Prototyping presentations

25 September 2006

Recently, I was lucky enough to give a talk at Railsconf Europe, which I co-presented with my colleague Gavin Bell. Now, I’ve never presented a talk with anyone else before, so there was going to need to be a degree of co-operation between the two of us to make the talk and the presentation work out OK.

Fortunately, the division-of labour in the talk itself wasn’t a problem: we both had directions we wanted to take the talk in, and, after a few meetings over lunch, we had worked out a way of brining everything together under one roof. The content wasn’t going to be a problem. However, piecing together the presentation in Keynote was going to be a little more complex than usual, given that each of us was writing our parts of the talk seperately. However, I managed to devise a very simple way to rapidly prototype the presentation without wasting too much time in Keynote. Of course, when I say “devised”, I am aware that many other people might also do this; however, I hadn’t read anyone describe this technique, so I thought it’d be worth sharing.

All you need to do this is a notebook, some wide post-it notes, and a pen. Split the deck of post-it notes between you and your co-presenter. Each post-it note represents a slide. As you’re writing your talk, write the title of each slide (if you want, you can also add notes on what you’d like to appear on the slide) on a post-it note, and place it on one side. Then, once you’ve both got all the post-it notes done, you can sit down together with the notebook and start to place them in order – one post-it note on every other page.

“Every other page” is important to the success of this, because you’ll often find you want to rejig the presentation, or add extra slides, and by leaving a page blank between each slide, you’ve got one extra slide’s leeway before you have to re-jig too much.

I also put the opening/closing slides at the very front and very back of the book, as they were pretty much immutable. Once we’d got all the “slides” in the right order in the book, it was very easy to draw them up in Keynote on my own and be pretty confident that they wouldn’t need much changing. In the end, we altered a few lines of text and the order of one or two slides, but that was it.

That’s probably all best explained with a video, so Youtube here we come:
I’m probably going to go as far as using this technique for future talks on my own. With this process, instead of trying to write the talk, write the slides, and design them all at once, you can focus on the content first, and, once that’s finalised, concentrate on the design later. It certainly worked well for Gavin and I trying to write a talk together. And, whilst we’re on the subject of presentations, Tom Carden raises some good points about the tools you do them with.

Finally, as a sample of the finished product, this is one of my favourite slides that I’ve ever made: