One of my favorite things to do at live conferences is present using a mind map instead of a deck of slides. Why? I love being able to show the audience the very big picture from the start, giving them a sense of perspective and scale (i.e. this is a very, very big topic), as well as giving them a sense of how things are related, something that a regular slide deck can’t do. With today’s mind mapping software, you can then dump your “slides” as a single PDF and provide it in advance (since it gets away from death by bullet point) as a download and after the event.

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As a power tip for presenters, mind maps are also a lot harder for competitors in your space to make use of. Typical presentations are crammed full of language and data that, in addition to being boring most of the time, are also very easy to copy. Mind maps are a lot more brief by design, which means that someone else will have a harder time performing your exact presentation verbatim without studying you extensively.

Mind maps aren’t a panacea, of course, for presenting. There are downsides! They inherently require a lot more laptop driving, so you’ll spend more time at the machine than you do with a slide deck. If you’re the sort of presenter who runs around the stage a lot, using a mind map can potentially tie you down. They’re incompatible with virtually every clicker/remote out there, so be prepared to bring your own mouse. If you don’t have a trackpad or pointing device that supports full two dimensional movement, it can be awkward and slower than a slide deck. Finally, some mind mapping software does not support inline media, which is an absolute must for presenting, so be aware of that before you present.

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How do you present with one? First, start with a mind map. That may seem obvious, but for presenters used to discrete slides of self contained information, mind mapping can be a stretch. Mind maps are not just your slide bullets in a different visual format; maps also encourage you to set up and display connections among related ideas. If you’re new to what makes great mind maps, I definitely recommend learning about them and trying them out first before going in front of a crowd.

Make sure your mind mapping software allows you to present full screen, and practice in advance every aspect of the presentation a few times, including moving around the map. You’ll find that it will take some practice and rearranging of your map for optimal placement on-screen. I like to present in clusters – that is, showcase an entire section of the tree and drill down into it, then zoom back out and head into a next main branch. That way, there’s a sequence of ideas that are all woven together.

One cautionary note: don’t drill down to the individual node levels if you can avoid it, or you’ll create a lot of dead time as you navigate the map. Present a cluster, highlight one or two pieces of media in it, then spend the rest of the time presenting and talking about your content rather than driving the map.

Should you present with a mind map? That’s up to you, but give it a try and see if your audience responds. Certainly, it’s different than what most other presenters are going to be doing on stage, so if you’re looking to set yourself apart, it’s worth trying out.

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