Software mind maps are frequently used and abused as a presentation tool, as a refreshing alternative to endless bullet points. Done well, they can make complex concepts much clearer. Done badly, they can alienate even the friendliest of audiences.
A key advantage of software mind maps over other presentation tools is what happens below the waterline of your presentation iceberg. 90% of the value of a presentation is created in the preparation. The 10% that the audience sees is merely the final flourish. If there is little or nothing below the waterline, your iceberg will capsize at the slightest push. PowerPoint® hardly helps at all when it comes to building foundations, as most of the features are aimed at the part the audience sees. Software mind maps offer fewer visual tricks, but are much more helpful in structuring and developing your presentation, because you can visualise and verify the relationships between the concepts that you want to communicate. A presentation prepared from a mind map is likely to be far better thought out than one prepared straight to bullet points.
There are a "few rules of thumb" that help with most business presentations:
- Use an inductive rather than a deductive approach; tell your audience what your conclusion is, then justify it, instead of presenting a trail of clues followed by a big surprise
- Tell them what you are going to tell them, then tell them, then tell them what you have told them
- Most presentations overrun, so use a strategy that ensures you get your key points across even if you get cut short
- Aim your presentation at the right audience, so that the call to action is compatible with their remit
- Leave them wanting to know slightly more, rather than worn down by exhaustive detail.
Most of the map-based presentations I have seen have started on a step-by-step walk through the topics of a map, drilling straight down to the first great-great-grandchild of the first main topic and crawling onwards from there. This usually cancels out the benefits of tree structures as a way to encapsulate big ideas first, then break them down into more detail only later when the audience is warmed up and receptive.
There is no single template for a map-based presentation that would work in all cases, but there are some principles that will help many:
- Always use statements and not headings in a presentation map. The topics are your bullet points, and will be the written record of your presentation. Headings alone will be meaningless without the words. Provided you don't make the mistake of simply reading out the map to your snoozing audience, statements give them the chance to scan ahead, which they love to do - so that they get an idea of how the whole thing fits together. Some presenters don't like scanning ahead because they think it distracts attention. If the audience is prone to distraction, they will distract themselves with anything that moves. It's better that they distract themselves with reading your presentation than with what is happening in the corridor.
- Use the structure of the map to address different levels of audience, so that you don't have to reveal more than they really need. Software mind mapping tools will let you show or hide different levels of topics. Provided you use statements instead of headings, this lets you "layer" your presentation very effectively. Think about the map as a set of donut-shaped rings. The ring nearest the centre of the map is for your executive audience, who have short attention spans and grasp big ideas quickly. The next ring is for management, who are going to need a better understanding of the implications in order to deliver it. The outer ring is for the people who actually do the work, who will need real details. The true benefits of the tree structure become evident here, because you can position detail in the context of bigger ideas.
- When presenting, start at the one o'clock main topic and walk through your map in a spiral, addressing the executive level first, then the management level, then the detail if it is appropriate. This takes you on a complete tour of your map in at least three passes, which helps your audience feel comfortable from the outset about the scope of your presentation, and critically, the way it is represented by your map. This might disappoint the few who enjoy suspense and surprises, so it is up to you as a presenter to make it entertaining and engaging in other ways, instead of by playing with the content. That's like playing with food, and you can remember being yelled at for that. If your audience is still with you when you complete your tour through the management level, then they are ready for the detail. If you have already lost their good will, or are running out of time, then more detail would not have helped and could even have set you back.
This template gives you some ideas on structuring the content, and the kinds of information that you might include at the different levels. The numbers on the topics represent the presentation order.
So when using software mind maps to prepare and deliver presentations, use statements, translate different audience levels to layers, and develop a spiral route through your map to keep your audience on track. And don't forget the donuts.