There’s a ton of blog posts out there with advice on how to write talks. They all discuss the “right way”, but in reality I don’t think anyone follows a process prescribed by someone else.

I’m a very visual person and in a way I write talks backwards. “The right way” would be to write copy and then build the slides around it. I shouldn’t even be opening Keynote until I have solid, well-articulated copy. But that’s not how I’ve been writing talks.

I’m definitely not recommending you follow my way of doing things, but I thought it would be fun to share my process. I’ve developed approximately 6 talks between meetups and conferences. I put a lot of time and effort into each one. My How to Performance talk was probably 100-120+ hours depending on if you count revisions and practice I did before each conference.

Here’s my process:

  1. Talk to anyone who will listen about something I’m passionate about or working on recently. The talk I’m currently writing is about Security. I’ve ranted and explained all sort of things I believe about security and patching applications to anyone who will listen; my dog, my husband, my friends and coworkers. If I keep talking about it enough, I know I care about it enough to turn it into a talk.

  2. Collect ideas in a Google doc so I can access the file anywhere.

  3. Come up with a title (see I told you this was backwards because this is “supposed to” be after an abstract)

  4. Write an abstract.

    • Write something, anything down that resembles a beginning, middle and end of an abstract

    • Show it to my husband who tells me how to write a better one

    • State that I can’t do this, I don’t know how to do this Table flip

    • Go to the gym and work out my frustration

    • Come back and bang out a kick-ass abstract

  5. Write an outline. This is where it starts to get weird.

  6. Open Keynote and pick colors. Colors are very important to me. I was a photography major and have a design and art background. If the colors don’t feel right I can’t write the talk.

  7. Collect memes and gifs to help express myself.

  8. Build out the middle slides; the meat. This is generally where I start adding all the gifs I’ve saved over the past couple months that I think would go great with sentiments I have in the talk.

  9. Freak out that this talk isn’t going well and it will never be good. I’ve given 3 well liked talks at 8 conferences and I still believe they were a one-hit wonder and no one will like any future talks. This is something I deal with every time, and it’s hard. It’s difficult to tell yourself you’re going to be fine. That’s why it’s good to have a great support system of family and friends who will help pull your head out of your ass so you can keep working. Crying

  10. Start writing copy for the beginning slides I never added. Add slides to fill in the opening of the talk as I write them.

  11. Write the copy for the ending slides I never added. Add slides to fill in the end of the talk as I write them.

  12. Go back to the middle slides and write the copy for those adding, removing, and reordering slides as necessary. Once I’m satisfied the talk is “written” I go back and edit copy. Written to me just means I could go give this talk as is and it would be complete, but confusing. It’s not perfect but all my main points are in there.

  13. Give talk at a local meetup.

  14. Make changes based on the meetup feedback.

  15. Practice. Edit. Practice. Every night for 2-3 weeks leading up to the conference.

  16. Give talk at a conference.

  17. Make changes based on things I felt were confusing and based on questions/feedback I get.

  18. Repeat 15-17 until I retire the talk.

Rinse and repeat

This process, while convoluted at points, is my process. This works for me. Don’t let anyone tell you you’re doing it wrong. It’s your talk. If you a) get up and actually do it or b) people find your talk interesting, then you were successful. Find what works for you and what gets you up there on that stage. That’s all the matters.

I’m giving talks at 4 conferences so far this year. Mountain West Ruby Conference in March, Twilio’s SignalConf in May, Brighton Ruby Conference in July, and AbstractionsConf in August. You can always find what conferences I’ll be at on my speaking page.