Your presentation will live or die by your creative process. What you do in this phase will determine both how efficiently you create your presentation and how original and compelling it is.

The creative process is at once both the most exciting and challenging part of most presentations. It's here that you will define what each slide will cover. You'll need to be deliberate in this phase: since you're constantly visualizing your final presentation, it's very hard to resist the urge to open up your presentation software and start designing. But if you fight that urge, you'll find that the entire presentation development process is immensely easier.

1. Brainstorm Using Post-its

The physical act of writing on the Post-its paired with the physical size limitation of the Post-it will ensure that your ideas are captured quickly and succinctly. Why should you use Post-its? Check out my earlier post on the topic.

Post-it Brainstorm

Before you brainstorm with a group, brainstorm alone. Harvard Graduate School of Education David Perkins advises: "The best way to get good ideas [at a brainstorm] is to get people to write them down privately and then bring them in."

Use a technique like the Crawford Slip Method when you brainstorm as a group. This brainstorming approach allows each individual record as many thoughts as possible and then facilitates the grouping and sharing of these ideas.

2. Rough In Your Slides

Transfer your final topics to your slides, but don't invest a second of your time in trying to make it attractive. Rough in your slide topics in the largest font possible. Add any extraneous notes in the presenter notes (PowerPoint, Keynote).

Slide Rough-in

Cutting content from your presentation is the hardest part of this stage. Just keep asking yourself if each idea is critical for your audience to hear in this presentation. If you can combine the idea with another, put it in a post-presentation handout, or if they won't be at a significant loss without it; it has to go. As William Faulkner said, "In writing, you must kill your darlings." It's painful, but put the audience first and edit ruthlessly.

I generally break my presentations into an introduction (look out for a future post on creating compelling presentation intros), three body sections (depending on the presentation length), and a closing. I like to change the background color of the first slide (PowerPoint, Keynote) of each of the five sections so that in the next stage, I can visually see how the sections compare in terms of slide count and balance.

Verbal Run-Through

Open Slide Sorter/Light Table View in your presentation software (PowerPoint, Keynote). Talk through your slides out loud. If you stumble on any good turns of phrases within or between slides, be sure to jot them down in the presenter notes of your slide (PowerPoint, Keynote).

Slide Sorter/Light Table View of a 5-minute presentation on Post-Its

Ask yourself: How is your presentation balanced? Does it start and end strong? Does every topic flow neatly from the previous topic and into the next topic? Does it make sense for this topic to be here, or would it be better somewhere else? And here again, be ready to edit, merge, or remove any non-essential content to streamline your presentation.

Once you've completed these three steps, you should have a good understanding of the overall shape of your direction and you should be ready to gather visual resources and start designing your slides.

Cover photo from Unsplash