notes but I doodle instead.
Would taking more and detailed notes help me to retain more? Probably.
Unfortunately, I find that many extended meetings and training sessions are not filled with quality content. And, if there is really good content, most of that information is already included on the handouts. If not, I can always Google it.
A common saying is, “Great minds think alike.” Maybe we should change that saying to, “Great minds doodle.”
Read the following two articles to find some great examples of U.S. Presidents, movie directors, etc. who doodle. If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me.
If Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein and Ron Howard doodle because it helps with their creativity and memory, I think I’ll doodle even more. Of course, I’ll only doodle when it’s a “doodle-appropriate” time.
Question: Approximately how often do you doodle during meetings? Be honest.