Using your deadtime for better presentations

I’m writing this on a train. For me, that’s quite unusual, because I tend to use train journeys for consuming content rather than creating it. In part that’s because it’s easier to read my kindle or listen to podcasts than it is to find elbow room to use my laptop to write things and I tend to get some odd looks if i start taking to my hardware to record things ?

The other reason I’m a consumer here is that there’s a shed-load of research on creativity and related issues that suggests a great way to create good content is to spend time defining the problem and get a grip on what you need to do/say/whatever and then spend time doing something else, so that your subconscious can work on it for you. To free up your subconscious, however, you have to occupy your conscious mind so it doesn’t intrude, with stuff which is simultaneously:

  • demanding enough to occupy enough of your brain’s “processing power” to allow your subconscious to work; and
  • not so demanding of that capacity it takes up too much head space.

Driving is often cited as a stereotypical activity but personally I find that only true for easy driving – urban driving or driving unknown/complicated routes takes more of my head than I can spare.

Hence thinking time/reading time on trains…

So given that the best way to create presentations/learn/whatever is to go a bit passive while I’m travelling, what has prompted this outbreak of writing-rather-than-reading. Well part of it is the obvious – that I’m a bit pressured for time, but there are other, more laudable reasons.

The Muses are with me and my presentation

Sometimes a good idea strikes and it’s just too good an idea to risk not capturing it. This video over on Carl’s productivity youtube channel that I put together for him shows how I use Evernote to keep on top of the big ideas when they surface. That’s how I started out working today – an idea for a fantastic graphic appeared in my head out of no-where (no, not no-where, see the opening paragraphs to this blog!) and I had to sketch them out in my notebook before they vanished back to the ether from whence they came. I’ll include them in my next presentation once I’ve uploaded them to Evernote using the train wifi.

Side note: for a complicated diagram, I often ask someone else to do the boring work. I sketch it to capture the idea then, the pass it over to someone on to turn it into a PowerPoint slide for me. They won’t get it as I like it, of course, but they’ll get it close enough for me to be able to modify it rather than spend my time creating it. So long as I pick which images/graphics to do this to, it’s very good value for money/time and leaves me free to concentrate on the hard, value-added parts of my presentation.

Presentation Titillation

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should rehearse your presentation on a train, not even if you have the carriage to yourself! However, the tarting up of slides, the getting the position of the text juusssssttttt so is a great use of time. Taking your slides from good to perfect is handy. Not only are you being productive but you’re also using just enough of your brain to allow creativity to happen on your other projects and presentations (see the start of this blog). Grabbing an object on a slide and pushing it up one pixel and right by three pixels takes concentration, sure, but no actual thought.

It’s not rehearsing my presentation but…

… but working on it semi mindlessly is making me more and more and more and more familiar with it (or with the slides, at least). It’s absolutely not a substitute for proper rehearsal and practice, but it’s handy presentation preparation never the less.

A change of scenery does your presentation good

Remember the research I mentioned on solving problems and creativity?  It also suggests that the old wives tale of trying to work somewhere else to kick-start your thinking has something to it. Essentially, by working somewhere else, you’re stimulating your brain in a different way and likely have more chance of coming to different outcomes. Not only is a train a different environment from my office, but every time I look up , there’s something different to see out of the window (note, this is only true in daylight! ? ). The result is that I can reasonably hope that different parts of my head get stimulated.
The fields of grass and sheep I’m passing at the moment, for example, encourage me to think in a different, calmer way that the big, dark, brooding mountains I passed under an hour ago.  (Check out de Bono’s six coloured thinking hats, to see how that might play out as I review my presentation. Earlier I might be thinking more about what could go wrong (a handy thing to check!); right now I’m more inclined to think about what things I could present more creatively.

Why isn’t every presentation written on the train?

Brutally? Because the best presentations design processes require big, clear desk and a big, clear, in a big clear bit of time.  But that doesn’t mean you can’t use the time you’ve got…

… of course, reading a mindless Space Opera on my Kindle counts as a good use of train time too….   Can’t have too many aliens and exploding space ships!  🙂

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