My crazy speaker prep process

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I’m often asked how I prepare presentations and talks for public speaking. The answer has changed a lot over the past year, but my current process is the one I’m most happy with. First and foremost, I have to know that I have something people want to hear about. There are some topics that are evergreen, like analytics, measurement, etc. There are some topics that are new and experimental. What constitutes a good public speaking topic? The litmus test I use is whether I’d attend the talk or not, based on the title of the talk. If I wouldn’t go, I certainly won’t present it.

Once a topic is decided upon, I start to build out the talk. The process I use is one taught to me by Tamsen Webster and Oratium, which is a course I’d highly recommend anyone who does any kind of speaking partake of. I figure out what the core call to action of the talk is, the big insights that people need to believe in order to take action, and what knowledge they have to have in order to reinforce or build their beliefs. There’s a great deal more to the process than that, but you’ll have to go take the course to get it. (read more about it here)

Once I’ve worked out the framework for the talk, I typically do a mind map of the insights and knowledge that I’m going to need to provide. This abbreviated mind map then gets fed into Scrivener, my eBook writing software.


Inside of Scrivener, I write out the entire talk, word for word. I know I speak at roughly 150 words per minute, and I know the talk is going to be X minutes long, so I write 150 * X words. A 30 minute talk is 4,500 words; a 45 minute talk is 6,750 words. That way I know what I’m going to say, what I’m not going to say, etc. I know how long my talk will run, on average, which means I can avoid the two awkward situations of finishing 25 minutes early or racing through the last 10 slides in 3 minutes.

Once the script is done, I’ve effectively got my speaking notes (the mind map) and the script for rehearsal. Then it’s rehearsal time. I’ll go through and remove stuff that doesn’t work, rearrange pieces as needed, etc. until I’m happy with the final product, and verify that the word count hasn’t changed substantially.

That’s not where the process ends, though. For major events, I’ll then go and set up a landing page where people can download the eBook (because that’s what the script is, when you think about it) for lead generation purposes, and depending on the event, I may even do paid advertising to promote the eBook to event attendees. I’ll usually set up pre-scheduled tweets and social media updates, too.

The entire process from beginning to end takes about a month of on and off work. After all is said and done, it’s probably an hour a day for 30 days to create a polished final product – but the result is that when I go on stage, I do so with confidence. I know what I’m supposed to do, and I know what I’m not supposed to do.

What’s your speaking process look like?

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4 responses to “My crazy speaker prep process”

  1. Some great pointers here. I have two different prep methods. For a formal speech (as opposed to presentation), I write it out word-for-word, but rarely deliver off the script. Instead of internalize it as my guideposts. I write straight in Word, probably because I started writing speeches for others 20+ years ago on simple word processors, so it’s my work process that I’m familiar with. For webinars, presentations, or other similar events, I use PowerPoint as my outlining tool. I write titles for slides and rearrange things until I’m happy. Than I backfill with appropriate imagery. Much less elaborate than your approach, but you have some elements I may try adopting in the future. I’m intrigued by writing the presentation out as if it were a speech — and I keep trying Scrivener but haven’t fallen in love yet.

  2. Well, I’m unique in that I don’t have to do any prep, however, that’s probably an anomaly of the industry that I’m in. Recently, I did give a talk on how to make a film, and I had to condense 50 plus years of experience into 55 minutes. I think I did pretty good, however, the jury is still out….

    1. Well, that said, expertise counts for a heck of a lot, and storytelling is natural to you now.

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