How I draw presentations

Jo’Ann Alderson wanted to know how to get started drawing presentations. Since she was curious about annotating presentations in real-time (not just scanning or taking pictures of sketches), and that probably means getting a tablet PC. Here are the tips I braindumped from last Friday’s coffee conversation – maybe they’ll help other people!

Drawing presentations

I’ve switched to drawing practically all of my presentations. Drawing makes presentation preparation much more enjoyable, I can communicate more expressively, and people light up and have more fun during the presentation itself. I storyboard the presentation on index cards, paper, or on my computer itself, rearranging things until the story flows.

I draw a tablet PC because I really like being able to run full applications like Microsoft Office, Autodesk Sketchbook Pro (the desktop version), and Camtasia Studio for screen recording. The drawing tablets that attach to your computer via USB (such as the Wacom Bamboo Pen & Touch) are inconvenient to use at a conference or when speaking because they’re hard to balance on your lap and there’s no space on a podium. The iPads and Android tablet apps I’ve tried aren’t as powerful and as responsive as their desktop counterparts, and I’ve had problems with palm detection when drawing on a tablet. A tablet PC gives me the power and customizability that I want.

Lenovo convertible tablet PCs are awesome, and you can customize and buy them from They’re sturdy and powerful. I’ve dropped mine from about three feet off the ground and I’m still using it. I upgraded mine with extra memory and a solid-state hard drive, and I use mine for drawing, writing, coding, and all sorts of other things. The Lenovo X220 I use has a great stylus and a pressure-sensitive screen, and the stylus slots into the case for safekeeping. I also have the extended battery slice so that I can get through a full conference day without worrying about power, and that’s come in handy more than once. The latest one in the series is the Lenovo X230 convertible tablet. (There’s a non-tablet version of the X230, so make sure you get the convertible tablet one if you’re ordering.)

Microsoft Powerpoint has basic inking tools which are great for marking up your presentation on the fly. For more complex images or for images that build up, I prefer using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro. I use layers for each slide, and then I save each layer as its own PNG. After I import the images into Powerpoint and resize and center them, I flip through the presentation to make sure everything is lined up neatly.

The latest edition of Beyond Bullet Points includes tips for digitally storyboarding your presentation using the ink tools in Microsoft Powerpoint, and is worth a read. More tips:

Check out my presentations on Slideshare to see some examples of the presentations I’ve drawn. =) I also help clients with presentation design, although I like it even better if I can help people start drawing on their own. =D


I’ve been shifting from giving lots of presentations to sketchnoting lots of other people’s presentations instead. It works out wonderfully. I learn a lot, I get less stressed out about preparing, and I help other people share great ideas. I do most of my sketchnotes using Autodesk Sketchbook Pro because it’s reliable and it has the best pen-based interface I’ve come across so far. Working digitally means I can publish the notes shortly after the event, which is great because speakers and participants get to see it while the topic is on people’s minds. I post the sketches on my website and tweet links with the event hashtag and the speaker’s Twitter handle so that people can easily share the notes.

A good conference can be pretty overwhelming in terms of the sheer volume of ideas, so these visual notes really help people remember and share key insights. (Great for telling people back at the office what you learned and justifying the cost of sending you to the next one!) There are lots of graphic recorders and a growing number of sketchnoters, so you should be able to find someone near whatever event you want covered.

I want to convince more people to try out digital tools and workflows because there are all sorts of interesting possibilities. It’s easy to get started, and it can be a lot of fun. =) Happy to help people explore!