For a businesswoman who never went to art school, Michelle Boos-Strong has a talent that produces work so profound it sometimes eclipses the work of her clients.
Hers is a talent able to produce, in real-time, key words and images drawn onto large post-it boards, that become sort of like Cliff Notes for the brain.
As speakers deliver complex messages to audiences, conventions and the like, Boos-Strong stands on the sidelines to create her colored magic. Quickly, she listens then weaves her colored markers in a symphonic progression to capture the essential images designed to allow listeners to remember the message.
In more than two decades, this Long Beach businesswoman has developed a global consulting firm and amazes people at large meetings by distilling what speakers are saying and displaying those words in artistic form that prompts inspiration and memory.
“It frankly surprises everyone who sees my work to know I don’t have an art background,” said Michelle Boos-Strong. “I went to business school, and I have had a very successful global business strategy consulting firm for 26+ years,” she said.
On the fly, Boos-Stone can interpret, deduct, and illustrate words and phrases into interesting images that demand attention and generally, communicate in brief what the speaker has just said in many more words.
Boos-Strong was back at the boards recently as Los Alamitos Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Andrew Pulver spoke to a packed ballroom for the LAEF Annual “State of the District” address.
For instance, when Pulver says “it starts with a dream,” and expounds on the idea, Boos-Strong quickly sketches a green text balloon then adds the “… it starts with a” in all small capital letters, written in red, then makes the word DREAM super large, across the text balloon and highlights it with shadow.
As the speech went on, she listened intently then found a new place on the board for the next major theme, illustrated with info bullets, highlighted in yellow, that boldly outlined district priorities.
And so it goes.
“Michelle is incredibly talented, and we have loved having her share her skills with us by graphic recording the State of the District address,” said Carrie Logue, Executive Director of LAEF.
She said Boos-Strong has served on the LAEF board of directors and her marketing talents “really helped bring LAEF to the next level.”
“Her personality is as big and beautiful as her artwork,” said Logue, “adding that her giving heart and huge sense of humor shine through in every interaction.”
For Boos-Strong, her talent was simply a way to remember her homework.
“When I was a kid in school, I couldn’t remember anything I heard without drawing a picture of it, so I would get in trouble because all of my notes had drawings in the margins,” said Boos-Strong.
“I thought I had a learning disability,” she said.
“Later on, in college, no one cared, so all of my notes were images and key words to help me study,” she remembers.
“Then, I started working at a management consulting firm in Boston in the 90s, and I would be in big meetings, and I’d start taking my notes in pictures,” she said.
Boos-Strong said she was surprised when “everyone wanted a copy” of her notes.
So, she decided to go full sheet.
“I then moved to drawing on flipchart paper, and then to large 4’ x 8’ pieces of paper,” and a one-woman industry of “graphic recording” was born.
She does admit that her business training, which always made her focus on what is most important, has played a role in developing this craft.
“The images I draw are basic,” says Boos-Strong, “but they trigger your brain to REMEMBER the important points. I’m listening for the most important SENTENCE in the paragraph of what someone is saying…not the whole paragraph,” she says.
Boos-Strong says her practice is termed “graphic recording,” which she describes as “to listen intently and distill down all the paragraphs into sets of powerful images with key words around them.”
Her goal is to have the audience see a large image and remember the conversation around that image in their mind.
In the past two decades, her unique powers of distillation and deduction have taken her all over the USA, Europe, and Asia.
“During a normal, pre-Covid year, I do graphic recording at events all over the world. About 50% of the time,” she said, “I design and facilitate a meeting and bring one of my graphic recorders I’ve trained with me, but I enjoy doing the graphic recording myself, because I’m also learning about the topic as I’m recording it on paper.”
“I love learning,” she said.
In places where English is indeed a second language, her work is especially popular.
“I work in Europe and Asia a lot, where it’s especially powerful for attendees at meetings to SEE the content on paper in order to UNDERSTAND it, when English is often a 2nd language,” she said.
Her company is named Five Element Consulting, which she says represents wind, water, fire, earth and metal. Boos-Strong says her overall mission is to facilitate a better understanding our own behaviors.
“The intent of my consulting work is to better understand people, and our own behavior, and that knowledge can simplify how we operate together in business relationships,” says Boos-Strong.
Always the light heart, this humble scribe has aided many modern American luminaries in communicating their message to huge audiences.
“I love listening to talented, amazing people doing incredible things all over the world,” she said, “and I’m learning from each and every one of them.”
“I’ve graphic recorded for some outstanding speakers over the years, such as Jane Goodall, Gene Kranz, Gloria Steinem, Madeline Albright, President Bill Clinton, Arianna Huffington, and Peter Drucker, just to name a few,” she said.
It still amuses her that her childhood habits have blossomed so much and vaulted her into a worldwide career. Boos-Strong says she is still fulfilled by the “interaction” she has with people in these settings.
Generally, she says, the light bulb moment comes “when they see that I’m helping them see what they are hearing.”
“My extroverted self loves this work,” she said, “which grows my heart bigger and my mind wider.”
“I can’t sing, and I can’t dance. I don’t bake well. But I’m really, really, great at this,” says Boos-Strong, “and I absolutely love doing it.”