Guide on the Side – The Power of Post-Its: Picture Your Speech

(Archived December 1, 1997)

Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O’Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries’ highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute’s programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).

Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms “Life in Progress,” which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her “free” time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected].

Early in my career the library partner told me “You have a mind like a shot gun,” diplomatically telling me that my ideas lacked focus. My mind still explodes with ideas but now I am able to camouflage the chaos by using the simple organizational method that I call “Picture Your Speech.” (PYS)

If you typically struggle to prepare a speech, write and re-write, and deliver by reading from pages of notes, PYS will enable you to organize a presentation quickly and deliver it with confidence and conviction.

I call this method “Picture Your Speech” because it results in an easy to remember image. PYS has been around almost as long as Post-it Notes and is widely used by people who speak often. I have presented PYS as Getting Your Ducks in a Row and Bert Decker presents it as a Grid System. (Call 1-800-547-0050 to purchase his handy kit). Whatever the name, the benefits are speed, ease, reliability and no annual upgrades.

PYS is based on the basic and familiar speech structure: Opening, Body, and Ending. The materials needed for PYS are probably already at your disposal:

  • Pad of 1.5″ x 2″ Post-it Notes
  • 8.5″ x 11″ manila folder
  • Pen

Bert Decker describes the four PYS steps in his Grid System as:

  • Cornerstones
  • Create
  • Cluster
  • Compose

STEP ONE (Cornerstones)

Failure to identify your speech parameters is like trying to pack your suitcase when you do not know where you are going or why. Lay the foundation for your speech by determining your POV (Point of View), the Audience, the Benefits, and the Results/Action. Additionally, it is important to articulate the Cornerstones because they will be used to craft your Opening and Ending.

Good speakers let the audience know up front where they are coming from–their POV (point of view). Expertise on a subject might be through the lens of a decision-maker, administrator, advocate, critic, innovator, strategist, consumer, commentator, or gadfly. Examples of POV: “For 20 years I advocated… but now I see… as a giant step backward.” “Until last week, I knew nothing about buying real estate but my first experience qualifies me as a good Samaritan to warn other inexperienced buyers of expensive pitfalls.” “By education and experience, I am a law librarian, but suddenly I find myself learning to be an astronaut.”

Who is the Audience and what are their common interests? Just because the audience is a professional group does not mean there are uniform interests. To illustrate, if a librarian is making a presentation to the local bar association about the Internet, what is their information interest? Bar association members may be officers of the court, private or public attorneys, single practitioners or members of a large firm practicing anything from appellate practice to zoning law. They will not have the same needs for legal or factual information. What topic or topics can be used for demonstration that will appeal to the audience as a whole? The group’s newsletter is a good place to find out.

Benefit is what the Audience is going to get from your presentation. (What’s In It for Them). This can be something tangible–save time, avoid costly mistakes or intangible–feel secure or impress clients.

Results/Action is the outcome–what you want the audience to do. “Use this information to…” “Contact your Senator and…” “Adopt this proposal.” “Enroll in my class.”

The template for the Cornerstones looks like a square with POV, Audience Benefits, Results/Action in the four corners. Reduced in size the Cornerstones template looks like this:

{short description of image}

{short description of image} POV {short description of image} Benefits
{short description of image} Audience {short description of image} Results/Action

The Subject (topic) is in a thought cloud because at this point the subject needs to be refined. Use one Post-it Note to fill each Cornerstone square and pen in one idea (word, phrase, image) on it. Affix the Post-it notes to the corners of an open file folder, upside down or with the sticky side down. This allows them to curl toward and you can read them better. It also means writing with the sticky side at the bottom. You may use a tabletop or a wall for this layout as well, but the manila folder has more portability and better storage features. You’ll need room, so use the entire open folder, giving you a 17″ by 11″ area.

STEP TWO (Create)

Create is brainstorming on the subject using one Post-it Note to record each idea on the subject. Again, use a word, short phrase or image rather than a sentence. Place the notes in random order in the center of the file folder. It is important that you do not censure yourself at this point. Do not be concerned about redundancy, vocabulary, relevance or appropriateness. It is okay to think like a shot gun at this point. Two or more people can work this step at the same time. Remember the sticky side of the Post-it Note is down.

STEP THREE (Cluster)

When ideas cease to flow, start grouping them. Do this by picking up the Post-It Notes and sequencing them in columns. Headers for the columns usually become obvious. For instance, a new building proposal might fall into Design, Budget, and Schedule. Each of these in turn could be presented as a “visual explanation” (drawing or map, chart, timeline). (See my previous column, Now I Get the Picture: A Visual Strunk & White.) During this sorting step, some of the ideas will supplement your Cornerstones and even may provide a new spin on the subject or the title. The Clusters will become the Body of your speech. Ideally, there will be three Clusters but two and four are workable also. If you find more than four main ideas, the subject is too large and you need to separate the excess into another presentation. Don’t throw away any ideas not used. Transfer them to a new folder labelled “extra.” They may form the basis for another speech to a different audience.

STEP FOUR (Compose)

The final step is to design your presentation using the three parts of a speech: Opening, Body, and Ending. Combine at least three of the Cornerstones for your Opening. “From reading your newsletter it is clear that as…you are very concerned about…Will it threaten your livelihood? As a crusader and innovator in this field, let me show you three ways to improve your outlook.” (Audience, POV, Benefit)

Use the three Clusters as the main points in the Body of the speech. “There are three points I want to make and they boil down to cost, quality and timeliness.” Each point will have sub-points each on a Post-it Note containing an idea you captured in Step 2.

For the Ending, use three of the Cornerstones with emphasis or a new twist on the benefits and results. “To summarize, in California there is a way around the crowded civil court calendar. You have seen the benefits of renting a judge. Consider it the next time you need to settle a dispute. From my point of view, it is better to rent a judge than to buy one.” (Benefit, Result, POV)

Finally firm up the title and remember to weave it in to the Body or the Ending. Reduced in size the final template looks like below. After the presentation, label the folder tab with the speech title and file it for future use.

{short description of image} Subject {short description of image}

{short description of image} POV Body
Point 1
Point 2
Point 3
{short description of image} Benefits
Subpoints Subpoints Subpoints
Subpoints Subpoints Subpoints
Subpoints Subpoints Subpoints
Subpoints Subpoints Subpoints
etc. etc. etc.
{short description of image}Audience {short description of image}Results/

*If you like, use different colored Post-Its for the body points and subpoints.

Benefits of PYS

  • Put together a presentation in a few minutes
  • Sift ideas for focus
  • Visualize your ideas and your structure
  • Create a speech storyboard
  • Appear to deliver without notes because you have an inconspicous prompter
  • Find your place easily if you get lost in the delivery: the layout is the interface
  • Support your oral mode of communication
  • Lessen the likelihood of reading your speech
  • Make last minute changes, like after hearing the previous speaker
  • Integrate group presentations
  • Combine creative and analytic thinking
  • Superior to outlining; is not linear, allows for branching and use of images
  • Better than index cards because you can see speech as a whole and if you get nervous and drop it, everything stays in order
  • Better than presentation software because you are not technology dependent and never in the dark reading off a screen
  • Can be used to advantage with presentation software to create meaningful visuals (ones that are not a script for you)
  • The template becomes a mental model for impromptu speaking, when you “see” your speech, so does your audience


Pick up a pad of Post-it Notes and say to yourself–and the world–“With this tool, I can picture my speeches. Powerhouse presentations are constructed with ideas not words. Communicating with an audience is about creating images.”

Posted in: Guide on the Side, Presentation Skills