You accepted the opportunity to speak somewhere. The hard work is not done yet: you now need to write the talk. Generating and ordering the content of your talk is crucial for ensuring that the end result is a cohesive presentation.

Everyone has a different preference regarding how to prepare for a speaking engagement. Some people write their presentation as if it were a speech. Others do nothing other than thinking to prepare before delivering a talk, which I do not recommend for new speakers. I believe that extra work helps beginners to feel prepared. You can then then loosen up as you gain experience.

If you’re looking to present your ideas in a way that doesn’t sound overly-rehearsed, I suggest creating a bullet-pointed outline. This process allows me to center my thoughts and break down the timing of the talk I plan to deliver. I start by breaking down the high-level topics of my talk into sections, then drill down into each section until I have enough content to fit the allotted time slot. Before you can make that beautiful outline, though, you need to get all those cool ideas out of your head.

Mind mapping

Mind mapping is the process of visually laying out your thoughts. You can create your own physical mind map by printing and using page 5 of the worksheets I created for this series or grabbing a bunch of sticky notes. Alternatively, try a program like Omnigraffle or Google Drawings if you prefer digital mind mapping. I sometimes find working with paper easier because I tend to focus more on layouts and alignment when using digital programs. Feel free to use whatever works best for you.

To start your mind mapping exercise, put the core idea behind your talk in the center. Next, branch out and write down any other concepts that come to mind. Fill the as much space as you can with ideas. At this stage, you can disregard the quality of the idea and instead focus on quantity. Once you have exhausted your brain, you are ready to move on.

Outline

Once lots of ideas are out of your head, they can be ordered into a list. If you used the worksheets, cut out the boxes you filled with ideas. Organize related concepts into clusters. Finally, rank the clusters in the order that you’d like to discuss them. This is your outline.

When your outline looks good, open up your favorite word processing application and start a bulleted list. For each of your idea clusters, add a new bullet with a title that summarizes its concept. These will be the sections of your talk.

Add an introduction bullet before the first section if you want time to talk about who you are and what you do. Create one final point at the end if you want to provide a summary after discussing your main points. Then, write the amount of minutes you want to spend on each section in parentheses. This will ensure that you do not go over the allotted time for your presentation.

Next, go through your mind map clusters and add each idea to its related section as a further-indented bullet. Cut any ideas that sound boring or too similar to another idea in that section. Finally, expand upon any sections that might not have enough content to take up the time you want to spend discussing them. The final result is a digital outline that can be copied from to create slides and referenced for talk practice! Hopefully, this will make your life much easier.

Next step: Make slides

Sharing good content is only one element of being a public speaker. Engaging visuals can elevate your talk to another level. In the next post, I explain how to create presentation slides that will make your talk even better.