Study Better with Visual Thinking at Biggerplate Unplugged Utrecht

Thanks to Liam Hughes and the Biggerplate team who invited me to introduce my method : Study Better with Visual Thinking.  It was in Biggerplate Unplugged in Utrecht, on Wednesday the 9th of October.

I already published an article about my five step method “How to study better with visual thinking“.  But the wonderful Biggerplate team invited me to introduce it during the Biggerplate Unplugged event in Utrecht on Wednesday the 9th of October.

I made a prezi presentation about it, I hoped it was good enough to make a nice talk and I sent the package to Liam Hughes.

So on Wednedsday, I was right in front of a panel of mindmappers from all over Europe :  from Spain to Scotland through Belgium, France and the Netherlands.   And I showed them this :

Of course, I was not the only speaker that day : find the other very interesting speakers of that Biggerplate Unplugged Utrecht on the Biggerplate Unplugged Utrecht page.

Next appointment : San Francisco in March 2014.  See you there ?

Combine the power of mindmaps and flashcards with XMind2Anki

Mindmaps are fantastic to show you the structure of a course, an organization or a group of concepts.  Flashcards are great when you want to study details, definitions or formulas.  With XMind2Anki, combine the power of mindmaps and of flashcards to study even more efficiently!

If you are a regular mindmap user, you already know how efficient they are to study : they are a fantastic way to find the links between concepts and to show the structure of any set of thoughts.   You already found out how the association of keywords, pictures, branches and colours helps you to better understand and memorize.

If you use flashcards to prepare for your exams, you already know how helpful they can be to memorize very quickly a huge amount of new words in your own language or in a foreign idiom, definitions or maths and sciences formulas.

What if you could combine the powers of those two fabulous tools?  If you could use the links, the structure, the global view of a mindmap as well as the powerful details memorization of flashcards?

Of course, it would take a lot of time to gather the elements of your mindmap to turn them into a deck of flashcards!

But, imagine that an application could automatically turn your mindmap into a deck of flashcards?  You could take advantage of both techniques without wasting your time copying items from one medium into the other…

how to combine the structure of a XMind mindmap with the memorizing power of Anki ?

Combine mind map & flashcards

XMind2Anki : the power of mindmaps and flashcards

Such application exists : it is called XMind2Anki and it has been developed by my friend Bruno Martin who is finishing his PhD thesis in Paris (you can follow him on Twitter : @itc4efficiency)

It is a small application that you can download and use entirely for free : no bad surprises!

Download also XMind and Anki if you don’t have them yet.

Draw your mindmap as usual.  In this article, we’ll see the simplest method : one question and a set of answers per branch (or topic, in XMind lingo).  In another article, we’ll see how to use filters to export more complex mindmaps.

I made a mind map about the French Presidents of the Fifth Republic.

An XMind mind map about the French Presidents to be exported as a deck of Anki flashcards

A simple 2 level mindmap

This is a very simple 2 level mindmap : the first level – Premier, Deuxième, Troisième, etc. – will be our question.  Who is the fifth French President of the Fifth Republic?

The second level – for instance, Jacques Chirac, 29-11-1932, etc. – will be the answer.

Nothing very complicated!

Using XMind2Anki for the first time

Once you have downloaded your application, you get a .rar file.  You have to decompress it in order to launch it.  Then, click on the xmind2anki.exe file, if your OS is Windows ; click on the .jar file, if you work with Mac OS or Linux.  Xmind2Anki can work with the three operating systems.

When you launch XMind2Anki, the following menu pops up on your screen :

A window pops up on your screen with the different options of XMind2Anki

XMind2anki window

Turn your mindmap into a deck of flashcards

First, click on the red button, in the superior left corner of the menu.  This will indicate to XMind2Anki which XMind mindmap you want to export to Anki.  In this case, I select my French Presidents mindmap.

Then, choose a name and a location for your Anki file.

When it’s done, simply click on the green button, on the right.  XMind2Anki starts to export your mindmap as a new deck of Anki Flashcards!

XMind2Anki Menu showing the achievment of the exportation to Anki

Exporting to Anki!

Since I have only 8 topics, the exportation takes only a few seconds!

If I look closely at my XMind mindmap, I’ll find out that a tiny icon appeard in the central topic : it is the Anki icon and it is a hyperlink towards the desk of flashcards I just created.

Anki hyperlink towards the new desk of flashcards

A tiny icon appears in my central topic

If I click on that tiny icon, I’ll open my new desk of Anki flashcards!

Here is a sample of my new desk about the French President : this is the fourth topic of my XMind mindmap and the fourth flashcard of my Anki deck : François Mitterand, who was the fourth President of the Fifth French Republic.

The word “Quatrième” – fourth in French is my question.  So, who was the French president ?  The answer is François Mitterand and I can see his picture.  All the subtopics the branch François Mitterand became parts of the answer, listed in a bullet list under the picture.

An Anki flashcard resulting of the exportation of my XMind mindmap topics

A new flashcard

Now, I can study the presidents of the Fifth French Republic combining the structuring powers of the XMind mind map and the memorizing powers of the Anki flashcards.

And you : are you also using this kind of techniques ?  Or do you study with other tools ?  Which ones ?  What kind of results do you get ?

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How to study efficiently in five steps with visual thinking !

How to study faster and better ?  How to memorize things ?  How to understand better ?  How to get ready for the next exam ?  Here is my method in five steps to study better with visual thinking and memory techniques.

Lisez ceci en français !

If you examine the main difficulties of the students, in secondary school as well as at the university, it seems that “learning to learn” is the key expression.  Some teachers event refuse to admit that there is such thing as “learning to learn“.

And yet, I’ve helped a lot of student by teaching them this method : everybody has the potential to learn better.  If you get the appropriate method and the right tools.

This is also the method I’m going to talk about at the Biggerplate Unplugged in Utrecht on the 9th of October.  Don’t miss that fantastic event !

So, I gathered the five steps and some concepts here on this mindmap : (click on the picture to maximize it.  You can also download this Study Better mindmap for free on my Biggerplate page.)

How to learn better and faster ?  Using visual thinking and memory techniques

Study Better in Five Steps

I’ll consider each stage in detail in articles to come.  But let’s review the whole method here  !

First step : Reboost your motivation !

In order to learn, you need to be motivated.

So, think about your studies as a project.  Each of your courses can be considered as a project with Smaart goals, deadlines, tasks to achieve.

I personally use an adapted version of GTD with Mindmeister.

Handle your workload with the GTD method and a Mindmeister mind map

An adapted GTD dashboard for students

Define your goals and your motivations : why do I study ?  Whom do I study for ?  Myself ?  My parents ?  My professors ?  My girlfriend ?

What do I want to achieve ?  What kind of profession do I want to do later ?  What are the stages, the necessary training, the adequate degrees to reach that long term goal ?

What do I like ?  What do I really want to learn ?

If you know yourself and what you want to achieve, if you have the right tool to handle the workload of studies, you can succeed.  And guess what ?  Succeeding is the best way to succeed !  What I mean is : succeed in small things first, that will strenghten your selfconfidence, and you’ll be able to succeed in bigger stuff.  And finally, you’ll succeed in your studies as well!

Second step : get back in touch with your course

The day itself, when you go back home, open your books and reread your notes : read slowly, let the ideas get back to you.

Jot down some notes with a mind map : I don’t know any more powerful or efficient tool to summarize something than mind mapping !

The association of keywords, colours, images, branches, place on the sheet, everything concurs to memorize and understand better than with boring linear notes.

This is the best way to understand the structure of your course, how elements and concepts are linked together.  This is something most students have difficulties with…

Try to remember what the teacher or the professor said.  Try to identify what you don’t really understand and ask for some explanation.  This is the right time to do so : you have fresh ideas, it will be easier to connect the new concepts to what you already know.  Futhermore, if you wait for the day before the exams, everybody will be busy and who will waste that precious time to share something with you ?

Third step : reactivate your memory

The secret of memorizing is : first, understand what you learn.  Create links and associations with what you already know.

Make another mindmap or complete the one you started at the previous step.  Then, try to ask your own questions, with the 5 W’s & 2 H’s method.  This is a very old and efficient way to learn.

When you summarized the course with your mindmap, you entered the matter through the professor’s path.  It was His or Her structure.

By asking questions over the course, you’ll build your own path, your own way to question and to understand everything.

How to question your course and to understand it deeper ? by asking Quintilian's 7 questions

Quintilian’s method

Fourth step : reuse the course

When you read your books and your notes, you use some groups of neurons in your brain.  But when you sit for the examination, you’ll have to answer questions or write a paper about that course.  And those are different cognitive skills which use other parts of your brain.  So, you have to train the right groups of neurons to succeed…

Use concept maps to grasps the different concepts.  Use flashcards to memorize definitions, names, formulas.  Use devices like XMind2Anki to turn your mindmap into a deck of flashcards.

Fifth step : revise and exercise

The best way to learn on the long run is to vary the tools and the techniques : use bubble and doublebubble maps to compare two objects or groups of concepts.

Teach !  Tell your stuff to a person who doesn’t know anything about it.  This is the best way to learn : why do you think professors know their courses so well ?  Because they keep on teaching it !

In order to explain something, you have to understand it very deeply, to the minute details…

So, train, review, exercise, vary the methods and the techniques.   This is the secret : use your whole brain !

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XMind 2013: the 10 new mindmapping software features!

It has been announced for several weeks now : the 2013 beta version of XMind, the most popular mind mapping software, is available. This software includes 10 new features and 11 improvements which aficionados have eagerly waited.

Lisez cet article en français !

 Let us say it immediately, this is not a revolution…

When you look at your home screen, you hardly see any difference with the previous version. But, as with some cars, you have to look  under the hood to really grasp the new technical features.  And their invaluable potential.

And these technical features are numerous: no less than 10 new features and 11 improvements!

10 new features for XMind

 These new functions are not all at the same level : if some go to the core of the software, some, such as new markers, seem rather peripheral.

 But let us review them. Nothing like a mindmap to view all in a glance! Double-click the map to enlarge it or click here to download from Biggerplate (for free!)

A brand new version of the most popular mind mapping software

10 new functionalities and 11 improvements

Still no online real-time collaboration and yet, users, especially professionals, increasingly ask for it.

Nevertheless, XMind 2013 authorizes the automatic sharing of mindmaps via a local network: such a major breakthrough! And it automatically shares the latest and recently updated mindmap version. No need to exchange emails with your colleagues or even upload your mindmaps on the XMind platform anymore.

You can import text directly from Word in a topic note.  Previously, you  had to use the copy and paste – a function that saves significant time gathering documents, for example!

For me, one of the finest success of this new version of XMind 2013 is the new export to Excel! This is something that was sorely lacking in XMind, and it works very well.

 Export to Excel, a real success!

I conducted a test with one of my previous mindmaps often posted on my French blog : that mindmap is called CQQCOQP. I’ll repost it here just to show you how the export to Excel works (you can also acquire free downloading on my Biggerplate page).

The 7 questions of Quintilian, the Roman orator, translated into a mindmap

CQQCOQP : a set of 7 questions

Once the information is exported to an Excel spreadsheet, nothing changes and everything is in order according to the position of subjects. The central issue became the title of my Excel sheet, the levels are the titles of my columns, and the issues have become cells A, while other subjects are placed back into the logical order.

The data afer I exported my XMind 2013 mindmap into Excel

The results in the spreadsheet

I don’t have a Mac OS and hence don’t have the opportunity to test the new features using this operating system, including direct export to PowerPoint, Word and Excel.

Xmind 2013 also exports to SVG , the scalable vector drawing.

As for the workbooks, it is now possible to merge and print them in their entirety and not map by map.  Again, a significant gain in time .

Now it is possible to reduce the file size of an XMind 2013 mindmap  : no more stuck with files too heavy to be emailed!

I also tested the new style editor : very intuitive , very complete.  It allows you to change the shape , color, size, font , etc.  It works not only with the topics, but also with other objects like summaries, boundaries, etc.  A great tool for those who love the aesthetic mindmaps.

I conclude this list of new features with the markers: a new series of the prettiest and most readable markers.

11 Significant improvements of the mindmapping software

The new XMind 2013 works better in exports : better PDF export with SVG vector graphics , Word, PowerPoint.

The gallery is renamed Clip Art : I personally would have preferred that certain old school or rudimentary images would have been replaced in a brand new style like the one of  the new markers …

The files attachment and hyperlinks have also been improved – which is not directly visible. It also has to be tested.

Keyboard shortcuts have been added for Mac OS users, including the addition of new sheets.

You can also simultaneously focus on a topic and see the tasks related to it in the Gantt chart : a real advantage for project managers.

An improvement that XMind doesn’t report on his blog: the new zoom at the bottom of the screen to adjust the map display.  It doesn’t sound that important, but this small device that can display the map at 50 , 100, 150 %, etc.,  adds up to the comfort.  In practice, you will find it handy !

Finally, there are also several improvements in the markers field : their size is now proportional to the font of the topic in which they are included. This makes them much more visible in some cases.

Groups of markers in the menu become expandable sets, which avoids an endless scroll following markers on the screen when looking for a particular group…

And finally, for multiple makers in a topic, the order of markers is the same in the topic as in the “view” menu : there could have been a confusion with previous versions .


As I said in the introduction, this new version  is not a revolution, but, if the changes in the look of the software are almost imperceptible, there are  some significant breakthroughs!

Some of the new functions, such as export to Excel, the merge and print of entire workbooks will obviously make it easier for users to save their time and make XMind 2013 more compatible with standards softwares formats .

A version to use and to leverage…  waiting for the collaborative online in real time (I know, I repeat myself over and over, but it is a growing market demand …  I just hope the software producers will hear me and adapt their software to the users’ needs… ).

Convinced? Download the free beta version of XMind 2013!

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Tutorial: Transform your mindmap to video using iMindMap

Have you ever wanted to show your iMindMap presentations on video? With iMindMap 6 you can easily export your mindmaps and make impressive animations!

Lisez cet article en français !

You have made a solid mindmap using iMindMap and you wish to share it with the rest of world? Now, all is possible with iMindMap version 6 –  the software from Tony Buzan and Chris Griffiths.

 You can download the iMindMap mindmap from the Biggerplate website. Double click the image for maximum enlargement.

mindmap about video and online games made with iMindMap

Why Games Matter : an iMindMap map !

You can adjust your presentation and then export it as a video. Like me, you can also choose to post your video directly from Youtube.

 A video of your mindmap on Youtube

Here’re the steps.

First, realize your mindmap as usual.

Then, create a presentation by clicking on the “View” menu as shown below:

How to go to the presentation view

Click on the Presentation View

Set your presentation: self-presentation, order of branches, etc..

Then, when your settings are complete, click the “Export video” button as shown below:

Exporting your presentation as an Youtube video

Click the Export Video button

If this is your first attempt to export a video, the software will ask you your login and password (it’s usually the Gmail account that manages your Youtube channel).

Then pops up a dialog box that gives you the opportunity to make your video settings: resolution – I opted for 720 pp, which takes a little more time but gives better results – time pause for each branch, etc..

Export your video to Youtube using the dialog window !

The Export Video dialog window

After that, pops up another dialog box where you enter the title of your video, a short description and keywords that allow Google to find your masterpiece. Bare in mind that YouTube, is not only owned by Google, but also the second largest European search engine, before Bing or Yahoo, for example!

another dialog window to complete your Youtube video description

Put your title, description & keywords in

After completion, simply click the “Upload” button and iMindMap will start exporting your video and transfers it to your personal YouTube channel.

Uploading your presentation to Youtube !

iMindMap is uploading your video

Finally, you will receive the long-awaited message stating that your mindmap has been converted into a video and is uploaded on Youtube!

Your presentation is now an Youtube video !

Your video is uploaded !

You just have to go to your Youtube channel and check if everything works accordingly.

In reality, iMindMap has done most of the work for you! Your video already has a title, description and keywords. You can always change it if you are not satisfied with the result!

Of course, like any Youtube video, it can be shared, integrated into a site, etc.. This is what I did with my mindmap video titled Why Games Matter. The music was added later on the Youtube channel.


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Project management : visualize your timeline with XMind fishbone

How to visualize the different stages of your project?  How to draw a clear and efficient timeline? Answer: with XMind ! And by using a very peculiar structure : the fishbone, also known as “Ishikawa”, from the inventor’s name.

Lisez cet article en français !

Here I’m using a method in three steps :

  1. Brainstorming : to gather the content of the project
  2. Asking questions about all the dimensions of the project : When, Why, Who, How, Where, What, How Much ?
  3. Visualizing the project steps with a timeline

In this article, I will emphasize more on the 3rd step.

I already used a timeline to help startups creators to visualize their project on the long run.  I also used a iMindMap mindmap to explain the principle of such a tool.

An iMindmap mind map illustrating the principles of a project management timeline

Timeline principles with iMindMap !

Last week, I had the opportunity to lead a workshop regarding “project management with visual thinking” in Belgium and I applied that three steps technique and, of course, a timeline during the session.

A timeline with XMind fishbone

XMind offers the fishbone or Ishikawa structure as their default timeline. Unfortunately, the default timeline provided by XMind start menu is on a yearly base which is divided into quarters. Regrettably, it is unsuitable and doesn’t synchronize with our needs.

Hence, we’ll create our own timeline by starting with the “blank map” and choosing the “Fishbone structure”.

To do so, open the Properties Menu in XMind.  Click on the Structure command and select “Fishbone (Left Headed)” as shown below:

XMind Fishbone Left Headed Structure in the Properties Menu

Select the Fishbone structure

At this point, the mind mapping software gives us a Central Topic in the shape of a fishhead, directed to the left side of our screen.

What is the first move? Should we start with the dates? Or perhaps should we key in the main stages of the project and later add in the dates?

Planning your project stage by stage

Finally, we selected the second option. Why? Because if we illustrate a past project, we can surely key in any sort of date as the data given have already come to pass. But for a project which is still in progress or has not yet begun: many unexpected things can still happen along the way and could change its course from its original  path!

 Here is our final version of this Project Management Timeline, built upon the Fishbone structure.  (Double-click on the picture to maximize it – you can also download that timeline for free on my Biggerplate page !)

Project Management Timeline : visualize your project growth step by step

XMind Fishbone Timeline

Mark the length of an activity with a relationship

Note the use of the relationship to express the length of action. In fact, all the steps do not necessarily follow a strict chronology.

For example, the advertising stage began at the start of the project, but continues up to the candidate selection stage. We expressed this relationship using a red dotted line underlining the subject “Advertising” and linked it to “Selection” . The best convenient way to visualize the entire process.

To avoid any overlapping or interfering the subjects written on other branches, we chose the ” Zigzag” option to the relationship line. This technique follows the rise of the central branch to the topic “Selection” without compromising the readability of the timeline as a whole.

Clarify project milestones with markers

Note also the use of markers – these small images delivered with the software – and of a Legend (situated on the lower left side of the mindmap and which explains the meaning of each marker). We used the small blue and green characters to symbolize the candidates for training. We used the bomb to illustrate a risk: emphasizing the deficiency number of candidates to start training !

We finally used the exclamation point to show that this step was conditional : we will make a new mailing with the Unemployment Agency if we do not have enough candidates. If we fill in, this step will not take place .

The Legend explains the function of these self-explanatory symbols more clearly. To display markers in the Legend, apply the following procedure : first, click on the background of the mindmap to avoid selecting any subject. Click the “Properties” menu, check the little box next to ” Show legend ” . A Legend is displayed at the end of your mouse pointer . You can place the Legend wherever you want on your mindmap. In this case, mine is situated on the lower left side of the mindmap. The Legend is updated automatically as and when you add or remove markers.

To change the text next to the marker in the Legend , just double click it and the text field appears! Fill in your own text. That’s it!

Try it for yourself and plan your project using this technique and do not forget to send us your comments or mindmaps.

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Studying with visual thinking : compare with double-bubble maps

Do you need to make comparison in your studies? Do you want to compare two organizations or two situations and you are doubtful on how to do it? The double-bubble maps are a powerful visual tool for this type of operation!

Lisez cet article en français !

Whether during your studies or your career, you are requested to conduct comparisons. For example, the teacher asks you to identify the differences and commonalities between two corporate structures, as in the map below.

This was carried out with the mind mapping software called XMind. (Double-click on the image to enlarge. You can also download it from the website Biggerplate).

Double bubble map designed with XMind

Double Bubble map : ideal tool for comparison

The “double-bubble” map obtained compares two types of business organization: the product  or divisional structure and departmental or functional structure. It was conducted during a coaching session with a student in the preparation for the ACCA (Association of Chartered Certified Accountants) examination, a professional accounting certification which is popular in the Anglo-Saxon world.

The bubbles from the centre represent the categories considered: suitable for (for any type of business structure that is appropriate) Organization (structure on which criteria is organized) Growth (what is the impact of this type of organization on growth and so on).

Mind map or concept map?

Originally, XMind is not configured to function with this type of structure, even if the software offers many different structures. To make this map, I used the method of creating a concept map:

How to use floating topics to create a double bubble map in XMind

Floating topics in XMind

First, create a floating topic by double-clicking at the bottom of the map, then you draw a relationship (CTRL L) from the floating topic and click at the bottom of the map. This again creates a new floating topic.

To create this map, I used the central topic as the title: the central subject cannot be moved and it can be a serious handicap if I need to make any changes to my map. Each bubble of this mind map is a floating topic while the “branches” are in fact relationships (arrows in XMind lingo).

The problem is that topics have a kind of “magnetism” : they are attracted to each other, if they are too close. Even while pressing the ALT key, it is not always easy to add a new topic in the middle.

While this map is related to mindmaps, it is somehow built and functions according to the principles used in developing the concept maps in XMind.

This gave me the idea to use other software to create this type of map: VUE also known as Visual Understanding Environment.

Double bubble in VUE

VUE is clearly a concept mapping software (or concept maps), created by Tufts University. This software is configured to position objects – subjects and relationships – with each other.

Here, there is no “magnetism” if the objects are close to each other. And they can be moved at will without disturbing others’ alignments. (Double-click on the image to enlarge to maximum).

How to make a comparison between two organizational structures with a map

The VUE Double Bubble Map

The result is essentially the same, but the implementation is much easier!

I will demonstrate the uses of this concept mapping software and its features later on in other posts.

Why use XMind to create such type of maps, since it is more difficult than VIEW, for instance? Everyone is accustomed to VIEW software. Moreover, when working on a project with several topics altogether in the same workbook maps, it may be easier to add a sheet to this workbook. It also allows you to create direct links between maps in the workbook.

It is also possible to link a map with a  extrernal VUE map using the connection through a hyperlink: simply place the path to the file in the “File” field from the dialog box as shown below:

How to insert a hyperling toward an external VUE file

Insert the file path in the File field

This places an icon in the selected topic. When you click on this icon, the VUE file opens (if the program is on your computer).

Try both, the XMind and VUE softwares and keep the one that suits you most, or if you’re like me, keep them both and you’ll be able to work and adapt in both environments!

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