present/perfectly – the "target" method


As I mentioned before, I like to think about presentation as a possibility to give people the present of being present for a short period of time while you deliver your message to them. Of course this is not as simple as it looks like, but it can be learned.

I'm an introverted person, with all the pros and cons of it. Throughout the years I had to find a way to deliver my messages through presentations without talking too much, and without sweating (if you are an introvert, you know what I'm talking about). Our world is all about talking and noise. The constant buzz tires me, even if I live in a relatively quiet country. I'm not fond of loud things, and I find it amusing to sit by the ocean and listen to the waves – for hours. So you could ask how on earth a person like me is able to stand in front of many people and present her ideas. It's still not easy. But it's getting better and better every time, especially because I've developed a good technique over the years, and I'm constantly burnishing it.

I'm also a designer. Not in an axiomatic sense of the word though. I love designing "shiny" graphics for sure, but I also enjoy designing a process. I see things in their wholeness, while I'm well aware of the details. I love juggling with these two things. It makes me feel alive. And feeling alive gives me strength, that helps me overcome my general fear of being judged or criticized (not in a constrictive way). For me this strength is also one of the first keys to a successful presentation, along with thorough preparation. Finding things in your life that give you this powerful feeling is essential. This is why it's important to discover what you love doing, and do as much of that as possible, so it can fuel you even during things you don't prefer doing. 

And if you are an introvert, chances are you don't like giving presentations. But after finding your inner strength, you can train those presentation muscles while you are preparing yourself.

Here's the first part of how I get ready for a presentation from the very beginning.

  1. Thinking. Often times I don't have a specific deadline at first, but I know what the topic of the presentation is going to be. I use this transition period to think everything through. I find it more difficult to think when there's a pressure on me, and deadlines used to be pressing. Even though pressure can help me wrap things up quicker, I usually find that thinking clearly and being perfectly rational is something that cannot be rushed. So when it's still calm, I sit down, and think the whole thing through. I don't use my computer (or pen and paper) this time, because the more space I have, the more notes I'm going to take, and this is exactly what I try to avoid right in the beginning. In this phase I collect ideas (preferably words, or short expressions) as a list in Wunderlist on my phone. It's a great place for doing this, because Wunderlist allows you to easily reorganize your list (drag & drop), so you can set up a good structure of your thoughts, and also because the interface makes you want to write short reminders instead of lengthy notes. I'd like to emphasize, that in this phase I don't read anything about the topic, I just collect my own thoughts and ideas. Don't let your phone distract you, concentrate on the list every time you set aside some time for this step. Do it in small batches, so you don't loose focus easily.
  2. Agenda (first draft). If I did a good job in the thinking phase, I have a good starting point for an agenda. I read the list trough, and rearrange it. I don't delete anything yet (well, if I find something useless two days later, I do, but usually not), just drag the best ones in the beginning of the list, and try to create a logical order, that will be the skeleton of my presentation.
  3. Research. Here I start my research. Depending on how much time I have till the deadline, I collect book titles, links to articles, blogs, forums, etc. for later reading. I always try to stay original, but collecting ideas is important, so you can see what works for you (and others!) and what doesn't, so you can build your work around the former ones. I use a new notebook in Evernote for every presentation, where I can add many notes; tagging and organizing them as I move forward, based on my draft agenda. Then I read everything, and I'm adding notes to the agenda points in the meantime.
  4. Gathering facts. This overlaps with the previous step, but I made it a separate one, because facts are important. They give a solid ground to a presentation in my opinion. While I'm reading the sources I collected, I collect facts separately, but also tagged with the existing agenda points.
  5. Eliminating excess. At the end of step four I have a draft agenda with extended notes filled with ideas and facts. Once again I go through them, and delete (or re-tag if I'm not sure) the ones I think are not needed. This step accompanies me throughout the whole process, because my aim is a presentation that is as short and compact as possible. I strongly believe that presentations should be clean and simple, even if you are planning to deliver your message mainly visually, with little (or no) speaking involved.
  6. Table of content. Now I have an extended agenda, that turns out as a good table of content. This means I can start designing my slides or stories based on it. Please note, that if you use PowerPoint (PP), you can leave it as it is, because PP is linear. However, if you happen to use Prezi (P), you may want to create groups of it, and arrange them more around each other, to show the relation between every part, because Prezi lets you create instant references from one part to another, even if in your original table of content they were the first and the last parts.

This is a method I call "TARGET" (wondering why?), and it creates a really solid base for my presentation, even if I'm going to tweak it during the following parts of the process. Let me know your thoughts about it. Do you use these steps in the preparing phase? Do you have any additional steps that precedes visual designing? Please, don't hesitate to share your thoughts.