A (wo)man needs a plan

Yesterday I saw the following tweet from J.K. Rowling passing by on my twitter feed:

The tweet was part of a conversation about her upcoming crime novel “Lethal White” that is to be published under the British writer’s Robert Galbraith pseudonym.

Although January is just ending, Rowling’s observation already gets my “quote of the year 2018” award. The glass is never full or empty. Each challenge holds an opportunity, and vice versa. Whether you are writing a book, preparing a business presentation, or building a house, nothing comes without effort. All these activities require reflection, planning, and preparation.

As such, I was also not surprised to read in related @jk_rowling tweets that she plans a lot.

I wrote in one of my older posts about “inspiration and perspiration” that it’s the mere 10% of upfront creativity that’s shaping success, while one needs a good dose of self-discipline to keep the following 90% of the process flowing. And, whether your blank page comes from a notebook, the back of a napkin, a roll of wall paper or a Microsoft Office file, a good storyboard, a mind map or a (color-coded) table will help you to light up your mind and fill that sheet.

Doing a bit more research, I stumbled upon this picture of Rowling’s spreadsheet plot for “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”:

(Image source: Mental Floss)

Ever since I read the first episode of her Harry Potter septology, I’m a J.K. Rowling fan – with great respect for the author as a writer, a storyteller, and an engaged human being. Yesterday’s tweet sequence is yet another confirmation of that for me.

The back of a roll of wallpaper

“As a trafficker in climaxes and thrills and characterization and wonderful dialogue and suspense and confrontations, I had outlined the Dresden story many times.

The best outline I ever made, or anyway the prettiest one, was on the back of a roll of wallpaper.

I used my daughter’s crayons, a different color for each main character. One end of the wallpaper was the beginning of the story, and the other end was the end, and then there was all that middle part, which was the middle.” ― Slaughterhouse Five,  Kurt Vonnegut

Although, most of the time I don’t have a roll of wallpaper at hand, it’s certainly a good practice — if not an absolute must — to start building your presentation with another tool than PowerPoint, Keynote or Prezi. All of these great programs are to be categorized as visualization software. They are perfectly suited for creating, animating and flipping through your slides, but they offer (too) limited functions for problem analysis, mindmapping, and storyboarding.

Wikipedia defines a storyboard as “a graphic organizer in the form of illustrations or images displayed in sequence for the purpose of pre-visualizing a motion picture, animation, motion graphic or interactive media sequence,” and — take this from me — you don’t have to be a professional graphic artist to transform your ideas into a storyboard for your speech of presentation.

There are some great (free) software tools available for building mindmaps and storyboards (e.g. the ones mentioned in the lists below). And if you don’t want your creativity hampered by the capabilities of your laptop or tablet: a whiteboard, a flip chart or a large piece of paper, a set of index cards or post-it notes, and a few crayons or colored markers will also do the job. Or just start drawing on a roll of wallpaper or the back of a napkin


More reading:

Plan and deliver ― your pitch

“Great stories succeed because they are able to capture the imagination of large or important audiences.” ― Seth Godin

In my previous post, I introduced the 3 P’s: Pitch, Preparation and Presentation. Over the next three weeks, I will go into further detail on each one of them and give tips, tricks and tools to ease your life as a professional (or non-professional) presenter.


The first P stands for Pitch. Some readers may know pitching as what advertising agencies do to promote their ideas to a potential customer. And that’s indeed what it’s all about: defining your value proposition, translating it into a few clear messages, and deciding on how you’re going to communicate them to your customers (or any other audience.)

  • Finding the right pitch often boils down to pinpointing a sticky story to tell. With the right mix of ethos, pathos and logos you can appeal to the hearts and the minds of those listening to you.
  • In my blog post of January 10, 2013 I talked about the 7 C’s of a good story: compelling, credible, concrete, clear, consistent, customized and conversational. If you remember these seven adjectives, you’re already one step closer to a great pitch.
  • When defining your value proposition, never forget that value is in the perception
    of the beholder. Adapt your pitch to address the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) concern(s) of your audience. And give them something in return for listening to you.
  • As mentioned in the previous bullet, it’s extremely important that you have a good understanding of who will be in the room. Doing some upfront research and power mapping will help you to tailor your pitch and (later) customize your presentation to their specific knowledge, needs and expectations.
  • Building a message house is a great and simple means for defining, simplifying and structuring your messages, and to make sure your audience will remember them.
  • You could also consider creating a mind map and/or drawing a storyboard. These tools will help you to sort out your thoughts and put your ideas in a sequence that easily translates into a presentation.
  • A good way to validate your pitch is putting it to the elevator test. Can you ‘sell’ your message(s) in 30 seconds? Can you summarize your story on the back of a napkin? Can it be understood by your mother in law?

Once your pitch is completed, you’re all set to start preparing your presentation. Don’t forget that HOW you tell things may be as important as (or sometimes even more important than) WHAT you actually tell. So stay tuned for next week’s post, in which I am going to write about the P of Preparation.

More reading about pitching, messaging and story building: