I'm still pretty new to public speaking and therefore talk writing, so I'm still figuring out the best techniques. I've only written a couple of talks so far, so I have a long way to go, but the process I've followed feels like a good starting point.

Get ideas down

I usually set out with several ideas bouncing around my head, which leaves me with no idea where to begin. So I find the best way to start is by creating a mind map to get all the ideas out of my head and onto paper. It's so much easier to expand concepts, join up connections or decide they don't work when they are all laid out in front of you. Sometimes concepts turn into a whole new mind maps. It's actually quite fun to see where the whole thing ends up.

Start writing

Ellen at Clearleft organises a fantastic session called the Content Delicatessen and it's the perfect place for blog and talk writing. We can take ideas (or work in progress) for any type of content work and use the time to develop it.

In our last session, Ellen suggested that we use the Pomodoro technique to break down the work into small chunks of 25 minutes. The method is based on the idea that frequent breaks improve productivity. I picked a concept for the talk and started writing. In the breaks between writing, we discussed what we had written. I found this so useful.

Write some more

Then I keep writing. I write up other ideas and concepts until I end up with several more fleshed out sections. They are in no particular order and sometimes turn into individual short blog posts. Some of these make it into the final talk and some don't. I also usually publish a longer blog post based on a few sections joined together. This gives me a great starting point for my talk.

Card sort

By this point I have plenty of content for the talk. I write each section header onto note cards and list their sub-sections underneath. Then I can move them around and change their order to figure out the right flow and make changes.

Write presenter notes

For each note card, I create a slide in keynote. I leave the slides blank and only use the presenter notes to write the talk content. The reason for leaving the slides blank at this stage is to avoid getting attached to them incase they need to be deleted. In the past I've been tempted to keep an unnecessary slide just because I was pleased with how it looked.

Write the slide content

This is always my last job because I can use whatever time I have left to work on the appearance of the slides. If there isn't much time, I'd rather compromise the appearance of the slides than the content of the talk.

For my last talk I only wanted to write one word per slide because the audience didn't need any more information. To choose the right word for each slide, I used Post-it notes to write down the key messages of each slide and words that relate to them. Jeremy joined in as well and we dot voted on the best words.


Finally, when the content is finished I work on the delivery of the talk. This part is still a little scary for me—I get nervous! Rehearsing is very important for me though. It helps me build my confidence and get comfortable with standing up and presenting. It feels quite unnatural, so I like to get comfortable with it.

I usually rehearse my talks with Jeremy, someone who has plenty of experience and advice on public speaking. It feels a little strange presenting to only one person and someone I know, but it gets me used to feeling a little nervous and managing it for the real thing.

For my last talk, Jeremy got me to work on long pauses and over-emphasising certain words. I had to rehearse my talk so slowly that it felt weird and I felt like an idiot. Since trying this, I've started using pauses to help me manage the nerves. I only get nervous for the first few minutes of a talk, so I focus on pausing regularly. It seems to work well for me.

This was originally published on my own site.