Do you have to write your own speeches or talks? Ever struggled to get going? I used to spend far too long getting a first draft out of my head (weeks, months anyone?) until I learned these tips:
- Mind mapping is a great way to begin generating content; it’s a method which uses the brain’s natural tendency to create patterns and connections, and frees you up to just get your initial ideas down on paper/screen. I use it all the time now. Here’s how to do it: start with a large sheet of paper (if you’re using paper); as large as you can handle is good because it gives the mind a sense of spaciousness to create, without restriction. Turn the paper to landscape mode; then write your topic in the middle of the page and start jotting down any associated ideas. You can draw pictures too. See an explanation and example of a mind map here. There’s also mind mapping software available if you prefer using the computer.
- Never edit on the initial information-gathering. That’s a separate job, and mixing the two never works, because it blocks your brain’s ability to let information flow freely. The critical thing you need to do with your mind map or first draft is to get your ideas down on paper, computer screen or even voice recorder. You’re doing an information/ideas dump, pure and simple.
- It’s just for your eyes. Think of your initial draft like this: it’s just for you. You can even go so far as to tell yourself that no one else will ever see this content. If you tend to seek approval from others, this little mind-trick can really free you up from judging the material as you go.
- Lower any expectations you may have of creating eloquent, life-changing content – this tip is for you is you’re a perfectionist/high-achiever! Your brain sees having high expectations as a threat…so attempt to cut yourself some slack. As an example, Martha Beck is a great writer who has a monthly column in Oprah magazine: before she begins to write, she always puts “crappy first draft” at the top of the page. That gives her permission to just start (Martha calls herself a “recovering perfectionist”).
- Treat all material as the body of your speech initially. It can be tempting to try and come up with a stunning introduction to your talk when you start to write. Please don’t put yourself through this! Unless you already have an opening premise which is so compelling that you can’t let go of it, writing the intro first is usually a mistake, and leads to all sorts of problems as you try and shoehorn the content into the opening that you’ve created. To avoid this pain, simply treat all your content as being part of the body of the speech. (In later drafts, you’ll rework this anyway.)
- Reduce your writing time-frame. It may come as a surprise that I recommend making this initial time-frame less rather than more. Giving yourself ample time to chew over your content is a BIG mistake in the information-gathering stage. If you think you need to spend 40 minutes, give yourself 15 instead, set a timer and just go for it!
- Resting time. After you’ve finished, leave your ideas to rest overnight – or longer – before coming back to them. You’ll have new clarity and insights, and it will make your next task of sorting and editing much easier.
Let me know how you get on, and if you need any more advice or suggestions, have a look at the calendar for dates of my next 5 week course, where you’ll learn all the fundamentals of how to create, practise and deliver great talks!