Mindmapping your Presentation: Are you Making this Mistake?

Presentation Mindmap

In the past month I’ve sat through three presentations by professional speakers. They were all planned by mindmapping.

None of these presentations reached their potential. Here are the flaws the presentations suffered from:

  1. They had no unifying theme. They jumped around from one subtopic to another.
  2. They covered a lot of issues. So many different issues, that I can’t remember any of them!
  3. They covered no single issue in depth. They never got to anything interesting.

They were typical overview presentations. They went wide rather than deep and didn’t offer any value.

The mistake these speakers made was to use mindmapping alone as their presentation planning tool.

So when should you use mindmapping to plan a presentation?

1. Everyday to mid-level presentations on a topic that you know well

In this situation, mindmapping is a time-consuming and unecessary step. It’s an inherently inefficient process because you’re spending time generating points that you’re not going to use. Instead of mindmapping, use these questions to plan your presentation:

  1. What’s the one thing I want my audience to remember or do?
  2. Once I’ve told them that, what are the three top questions they will have for me?
  3. How can I back up each of my answers to those questions.

This is the essence of the process that I outline in my free Guide “How to Make an Effective PowerPoint Presentation.”

2. High-stakes pitch or high-profile conference presentation on a topic you’re not so familiar with

This is where mindmapping has its place.  Mindmapping can be a useful first step to gather your ideas and ensure that you don’t miss a critical point. However, do not stop planning once you’ve completed your mindmap. If you do, you’ll end up with a lightweight overview presentation that doesn’t add any value to your audience. Take these additional steps:

  1. Craft a key message for your presentation that expresses the main point you want to get across. Then ensure that every point you make supports that key message. Any point that doesn’t should be thrown out.
  2. Edit your points further. If you’ve mindmapped six benefits for your solution, choose the  three strongest benefits and delete the rest (or put them in a handout). Those three remaining benefits will have more impact than if you skimmed lightly over six benefits.
  3. Ensure each point you make is supported by evidence: examples, statistics, endorsements or metaphors.
  4. Arrange your points to create a logical path for your audience to follow.

There’s a lot more to planning a presentation than mindmapping.

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  1. I have received lots of “wise” advice that I should use mindmapping… for blog posts… for articles… for presentations… and I resist… It is not that I have a religious objection, it is that I always end up with a wealth of interesting ideas -> but no unifying structure. I work much better with categories, lists and venn diagrams -> all tools that give more structure than the free-form imagination exercise that mindmapping has been for me. Thanks for taking a stand ;-)

    • Yes, mindmapping has its place but it has become somewhat of a “cure-all” suggestion.

  2. It’s not mind mapping that causes the problem – it’s the presenter and creator of the mind map. Don’t blame the tool.

    Mind maps can be used for any presentation, it’s up to the presenter to decide what goes into the mind map and the presentation.

    • Hi Bengt
      I agree that the presenter is ultimately responsible for what goes into the presentation, and I’m not saying that mindmaps can’t be useful as part of the process.

      It’s easy to say “don’t blame the tool”. I’m about giving some guidance about choosing the most appropriate tool for the job. And mindmapping does not include the processes which help create an effective presentation. That means the presenter has to make strategic decisions on what should go into the mindmap/presentation and what shouldn’t without further guidance. There are tools which can help the presenter make those decisions.


  3. Loved your debunking of Mehrabian myth but this time I have to agree with Bent Wendel above. Mind map is a map not a route.

    Contrary to what Conor Neil says I think mind maps offer you a structure but this structure is nonelinear and static (2d space is the only dimension) while presentation is by definition linear, narrative and dynamic (time is important dimension) and thats it. I belive that in the process of preparing presentation there is a place for whole range of technics. Which one you choose depends on the level you are with designing your presentation and your indvidual preferences. Sure, when someone stops on the mind map level it my very well translate to classic death by ppt, or end like presenting your pure stream of consciousnes.

    Sorry for my English, its not my mother tongue.

  4. Hi Tomasz
    You make some good points about the difference between a mindmap and a presentation. And I agree that there are a range of techniques available for preparing presentations – and mindmapping is one of those which can be useful as part of the process.
    The aim of my post is twofold:
    – a wake-up call to people who are using mindmapping as their sole technique for preparing a presentation, and so tend to create lightweight, unfocused presentations.
    – help people who are using mindmapping plus editing to save time in their preparation by streamlining the process.

  5. Thanks for answering my post. I think we agree in general. You have a valid point about shortening preparation time. But from the other side, in mindjet there was (is?) option for using mind map as actual presentation, it was something like zumi for the poor. Something you wouldnt use for all kinds of presentation but kind a cool, fresh, nonelinear concept to use from time to time, especially for what Andrew Abela calls “conference room presentations”. I think people are generally to much focused on tools and techniques rather than on a message and delivery.

    • Hi Tomasz
      I’ve seen Mindjet used in presentation mode – and just like any other tool it depends what you put into it. In this particular case, it was just another way of presenting a brain dump!
      I agree that the message and its delivery are more important than the particular tool or technique.

  6. Mind mapping is a brain dump. And it shouldn’t be used as a presentation tool.

    But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be used to prepare for a presentation.

    It’s extremely effective in getting related ideas onto paper. It can release a lot of the stress of having to remember something or organize it in your mind. Get all of the possible ideas out and – IMPORTANT – go through them later to select the few which should be included in the presentation.

    Mind maps are also very helpful in brainstorming a theme/design/metaphor to use. Duarte Design uses mind maps all of the time to come up with an effective way to illustrate a concept.

    So using mind maps to prepare a presentation = great. Using mindmaps AS a presentation = HECK NO!

    • Hi Nathan

      I agree that mindmapping can be a useful tool for preparing a high stakes presentation. But for most everyday presentations it’s not a necessary tool and you can save time by using a planner instead of mindmapping.

    • Nathan,
      I couldn’t agree more. I’ve taught Presentation Skills for 25 years and include mindmapping as a tool to expand one’s thought processes- brainstorming- or as you put it, “a brain dump.” It does show you what you can choose to leave out or perhaps mention under another area. I agree that it is not a way to construct a presentation because there is no flow of ideas. Outlines or other means of constructing the flow should be used. I also agree with Olivia that it is most useful for a high stakes or very detailed presentation in order to help you “see” all the content before constructing it.

  7. Mindmapping should be used only as the first step tool to gather ideas for a presentation. It is a process of divergent thinking. But we still need convergent thinking afterwards to summarize the ideas and find depth in it.

    • Hi Warwick
      I like your terms divergent thinking and convergent thinking. Makes the distinction nicely.

  8. Olivia,

    I agree with some of the comments here too. Mind-mapping is, sometimes, a useful tool as a way of generating breadth of thinking, or ‘everything you could possibly talk about…’

    Then this ‘organic’ mess must be turned into a ‘linear’ path for a coherent story to emerge. My way for presentations would look something like this…

    1- Audience needs analysis
    2- What do we want to say- presentation objectives
    3- Mind- map everything
    4- Think 3-act story structure and develop linear path (this is your storyboard)
    5- Ruthlessly edit the storyboard for ‘clutter’ focus and brevity
    6- Write or ‘say out loud’ until the words are developed
    7- Add prologue and epilogue (I’m English, so Shakspeare’s my guide here)
    8- Develop visuals
    9- Rehearse, edit, reduce
    10- Perform

    My only concern if you miss out a ‘creative’ step at the start is that you might miss a new angle, or bit of background or context that will harm the story or your argument…



    • Hi Jim
      I used to teach a very similar process. However, I’ve found that for most everyday business presentations you don’t need so many steps. It’s true that you might miss something – but it’s unlikely to be that critical otherwise you would think of it at the time that you’re developing your story structure.

  9. I first used mind maps 25 years ago as a journalist. One of my articles, a six-page (3,000 word) piece on Seattle’s Chinatown published in 2000, received an award from the Society of Professional Journalists. It was written–down to the sentences–on mind maps. Based on the comments here, it seems that communicators either see it as a way to clarify and make their spoken or written presentations clearer and more vivid, or consider it a TMI faucet.

    One of the two best presentations I’ve ever seen on sales techniques (I’ve seen dozens) was an all-day training, completely mapped out on a single legal-sized page. And when I use the model now to teach writing to elementary school kids here in Taiwan (not English speakers), it improves their speaking as well as writing abilities. So count me among the believers. Sorry it doesn’t work well for you and that you dismiss it so glibly.


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