Outline Your Talk with Presenter Notes

How to get over the blank slate and start writing your presentation

It doesn’t matter if you have 1 idea or 1000 ideas, starting a talk can be daunting. Getting the content out of your head and into an actionable medium is just as challenging as starting a new design, writing a first line of code, or crafting a blog post.

I love Emily Lewis’s advice on preparing for a talk from Overcoming Stage Fright. I use a similar process, except often I start right in Keynote.

I used to find one of my biggest hurdles was moving my notes/outline into Keynote. I would struggle by getting caught up in my slide design. I would start at the first slide and be roadblocked by designing my title screen to be “perfect.” Sometimes it would take me hours just to come up with a talk title clever enough for my liking. Next thing I knew, I just spent 5 hours on my title slide and hadn’t even begun to organize my content. Then, when that was done, I’d start tackling the design for the content slides. A quarter of the way through, I’d decide the design isn’t really working for my content. You can see where this is going. It’s not good.

Outline in Keynote, No Design Allowed

I’ve moved on from that approach. Now, when I have an idea for a new talk, I open up a blank Keynote document and save it right away.

I use the most basic slide layout and put a super generic title to differentiate it from another talk outline.

Next, I’ll add new slides and put a range of vague-to-extensive descriptions on them. These include points and ideas I want to cover in the talk. I might have 10 slides to add now, or none. I now have a home for my ideas when they come. If I think of one thing tomorrow or next week, I’ll add a new slide, save, and promptly close Keynote. I don’t consider the ordering of the slides at all right now, it’s only a brain dump.

I use the slide text, comments, and presenter notes to hold my thoughts. If I don’t know what exactly what I want to say, I don’t worry about it, but if I have a point I know I’ll want to make, I’ll note it in the presenter notes. If I know I want to include something in the slide design, I’ll mark that as well.

I use a variety of interface tools to leave todos and instructions as I work through the slides

After I have a substantial amount of slides, I start outlining with nesting. I add or find natural headings for sections of the presentation and then nest supporting slides underneath. This allows me to focus on one section at a time and re-order sections with ease.

Creating an outline with nesting

Prerecord all demos

If I am showing any demos within my presentation, I always prerecord them.

  • Don’t ever trust the Internet connection
  • Don’t ever trust an external site to look the same as the last time you visited it

It’s way easier to practice talking over a recording versus practice talking over a broken demo. If there’s an example I want to show during my talk, I’ll record it and drop the video in my work-in-progress slides. I’ll nest it appropriately and add any notes.

I capture these videos as I come across them in my everyday browsing. Recording them right then and there makes sure I don’t have a “what was that site I wanted to show?” moment, only to discover that the site has been redesigned when I find it again, if I do find it again.

You might end up cutting some of these videos; you have to be okay with that. Not all your ideas will make it into your final presentation.

Presenter Notes

So what do I do with all these ideas? I use the comments as to-do items for slide design and as I finish the slide layout, I remove the comments.

I use the presenter notes I’ve been keeping in a variety of ways. Sometimes I remove them all; sometimes I leave only keywords to remind me of points I want to make; sometimes I have full sentences. Whichever way works best for you, if you have notes at all, I highly recommend checking out Rebecca Murphey’s advice on customizing your presenter display. It’s essential to my delivery and why I still use Keynote 09. Mine looks like this:

You can adjust some items in your presenter display in Keynote 6, but choices are limited (you have to lose next slide to gain real estate for your notes) and you have to be plugged into an external device to do so. Gross.

Update: Thanks to Andy Davies for letting us know that in the current Keynote version, you can further customize the display again.

Don’t Let the Audience See Your Notes: Add a Duplicate Slide

Know what stinks? When you plug your laptop up to the projector and displays are mirrored and the audience can see your notes with your clever joke in it or your very scripted intro.

Only *you* need to know your clever intro is planned

When all is organized and designed, the last thing I do is duplicate my title slide if I have presenter notes. On this duplicate slide, I be sure to write one word of text, “start.”

This ensures that when I plug my computer in, if displays are mirrored or reversed, the only note shown on screen is that first duplicate slide. If you leave notes blank in Keynote 09 it won’t show a presenter box, so be sure to have something in there.

Another bonus of this method: when I first begin the presentation the time won’t start until the first next slide. Hitting next right away to bring up the duplicated slide will start the timer right away for an accurate countdown.

Stop Deliberating. Start Accumulating

Save a Keynote. Type some ideas. Don’t commit to full sentences. Start getting your ideas down now, later, and always. Before you know it, you’ll have a talk ready to go.