Last week I talked about the importance of layout in sketchnotes. This week I am sharing about the “notes” part of sketchnotes. There are a few different types of sketchnotes, but in my examples below I’ll be referencing lecture-based sketchnotes. These are made while listening to a presentation, speaker, panel, etc.


The first part of taking good notes is listening. Make sure you’re completely, 100% focused on what you need to capture whether it’s a presentation, recipe, or experience. Zoning out and being distracted is not an option.

What should I write?

Don’t panic! It is NOT your job to write every single thing down. That’d be impossible since most people talk faster than you can write! And remember, you’re going for easy-to-read, easy-to-follow notes… not an exhaustive documentation.

It IS your job is to LISTEN and pick out the main points. As I mentioned last week, layout is important because you should be focused on capturing the main points and takeaways. Capturing the main points allows the viewer to fill in the gaps along the way. You are helping them create the memory of the content by association with your words and images.

How do I decide what the main points are?

Luckily, deciding on the main points is not your call- it’s the speaker’s! Most of the time the speaker will be obvious about what they think is important. A few easy ways to tell what the main points are:

  • The speaker will have main points on a slide
  • The speaker will spend a lot of time talking about it
  • The speaker will give verbal cues like “This is really important.”

Your first priority is capturing main points. Once you have the main point captured, you are free to move on to a sub-point, a quote, a drawing, or the next main idea.

Memorable over masterpiece.
Recognizable over Realistic.
Information before illustration.


Remember to use hierarchy when you’re taking notes. If everything you write is the same style and size, how will your audience know what is important? Make the main ideas large, supporting points medium sized, and asides smaller. Adding difference in size creates visual interest and better flow.

What to do when…

It’s important to not get caught up in drawings (more on that next week!) or try to capture every sub-point, quote, and example. Here are a few ideas to make sure you can capture everything you need to:

Scenario: You just got a really clever idea for a drawing to pair with something the speaker said. You start drawing, but then realize the speaker has moved on and you’ve missed something.

Do this:

  • Move on to the point immediately. You will probably remember your brilliant idea for a drawing later.
  • If you’re worried about forgetting your drawing idea, write out (in pencil) what you wanted to draw. “Fish on bicycle” is much faster to write than sketch out. If you’re worried about time or forgetting what your idea is, this is the fastest method.
  • The next fastest thing to do is draw out a fast, rough sketch in pencil, then move on to capturing the information the speaker is currently talking about. Again: your main priority is to capture the main points!

Scenario: You’re in the middle of writing down a main point but haven’t finished. The speaker just said something else really good!

Do this:

  • On the current point, write the first letter of the next few words. Your brain will probably remember them later. Next, write down the new thought before you forget. Go back to the unfinished thought when you have time. Or…
  • Use a pencil to quickly jot down a summary of the NEW information, then go back to finishing what you didn’t finish earlier. Come back to the new quote when you have time.

Scenario: The speaker just referenced a powerful quote by Einstein but you weren’t able to remember the last part.

Do this:

  • Google what you do remember! There are TONS of quotes on the internet, and you’ll be sure to find what you’re looking for.
  • Write down the gist of the quote instead of the exact wording, and draw a picture of Einstein. Main ideas over exhaustive summaries.

Scenario: The speaker is talking really fast! You can barely write down the main points and you don’t even have any drawings yet!

Do this:

  • Keep capturing the main points and make sure to leave space for drawings. It’s easier to fill in pictures later than it is to remember specific content.


  • Listen attentively to capture the best sketchnotes.
  • Your first priority is to capture the main points.
  • Memorable over masterpiece
  • Recognizable over realistic
  • Information before illustration

Sketchnote Academy

If you are enjoying this series on Sketchnote Basics, you’re going to love the course I’m developing called Sketchnote Academy! I will teach you how to take your own sketchnotes with in-depth, practical advice. You’ll learn everything from the concepts to the process, and it’s more detailed than anything you’ll read in my free newsletter.

Sketchnote Academy is not ready to launch yet, but you can sign up to receive updates.

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