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How do you go about preparing for a talk?

Could you please tell me whether you write the talk down first and memorize it, or if you write the entire talk down, practice reading it and then on the stage read as though you were not reading it, or do you write it all down, then tear it up and walk on the stage and ad-lib based on the structure of your script (that you tore and hence are not carrying with you), or do you not write the script but simply write the key points as bullets on an index card and make up your own language on stage?

I am also interested in knowing (if these are not personal questions for you): are you a native English speaker? If you moved to the US/UK some years ago and are not, how many years ago was that?

I want you to know that my curiosity about these questions is because I am interested in speaking well in front of an audience.

I have for some time now been analysing my own weaknesses as a public speaker and have framed my questions around that. I want to improve and I think the only way I can do that is by asking many public speakers what they do and then formulating my own theory about it and then my own method that works for me.

Also, if you could please tell me, if you write out the speech, do you story board it first? How do you come up with the structure of a talk given a subject/topic?

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This is my process:

  1. Mind map - listing all aspects that might fit into the talk
  2. Outline my talk using slide headlines from my mind map.
  3. Practice, adding notes and pointers that may be of interest or may come up as questions
  4. Time the practice and reduce my time estimate a little as I always talk faster in public
  5. If the talk is too long, see what slides I can take out
  6. Plan for question time - perhaps 10 minutes at the end of a 45 minute talk - but also plan for questions and side-tracking during the talk. Sometimes I keep an appendix of extra information slides at the end if I want to show data sources etc.

Typically I run between 1 slide every 2 minutes and 1 slide every 4 minutes

People HATE death by Powerpoint so NEVER just read what is on the slides. Plan on using them just as headlines, bullet points and reminders, perhaps with the odd diagram or graph thrown in.

In my field, Information Security Risk and Governance, I never script my talks. The headlines give me all the sections I want to talk about and I make sure I know enough about each headline to just talk - this makes it flow naturally, and I can always look at my audience, rather than at a script - engaging the audience is essential.

I gave a talk last year which was almost entirely ad-lib, and the professional speaker who came up after me was entirely scripted. Guess which one the audience wanted to chat to afterwards...

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Yep this is pretty much me too. The only thing I would add is know your topic at an expert level and know far more than you plan to speak on. This might involve a good bit of research if you are not already an expert on the topic. This will give you confidence and allow you to handle questions. – HLGEM Feb 27 '13 at 18:15
This is pretty much the process I follow, with an emphasis on "Practice". Out loud, while standing up, preferably with a video camera on you so you can review your own presentation. – Dennis S. Feb 28 '13 at 18:23

English is not my native language. Usually, I prefer to give a talk in Thai (my native language) once before do it in English.

=== Short answer ===

Here are steps I use to design a talk

  1. know my content
  2. know my audience
  3. create empty slides with subjects (designing the layout of what I'm going to cover in my talk)
  4. find images which describe my content
  5. practice with a stopwatch
  6. [opt] if I used more time than my target, repeat 5.

=== Long answer ===

I use different kind of techniques for different kind of talks depending on my purpose. For example, some time the content is quite light, I just want to make it stick, so I spend more time in designing how and at what point to deliver my message to the audience. Sometimes, the content is quite heavy, just deliver what I have got in limited time is hard enough.

One important thing to know is people cannot read while listening. Either reading or listening creates a sound in your head and it can be only one sound at a time. If you create a slide that has a lot of text, then your audience either reading your slide or listening to what you are saying.

This presentation is an example of my slides that has very less text so that the audiences can focus on what I'm saying.

Another thing is to learn how to surprise your audience. When we were surprised, we tend to remember that moment longer (thinking about the sixth sense movie).

There are a lot more aspects which I use when I was designing a talk. Basicly, I make sure that I know my content (so that I don't need script), I know my audiences and I practice again and again (including talking alone with a stopwatch and image training).

I really wish this post is helpful.

You might want to read Make to Stick book. It explains how to deliver a message effectively.


  • Jeff Utecht for "Make presentation that they will remember" talk in Barcamp BKK 2 (If I remember correctly)
  • Heath brothers for "Made to Stick" book which teaches me how to deliver a message.
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I am not a native English speaker but live in UK for nearly a decade.

When I prepare for a talk I always finish to write a script with all details, starting from: "Good morning.." But the preparation of the script is through key points etc.

I always read it a few times, mainly to control my timing, simply to know if I can squeeze my talk in a designated time. This is a major thing.

When I am going to give a talk, I have my script with me, but rather "in case of disaster" I never read from it. I rather try to interact with an audience.

I think the major point to cover is CONFIDENCE. I gain my confidence through some simple thinking process:

  1. I know that this what is on my script is known only to myself. The audience have no clue what I should say and if there is anything what I forgot
  2. The talk is only some very limited time of my life. If I do anything really bad, nobody cares anyway. For them I am a person, who they need to watch for 10, 30 or whatever minutes and they don't really care and remember if I do any mistakes.
  3. If they already invited me to give a talk, it means that I am some kind of expert and I don't need to afraid.
  4. I think it is always better to interact, make some joke or even funny mistake than give a bland talk without any emotion.
  5. I like to have some stress, at least I know I present.

With my strategy in mind I am quite confident and happy with my talks. Sometimes I joke about my pronunciation, grammar or something like that and it is fine.

Also always during the conference I have questions asked. Sometimes I think they are asked because always there are people who think that questions should be asked. (I don't think they care too much about an answer)

EDIT: I'd like to explain why I said "I like to have some stress".

At first I agree with stress in front of an audience. It means if I am going there, I know that I will feel some stress and I am fine with it. Without stress it will be somehow unnatural. Understanding stress gives me more control over my presentation. I also understand that speaker before me had stress and everyone after me will feel it to. I am not a stranger that I am stressed.

Second. Under the stress the presentation goes differently. Sometimes I prepare a talk and when I try to practice, how they say, to a teddy bear, there is no stress involved, this is completely different story.

Third. I think that if I go to present without stress, my audience will see it. They will know that I don't care. If I present my job it is a big deal, I want to tell to the world that it is something what I've done and it matters. I am stressed because my audience is important, because my subject is important, because my image is important. I think that this stress is a positive

At last I like challenge. When I have a presentation and I feel stress I absolutely love the moment when I go of the podium with this sort of triumph feeling, when I am proud of myself. It wouldn't be possible without stress. Talks and presentations are part of my job and I want to know that I do the job, that I achieve something and stress is this part of it.

Taking this approach, understanding stress and agree with it helps to keep stress under control. If you prepare for presentation, prepare for stress to, expect it and agree with it, this is your moment so feel it in full.

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I liked your simple thinking process..gaining enough confidence is the biggest challenge in the talk game... but i didn't got your 5th point. Can you please elaborate more on it. – Leafy Apr 11 '13 at 10:22
@Leafy I made an edit – tomasz74 Apr 12 '13 at 11:33
I got it now and will practise it. Thanks. – Leafy Apr 12 '13 at 12:57

I have a few very simple strategies that I use:

a. I try and think of the "story" I am going to tell - nobody likes just having information thrown at them. Weaving into a bigger narrative is important.

b. I document the story very briefly, like a storyboard with a beginning and an ending.

c. I also document the key points I'm trying to convey - thinking "If I surveyed 10 people after this presentation, what are the three main things I want them to remember?".

d. I make sure my key points appear multiple times in my "story".

e. Then I practice the speech. My rule of thumb is 30 times. Yes, 30. It's a random number, but it seems to work for me. I end up working out all the words that don't go together well, etc.

f. Finally, I have my hand-written notes somewhere difficult to get to when I speak, but when I go up to speak I have images written down that represent each section of my speech. I know that sounds funky, but when I draw them (and I'm no artist) I make sure I somehow include the key pieces of the speech for that section. For some reason looking at an image that prompts me vs. looking at the actual words themselves helps me relax and sometimes even improve my speech as I deliver it.

Enjoyed reading the other answers here, too!

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I'd strongly recomment you write out any speech you plan to give, whether or not you eventually use notes. Writing helps clarify your thoughts, and gives you time to craft some nice phrases that might not come to you when speaking off the top of your head. You can also get a good estimate for time length by paying attention to your work count.

Practice is the next step, an essential step if you'd like to really deliver this well-crafted speech you've just written, instead of reading it from the podium. Practicing out loud will also help in the editing process, as you discover some awkward phrases or other areas to clean up.

It might be painful, but practice if you can in front of a video camera or a loved one who can critique your performance. Print your speech out with a slightly larger font (14 or 18 point) and practice standing at a simulated podium, trying to look at the simulated audience as much as possible. When you give your talk, you'll of course glance down at your notes, but you'll be so natural with your speech that this won't affect your performance.

Lastly I'd consider either joining Toastmasters ( or perusing their site and finding some resources there. I'm a member of my local chapter and it's definitely helped me.

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