Preparing presentations: from mindmap to storyboard

The way I prepare presentations has changed quite a lot since I started speaking in public in 2002. (Wow, it’s been six years!) I was preparing a presentation for Concordia University students on Web 2.0 at work, and I figured that it’s gotten to the point where I can actually explain to other people how I do it. In the process, I’m sure we’ll figure out ways to do things even better. =) Here’s what I did:

I started by writing some details about the talk along the top of the page: where it is and who’s attending. Then I drew two stick figures: one for people going into the talk, and one for people going out of the talk.

I focused on the people going out of the talk. What did I want them to be able to do? What did I want them to understand? What did I want them to feel?

After I sketched the outcome, I went to the beginning. What would people be thinking, going in? What would be their experiences and assumptions?

Then I drew an arrow from the person going in to the person going out. Somehow, my presentation would need to help people get from point A to point B.

I added lots of arrows feeding into that main arrow. Which stories could help people move towards the outcome? I listed as many stories as I could.

Then I started mindmapping the presentation so that I could group similar elements and flesh things out in more detail. I wrote my key message on the right side. Then I broke it down into parts, which I refined further. I cross-referenced it against the first page to see if I had any other stories that fit in nicely, and to make sure that all the parts I wanted to include were related to the arrow between point A and point B.

And then it was storyboard time! =D I didn’t have any storyboard templates lying around (maybe I should print some!), so I used graphing paper instead. I could’ve used my Cintiq for this and the previous steps, but graphing paper had been more convenient when I started, and it didn’t cost me that much more time. =)

It was strange making a storyboard for the presentation. I’d hear snippets of the presentation in my head – sudden snatches of potential transitions and ways to illustrate topics. I started from the first slide and followed the images as they flowed. There are better ways to illustrate these things, I’m sure, but this was a good start! =)

After I created the storyboard, I opened up Inkscape and brought out my Cintiq tablet. I made a grid of 800 pixel by 600 pixel rectangles, 5 rectangles across and 9 rectangles down. I set the rectangle fills to black and my pencil color to white, and then I started drawing. I occasionally cleaned things up with the node tool and the delete button, both mapped to shortcut keys on my tablet.

A couple of hours later, it was done.

Then I needed to figure out how to get it into a presentation. I didn’t want to export each frame, because it was hard to keep things in sequence and inconvenient to rearrange slides in the presentation software. Instead, I exported the entire thing as a large image. I used ImageMagick (convert -crop 800x600 slides.png slide_%d.png) to slice the image into tiles, and the Photo Album extension to import all of the slides. Bonus: they imported in sequence!

I saved the slides as ODP and PPT, and exported the slides as PDF. Et voila:

The slides don’t make sense without me, but that’s okay. =) I may make a standalone version if it works out.

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