My talk writing process

Over the years, the way I write talks has varied. It’s morphed and iterated to a place where there is a particular flow I go through every talk. I wanted to share this as often I feel the creating of talk is an unknown thing, so here is how I do just that.

Note storming

My start is probably the most hectic of the stages. I typically begin with an empty wall, a full playlist and a fresh cup of tea. I then start filling up this wall with ideas from my brain. I don’t care about duplicate thoughts; they all go up. There is no editing, just the flowing of ideas out into his space.

I often form a colour code for the talk; this can vary as I do different ones and typically is around types of content or focus — for example, quotes, demos and my thoughts.

Physical iteration

My wall at this point is full. I enter a phase of iteration usually over a week or so. I make a point of looking at it each day, a few times a day regularly. This check-in ensures I have it close enough to my mind.

A big part of this is thinking about the flow, how each section will connect. At this point, I look at my description, the seed that started this talk. I always try and keep to the description; however, if I have strayed, I can check back in now and see where.

A lot of moving of post-its happens at this point, I usually also layer on others as I add-in for extra sections, further meaning. The visual on my wall is growing as I then move onto the next phase.


Next, I copy all the notes from my wall into usually at this point Bear (which I write a lot of my content in). I bring in each using headers, and from there I typically spend some time creating those and lists.

Usually, pretty rapidly this takes me to a process of iterating the outline, it’s typically easy to see where my hitches are, where things I thought worked just aren’t going to or duplicate thoughts.

Fleshing out

Once everything is in the outline, I get into focus part of the talk. I tend to have to be in a particular mindset for this. It often is later at night. I have this weird habit formed lately during this state of hooking into one song or type of songs for a talk.

Talk playlist for WordCamp Asia: Futuresight on Spotify I am working on currently.

I will rapidly start forming around the outline. At this stage, it’s not the full talk, but it will involve a lot of details coming in. I typically reorder pretty strongly the outline at that point. Lately, this process has flowed naturally on from the outline. I do try and time box this though to make sure I get the talk sit and come back to it another day.

Content magpie

Next up is hunting for content to bolster my talk. This will depend on what talk giving, but I often include a quote. I might need some statistics or data at this point if giving a particular talk. Should I need screenshots, I take them now.

Part of this process stage is also going over past talks to see if there is anything I can include. I often tie back with quotes; similarly, I might have examples I now can bring into this talk. I also might want not to repeat a point I’ve been overly stating.

Moving to their home

At this point, I tend to move my slides to their home in the presentation application. Lately, I have been trying to use the fantastic Slide plugin for Gutenberg by Ella van Durpe. I set up a test site and share the link for slide checks by organisers, but you can also export into PDF. By moving the slides, I begin to see where gaps are; this brings it back to an outline again.

Sketch forming

Most of the content is now at least hung up in the talk. At the point of sketching visuals to be used on slides, I begin thinking deeper. I tend to hand draw often my talk. This gets me into the tonal space of it. It can be at this stage I do a substantial rewrite.

Distil, recite

Once the talk is in the presentation format, it’s then a case of rehearsing, and minor iterations as they happen. I find by running through the talk a lot of distilling often occurs due to the nature of that process.

Well, that’s my talk process. I’d love to know what yours is.

One response to “My talk writing process”

  1. […] ripped off from my colleague, Tammie Lister, who has written a similar post, I thought I’d write a little more about my process for preparing for […]

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