Great speaking starts with great (re) writing

For many of the people who attend my one-day and three-day speaking courses, one of the most challenging exercises, if not the most challenging exercise, is not one that involves standing up and speaking.  You see, it’s not the speaking that is the problem, it is the writing.

The thought of standing up and giving a presentation or talk fills many people with anxiety, stress or dread.  There may be painful memories of when things have gone horribly wrong in the past and an understandable fear that it could happen again… the dry mouth, blank mind and sea of expectant faces staring back from the audience.

The interesting thing is, for a great many of these people they are perfectly confident, articulate and capable speakers and presenters.  The reason why they stumble is that the content they want to share is not finished – and it is this realisation, midway through the presentation, that what they are saying is not making sense or is disorganised and disjointed that creates the intense feelings of discomfort.

Their speaking isn’t the problem, it is their writing.

I often tell people that great speaking starts with great writing – after all you can’t speak it if you have not written it. However, the truth could be more accurately put like this:  great speaking starts with great re-writing.  Because the first draft (of anything) is always a long way short of our best work, and it is only by reviewing and re-writing that we improve it.

When I start to engage with my clients, whether it’s as one to one coaching clients or on a group course, it is often the case that the people who are struggling to write their presentation don’t actually have a problem writing. The problem is their thinking. 

You see great writing starts with great thinking.

You can’t share ideas that you haven’t finished thinking through.

This is not about intellectual ability, or education or IQ.  The great thinking we need to do in order to be able to write an engaging, interesting and inspiring presentation is all about clarity of our message.

The world’s greatest speakers, the likes of John Maxwell, Simon Sinek and Les Brown – have this amazing ability to summarise their entire talk into a single sentence. It is this clarity of thought which make the writing of your talk so much easier. (And much more memorable and valuable to your audience!)

One technique I use with my clients is to ask them to summarise what they want to say in a single sentence.  Those who struggle to explain what they want to say in one or several sentences (or paragraphs) are the ones who struggle to write and deliver their talk.  They find the speaking a struggle because they don’t really have clarity about what it is that they want to say.

They find the speaking a struggle because they don’t really have clarity about what it is that they want to say.

If you struggle with preparing and delivering talks and presentations, it may well be you have started trying to write your script before you have finished the important job of thinking about what you want to say – what you really want to say and how you want to say it.

There is no magic trick to this – we all think differently and you will need to experiment to work out which approach works best for you.

Some people find it best to do a lot of upfront thinking – go for a walk or a coffee and come up with one or two key sentences which are the heart and soul of what they want to say and from these seeds they find the rest of the walk grows more easily.

For others it is the act of writing the script out that clarifies their thinking and through a process of writing and re-writing their talk they hone the clarity of their message.

For me, I find I get best results from different approaches on different days.  So remain flexible in your approach to writing your talk and give yourself permission to experiment and find what approach works best for you today.  And it might be a different approach tomorrow. 

No-one sits down and knocks out a perfect talk on their first attempt and then stands up to deliver it perfectly.  It takes time to clarify the message, hone the structure and practice the delivery.  When you do this, you fill find that you have something much more interesting and valuable to share.

As the saying goes: don’t just speak – really say something. 

What do you want to say?

I teach techniques for clarifying your thinking and structuring your talk on my speaking and presenting courses.  See the list of upcoming courses here: