The photo to the left was taken during the recent Kagan hearings. (Credit: AP photo)
It shows Minnesota Senator Al Franken doodling while the hearings are taking place. This has been remarked on positively and negatively, and while we won't touch the partisan politics, we do believe that this photo illustrates (pun intended) a point.
I, myself, am a meeting-doodler. This has frustrated some bosses I've had, because they take the doodles as a sign of disrespect or inattention. The truth is, however, that I need to sketch, doodle, write, etc. (do something!) with my hands while I'm listening to a presentation. It helps me focus...and I'm not alone in that. (Sen. Franken, for one, appears to be in this camp as well.)
This is why, when we design meetings, in addition to any structured workbooks, sheets, etc., we always suggest blank notebooks. It appeals to the kinesthetic learner--those who need to move to learn.
Some people will write notes (and even if they never look at them again, the act of writing them down helps cement the knowledge), some people will doodle (forming strong visual associations in their mind along with keeping their hands busy and brain focused) and others won't use them/don't need them. Whatever the audience's personal involvement with their notebook, everyone needs the option of having a space to physically write, doodle, draw, note-take. It doesn't mean that their attention has waned, in fact, quite the opposite.