If I had to choose between my computer and a pad of Post-its to create a presentation, I'd pick the Post-its every time.
Post-its are, hands down, the best tool available for developing presentations (and no, I'm not affiliated with 3M or Post-Its in any way).
The Fascinating Invention of the Post-it
There are a few competing versions of the origin of the Post-it, but the prevalent story is that, in the 1970s, Spencer Silver was working for 3M designing a new glue. While experimenting, he accidentally concocted a pretty terrible glue - it wasn't very adhesive at all. He later shared his anti-breakthrough at a company meeting.
Art Fry, another 3M employee, happened to be at the meeting; something about the idea of the weak glue stuck with him (pun intended). Shortly thereafter, while at church, Mr. Fry's paper placeholder fell out of his hymnal, and as he was struggling to find his place, he thought of the perfect application for Silver's ineffective glue: holding paper markers in place temporarily.
So, Post-its have an interesting origin story, but why should you use them for presentation design? Here are three reasons to use Post-its when designing your presentation from three different experts on the topic:
Garr Reynolds: Ideate in Analog
Garr Reynolds is the author of presentationzen.com as well as numerous seminal books on presenting, including his groundbreaking book, Presentation Zen*. He has presented or consulted for organizations including Adobe, Apple, Coca-Cola, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, HP, TEDx, and a number of universities.
Garr recommends using Post-its, pads, and white-boards numerous times in his book, Presentation Zen. On his website, Garr speaks about the use of analog (as opposed to digital) methods in his early design process:
I suggest you start your planning in “analog mode.” That is, rather than diving right into PowerPoint (or Keynote), the best presenters often scratch out their ideas and objectives with a pen and paper. ... Though you may be using digital technology when you deliver your presentation, the act of speaking and connecting to an audience — to persuade, sell, or inform — is very much analog...[Using t]he analog approach (paper or whiteboard) to sketch out my ideas and create a rough storyboard really helps solidify and simplify my message in my own head.
Nancy Duarte: Simplicity
Nancy Duarte, author of four bestselling presentation books, including slide:ology and Resonate, is one of the nation's leading experts on presenting. She helped Al Gore with his documentary slide show, An Inconvenient Truth, and has consulted with TED Talks. Her company, Duarte, Inc., is currently the largest design firm in Silicon Valley and has created an estimated quarter million presentations for almost half of the top 50 brands, notable experts, respected causes, and global consulting firms.
Nancy is a big advocate for Post-It notes, saying this in her exceptional book, slide:ology*:
For me, one idea per sticky note is preferable. And I use a Sharpie. The reason? If it takes more space than a Post-it and requires more detail than a Sharpie can provide, the idea is too complex [for a slide]. Simplicity is the essence of clear communication. Additionally, sticky notes make it easy to arrange and rearrange content until the structure and flow feels right.
Tom Wujec: Rearranging Success
Tom Wujec is the author of six best-selling books, creator of design-thinking business tools, and a TED Talk presenter. One of his TED talks, delivered in 2013, examined how groups of people solve complex problems.
He compares people who are completing a creative exercise using Post-its or cards vs. groups that don't. His studies have found that groups using Post-its tend to have outputs that are "[more] clear, more detailed, and more logical" than groups who do not use Post-its.
Speaking about how people move Post-its around as they're working to solve the problem, Wujec says:
This rapid iteration of expressing and then reflecting and analyzing is really the only way in which we get clarity. It's the essence of the design process. And systems theorists do tell us that the ease with which we can change a representation correlates to our willingness to improve the model. So sticky note systems are not only more fluid, they generally produce way more [nuance] than static drawings. The drawings are much richer.
A Parting Gift
Well that was a lot of Post-it love, wasn't it? As a parting gift, I strongly urge you to check out the free Post-it Plus iOS app by 3M. It'll allow you to quickly digitize, edit, organize, and share your Post-its. I personally use this for every presentation I design.
* These links are affiliate links.