The art of presentation: plan

So, you’ve extensively thought about how to turn an idea, a vision into a great presentation and now you’re ready to open your designated application and start filling your slides with images, words, whatever. It might be worth implementing a new phase into the preliminary work, that will save you a lot of revision time later on. Hold tight.

Second Rule: Plan (ahead).

I usually go through this process separating two steps of action.

First, I start off putting the clear ideas I managed to get to, following First Rule, in a place where I can see them all at once. To me, visualization is the best way of organizing my mind and the concepts I have floating in it. It’s like scattering on a table the pieces of a puzzle. You already know how the finished image should look like but you cannot start unless you arrange the pieces in some way. In fact, from then on you can categorize and start putting them all together in an ordered way, getting the big picture in place.

To support this activity I usually reach for my notepad and fill it with words and lines, but sometimes I also use a tiny wonderful application called MindNode (for Mac). At this stage you won’t need anything more than this, no frills.

The second and crucial step is the one in which you linearize the contents, building the flow of information that will lead to a conclusion and ultimately to success. When this time comes, I step away from whichever technological instrument I’m working on and no matter what I pick up pen and paper. I then draw some rectangles (my slide-wannabe’s) and put some words or images into them. You don’t need to be good at drawing to do this.

I will then create a progression, indicating the correct flow between slides and concepts with numbers or arrows, finally getting the big picture laid down and clearly viewable. You’ll end up with 100% of the concept work done before even opening Keynote or Powerpoint (or whichever application you are using) and you will then be able to concentrate only on the aesthetics, instead of wondering if the presentation will be clear and effective when you’re probably already running out of time.

Moreover, in case you’re working as an employee in some company, or you’re producing a presentation that will need to go through the approval of some manager, you’ll be able to present your plan before wasting time in the wrong direction.

Once done, you will find yourself with what can be called a storyboard, ready for “shooting”. Keep the story stuff in mind because that’s what the third rule will be about.

Corollary to Second Rule: Don’t be afraid of changing the plan (if you have better ideas later on)

Side note: there’s another (more complex) way of conceiving presentations that implies de-structuring the linearity into a more “ad hoc” stream of information (and Seth Godin mentioned it while describing his dream app for the iPad) but we will talk about that in the future.

The art of presentation: plan