Ways to Use Your Digital Pen to Increase Effectiveness

The pen and the laptop… I’ve always had an interest in the idea of it working, but for many years it was a solution looking for a problem. Early on I wanted one of those spin around laptops from Acer so I could take digital notes on the clunky 10 pound laptop in class. It just didn’t quite work at the time, but it was the infancy of an idea which has become an indispensable part of my presenting toolset. In a largely remote world I’ve come to rely on my pen as a tool to help connect with a remote audience, to capture effective notes, and to encourage collaboration instead of just presenting. Here are the most common ways I’ve been using a pen over the last several years and why you should too.

Remote Presenting (or even in-person)

Well before the pandemic I used a pen when presenting, whether in-person or remote. I find it a very effective way to draw attention to diagrams, words, or concepts as a complex presentation is being reviewed. As many in tech realize, you can’t always have a presentation that follows the minimalistic design. Sometimes it needs to have details you are reviewing and helping a customer understand. This is when the pen comes in handy. To use the pen effectively, simply present your PowerPoint deck over Teams (or share the entire screen), place your deck into presenter mode (slide show), and then write or take notes on the screen as you present. Here is what it looks like to people seeing the slide (in the example below):

In the image you can see the red lines which the viewer will see real time as you present. In this case I’m asking the client, “where are you on this maturity curve”, we identify a target for Q1, and we talk about what happens above the curve and how implementing the near-term target will open up future opportunity. This has the effect of being both informative (from the original slide), collaborative (from the Q&A), and direction setting (from the guidance).

Whiteboarding in Teams

When we went to largely remote work I really missed having a physical whiteboard to use for collaboration with collegues. I liked using a whiteboard because of how it allowed multiple people to actively contribute to ideation and for ideas to flow incrementally as they are drawn, vs. using slides that are very fixed and hard to quickly modify. I then found the whiteboard app in Teams, which has been a nice “second best” to using a physical whiteboard. When in the Teams app, just go to the “share” area and start a whiteboard session. You can either do it natively within the Teams interface, or there is a native app that has a few additional features.

You can see above the variety of pen types, the ability for multiple people to collaborate on the same board, the ability to easily show the whiteboard to any connected Teams user, and the intuitive writing style. This also possesses something the legacy whiteboards don’t, which is an ability to then save the whiteboard and associate it with the meeting vs. take a picture and try to transpose it.

OneNote as a great note taking platform

I have gotten used to leveraging OneNote to capture hand written notes during meetings by flipping my laptop around, even in the pandemic. This is particularly useful when I’m brainstorming, drawing a diagram, trying to capture an idea for a blog, etc. This is also where being a single-tasker is useful, with a smaller setup and focusing on a single screen. For example, here is a diagram I was using to talk about the disruption that COVID is applying to traditional lines of business and the necessity of the digital disruption:

You can see I’m using thicker lines to make it feel more natural. I found the thinner lines didn’t leave me with a whiteboard like experience. It was also easier to see and consume in other mediums with thicker lines.

Creating Effective Screenshots and Comments

The pen is the perfect asset when documenting or collaborating around screen shots. If you’re using the Windows Snipping Tool or Greenshot (among others), you can send the screen capture to Microsoft Paint or the integrated Snipping and Sketch tool. I use this frequently to quickly capture content and send a marked up image to a colleague with a suggestion:

You can see above how I’ve underlined content on the screen, pointed to where I’m suggesting a drop-down, and provided input. This could be done live, sent through email, captured in a Teams chat, etc.

Bing Maps App and Other Integrated Apps

Ink can be easily integrated into full native applications. I’m a runner and sometimes want to quickly understand the distance of a prospective route. I’ve found that most map apps are really difficult to customize the distance of a run because I’m needing to add pushpins and route directions, which is very complicated. With the Maps App on Windows 10 you can draw a route and it will measure the distance auto-magically.

You can see above I created a lap down and back the Milwaukee lake front, with even a path down the park which isn’t a road that a typical map app could measure well. This might seem simple, but it is a big solution to a problem I’ve had during training, where I’m trying to be very specific on my distances, but not always take the path a typical map would take. This is also an example of how digital ink or augmented reality can be an asset in other applications, such as geospatial, training, and digital agreements.

With the advancement of remote work this is a great way to increase engagement with remote collaborators and remote presentations. Give it a shot and I’m sure you will see results that will impact other areas of your presenting.

Nathan Lasnoski

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