For a long time I would dread being called to the whiteboard. I have never been very artistic and I still can’t draw very well. Early in my career my role changed and I started to do more technical briefings and discuss technology more in-depth. I realized that I needed to work on my whiteboarding skills. I was always good at explaining things, but adding a visual element really helps to solidify ideas and concepts. I was good at some of the basics but needed help with some of the advanced technical drawing. Active Directory triangles and arrows are pretty easy, but I needed to expand my drawing repertoire.
I bought a whiteboard and started practicing technical whiteboarding. I never thought about practicing this skill until I realized that I was having issues drawing more advanced technical concepts. I started practicing by going over a few standard demos that I performed and challenged myself to try to draw everything I was talking about. This was a great exercise and I soon found that I could break out of the presentation and demo at any time to explain something on the whiteboard to help make the point. Before I practiced whiteboarding I would try to explain it in greater detail.
I soon found that my presentation slides were fewer and fewer and I was spending a great deal of time on the whiteboard. One time in particular I had a customer meeting to discuss SoftGrid (which later became Microsoft App-V). The customer said at the very beginning of the meeting; “I don’t want to see any slides or any marketing stuff. PowerPoint will put me to sleep, let’s see it on the whiteboard.” A few months prior to this I would have freaked out. At this time however, I was ready and this was the result:
Maybe not as pretty as I would make it today, but the conversation was free flowing and we walked through every question on the board. There is no way I could have done this just a few months earlier.
Advancing Your Whiteboarding Skills
You may find that as your career grows, you may need to change your skills on the whiteboard at the same pace. While technical product descriptions may have been fine at one point in your career, you may find yourself needing to explain concepts at a higher level. This is what happened to me.
I moved into a role where I was introducing new technologies to the companies I met with. My skills needed to evolve from describing things from a purely technical viewpoint. Some of the new technologies were a paradigm shift for the customer. There we also times where we were working through idea with the customer and I needed to show more than just how a technology works. I could sit with the customer and brainstorm ideas and propose solutions, but getting it all on paper (or whiteboard) was key.
A coworker suggested a book to me that I consider one of the best purchases I have made to help my career. The book was “The Back of the Napkin” by Dan Roam. The tagline is “solving problems and selling ideas with pictures.” I liked the book so much I also purchased the follow up titled “Unfolding the Napkin”.
Both books will help you gain the skills to explain and sell your vision to the customer. They will help you move from a technical whiteboard ability to a consultative or solution selling ability on the whiteboard. If you see yourself moving in the direction of still being technical but incorporating more concept and ideal selling, I highly recommend both books.