My Three-Step Process for Organizing a Talk

2 minute read

I have a go-to process that I use whenever I am preparing for a talk of any size.

I break it down into three steps: A.C.T.

I don’t believe in a one size fits all for public speaking preparation. Take from it what speaks to you and leave what doesn’t. The acronym “ACT” has a bonus of reminding me to keep moving forward and not get stuck in the minutia of over-analyzing the content.

A: Answer
First and foremost it’s always about the audience. I research every single bit of information that I can about the audience. Their general characteristics and their business or lifestyle culture. From there I answer the following questions: Are they showing up voluntarily or do they have to be there? What can I give them that they don’t already have? How can it immediately be applied to their lives? Why does it matter? And why now? I then write each question out and answer it. I have taken sentences verbatim from these answers and copied them into my talks or workshops. It is gold right here. This is where you are narrowing down the theme of your speech. Then…

C: Collect
I keep index cards everywhere. In my car, in my nightstand, in my kitchen, in my kids’ rooms, everywhere. Once I begin to hone in on the point of the talk, I keep it in the back of my mind. For me, it doesn’t work to sit down and type it up to flesh it out right away. If it does for you, go for it. I wait until I fill myself up with thoughts, ideas, stories, and phrasing that surrounds the theme until I am about to burst. I keep the cards handy because I have no idea when I will have a fleeting moment of insight – and I want to grab it as soon as possible. It’s a quick jot down. A word, a phrase, a picture. Nothing long. Once that mental levee breaks is when I park my butt in the seat.

T: Type
This is where I type out without stopping. I take all of the cards and put them in order of what seems to work at that moment. I don’t dwell on perfecting it – I’ve done that in the past, and it’s a primary recipe for disaster. I take to heart the wise advice from writer, Anne Lamott to keep me on course.

“You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. What I’ve learned to do when I sit down to work on a shitty first draft is to quiet the voices in my head.”
Anne Lamott

I grab a brightly colored Post-it and a sharpie and write “SFT” (shitty first draft) on it. I post it right in front of me to remind me to keep moving forward and tweak later. I forget grammar, typos and second-guessing. This is the only method that I have ever found to help me silence the perfectionist in me and self-critic at the same exact time. SFT… SFT… it’s a little mantra.

I drain myself of every ounce of information and ideas in my mind and then leave it alone. I save it and cave it. I come back a day or two later to begin tweaking it. I rarely, if ever, do any editing on the same day that I created something. You know that you are on the right path when after you write your SFT you feel liberated and exhausted.

Try it out for size and see how it goes. You can practice by taking any idea that you have brewing in your mind (even if you’re not currently preparing to present it to anyone) and go through the A.C.T. process. If you do, let me know how it goes.

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