Mapping out presentations, documents and research

Mind Mapping, a visual outlining technique, is often the beginning of presentations, documents, and research. Here are a few thoughts on the topic.
Written by Dan Kusnetzky, Contributor

Quite a while ago, in the ancient times when I worked at Digital Equipment Corporation, I was introduced to a technique, called mind mapping, as part of a "Digital Management Education" course on business planning. It's been part of my daily work ever since.  I was presenting from a mind map recently. A session attendee came up afterwards and commented on my single-page "script" that allowed me to present a two-hour session.

I've spoken with a potential client from the back seat of a taxi while on the way to that company's office and used a hastily created mindmap to present exactly what information they were seeking moments later. Once mastered, this is a surprisingly fast tool for planning, research and content creation.

What is mind mapping?

Mind mapping is a technique of visual diagramming that is designed to help people outline concepts, individual components of those concepts, and link one concept to another. Proponents would suggest that this technique ties the analytical and visual portions of the brain together.

These diagrams can be as simple as a branching tree or complex works of art. The most complex of these diagrams look like flowing, organic webs of information, colors and pictures.  Since I'm often under pressure to produce results very quickly, I keep mine pretty simple.

I use this approach to planning out documents, presentations, projects and the like.  I've learned that audiences often respond better to seeing a compressed and unfolding mind map on the screen rather than being subjected to yet another PowerPoint deck.

Try searching for "mind maps examples" or "mind maps" using the image search of your favorite search engine to see examples.

Mind Mapping Tools

I've used quite a number of tools over the years. Some were quite expensive and offered tight integration with Microsoft Office. Open source tools now exist that link easily with OpenOffice or LibreOffice. These tools allowed me to map out my thoughts and observations and quickly turn them into a presentation deck or paper.

Although not an exhaustive list, here are a few that I've used:

  • MindManager by MindJet — This tool is very powerful and is relatively expensive. It links with several project management tools and Microsoft Office. A "cloud-based" collaboration tool is offered that makes it possible for groups to plan out projects together.
  • Inspiration — This was the first mind mapping tool I used. It was a Mac-only tool in those ancient times. Today, it appears to be targeting academic environments and students.
  • FreeMind — This is an open source tool that executes in Java. It is available for just about every personal computing environment, UNIX workstations and Smartphones and Tablets. It links nicely with OpenOffice and LibreOffice. These presentations and documents can be converted to the formats used by Microsoft Office.
  • FreePlane — This is a fork of FreeMind that appeared when development on FreeMind slowed. It has all of the capabilities of FreeMind.

If your work requires planning, content creation and presentation, I'd recommend trying out one of these tools.


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