If creating a linear list leaves you cold, use mind mapping tools to sketch out your ideas

When a deadline for a speech or presentation is hurtling towards you at mach speed, it can be a heart pounding experience to discover a problem with either your content or approach. Fortunately, there's a way to avoid nasty surprises: work from an outline.

While that's good advice, few people follow it. My proof? I've surveyed a lot of writers and many of them admit they don't bother with an outline. Those who do, however, swear by the practice, and agree that it saves time, effort and stress.

So, create an outline as part of your speech or presentation workflow and enjoy the following benefits:
An outline gives you a chance to look at your material and answer questions such as:

• Do my ideas support my objective? and
• Have I put them in the best order?

Writing for someone else? Show your outline to the client or others in the approval chain. In the event you're asked to make changes to your content or approach, you won't have to toss away prose or slides that may have taken hours to put together.

If you're working on a team presentation, you can ask others to write specific sections, or create visuals. If everyone follows the outline, the pieces should fit together with a minimum of editing.Of course, all the good reasons in the world won't convince a writer to work from an outline when creating one just doesn't feel right. If jotting down points in a linear fashion isn't your style, give mind mapping a try.

Today you can sketch ideas by hand or use software to do the job. For example, if you work on a Mac, test out Scapple. (See illustration below.) You can try Scapple free for 30 days. If you work on an iPad, consider iThoughts HD. Windows users have many choices, including XMind, which is free if you choose the basic package, and works on a Mac or PC. Another is FreeMind, which is also free.