‘The real magic happens in my head’: Illustrations capture and organize GeekWire Summit highlights

Guillaume Wiatr’s graphic facilitations captured speaker highlights at the GeekWire Summit, including Microsoft President Brad Smith. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)

Like most things related to technology, Guillaume Wiatr’s work and style is evolving. At the 2019 GeekWire Summit, that evolution was once again on full display as the visual strategist returned to capture highlights throughout the conference.

Wiatr, the founder of the presentation coaching company Metahelm, has been bringing his “graphic facilitation” skills to the Summit for five years. And as his process has shifted from markers and giant poster boards to an iPad and a graphics editing app, Wiatr has also noticed a change in Summit participants.

Guillaume Wiatr works on one of his GeekWire Summit graphic facilitations. (GeekWire Photo / Kevin Lisota)

“Overall, I hear more maturity,” said Wiatr, whose job is to listen intently, deconstruct a conversation as it happens and bring key points to the surface.

“I found it interesting to hear a lot more than in the previous years about the human values that drive successful tech leaders (vs. technical skills): transparency and openness with data and innovation, tech accountability (Brad Smith), diversity and inclusion (leadership panel), common sense (future of food), financial responsibility (the VC view), empathy, risk taking, courage, etc.”

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Wiatr said Smith, the Microsoft president, was one of his favorite Summit speakers, citing what he called a contrast between CEO Satya Nadella, “promoting artificial intelligence as the world’s savior,” and Smith, warning us against potential threats of AI and machine learning.

“Smith uses compelling storytelling to call us out,” Wiatr said. “He refers to a narrative we all know (humans against machines), it’s about all of us, the stakes are huge, now is the time to act. … I can’t wait to read his book to find out about the solutions.”

The Audio Revolution panel. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)

Wiatr also said he found the Audio Revolution panel super interesting and loaded with good advice — “made me almost want to start a podcast.”

And he said he was hoping to hear more about climate change across the board at the Summit — “shocking, when we know that tech companies have a decisive role to play in the environmental movement.”

USAFacts founder and former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)

Wiatr works fast. He has no knowledge of what speakers on stage are going to say ahead of time. As he listens, he visually organizes ideas.

“While a conversation is going on in the moment, the real magic happens in my head,” he said. “As I listen to presenters speak, I begin to ‘mindmap’ their conversations. I categorize thoughts, look for patterns, and pick out key talking points that I’d like to highlight.”

Wiatr is able to stash words and quotes in a corner of his mind and then come back to them in a few minutes after he is done drawing something else.

“I use what’s called the dual-coding theory. I focus, relax and I’m very present.”

Dr. Leroy Hood. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)
Security or Surveillance State panel. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)
Leadership panel. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)

Wiatr is now experimenting with a mix of photos, drawing and writing. His digital format allows more flexibility, as he’s able to copy and paste and move elements around. But his analog style had its highlights.

“I miss the 80-foot-long mural that we would see at the end of the two days,” he said of the old poster illustrations. “Now, it’s a bit like digital photos, we don’t see them as easily as when they were prints.”

The VC View panel. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)
Federal Trade Commissioner Rohit Chopra. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)
Amazon devices SVP Dave Limp. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)

“My number one priority is content over art,” Wiatr said. “I try to create connection to make meaning, rather than just a bunch of ideas all over the place.”

And while the audience is also listening, gathering meaning and forming opinions in real time about what is being said, Wiatr is busy taking it to another level.

“I look for ways to catch the eye.”

Future of Food panel. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)
Charlene Li. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)
Former Seattle Seahawks star Doug Baldwin. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)
Amazon public policy lead Jay Carney. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)
Meet the Unicorns panel. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)
Expedia’s Mark Okerstrom. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)
New York Times’ Marc Lavallee. (Guillaume Wiatr Illustration)

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