The 2 Uses of Post-Its in Preparing a Presentation

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It has become a familiar sight for those who know me: When I'm busy sticking Post-it notes on my desk or whiteboard, I must be working on a presentation. I found that Post-its have two main uses in preparing a talk: For brainstorming and as early drafts of my slides.

Brainstorming

My usual recommendation for the early preparations of a presentation is to get away from the computer and "go analogue". Collect ideas for your talk: What does your audience know about the topic, i.e. what do you need to talk about? What other ideas come to mind in relation to the topic? This phase is called brainstorming and to do it properly, you should write down anything that comes to mind, even supposedly wild ideas. A good place to keep those ideas is on Post-its. Use one for each idea, then stick them to a whiteboard, a wall, a door, or your desk. When you run out of new ideas, start grouping the ones you have. See what emerges and add new Post-its as new ideas come up.

After doing a few rounds (take a break if you're stuck) you should see possible key aspects emerge that you need to talk about. You will also have some ideas for how to illustrate those - and you will have a couple of things that don't really fit. Check to make sure those "outside" ideas do not include a topic that you should be covering but haven't yet - and then throw them out.

Draft slides

After the brainstorming phase, the second use of those Post-its becomes apparent: They are early versions of your slides. And since each Post-it contains only one point, you automatically end up with one idea per slide.

Often you'll find that you already have an illustration for that one idea in mind. So you can now start refining your ideas and add little drawings to your Post-its. Also start ordering them - what do you need to cover first, what comes next?

Soon, an early draft version of your presentation will emerge - complete with first rough ideas for visuals. I find that this is a good point to start rehearsing these emerging parts of the presentation. Stand up (if you're not standing already) and pretend those Post-its are your slides that you are now presenting to your audience. You will find bumps in the flow, missing pieces, even errors and wrong assumptions that you made - but because you found them so early in your preparation, you can easily correct them. You can even go back to brainstorming if you find it doesn't work at all. No problem, you haven't invested a lot of effort into slides yet, only into a couple of Post-its.

Once the talk feels more complete, I transfer the Post-its to slides - often still rough ones, many with just a word on them and no visuals - and continue rehearsing with this early version of my slide deck.

Finding the right visuals is a topic for another article ...

(Photos by yours truly)

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