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Brain Dump: Mind Mapping Your Conference Talk

Chris DeMars
・4 min read

The Beginning

We have all been there. We see a conference that we want to speak at, or maybe a meetup. Great, now what? Well we read over the required information, the code of conduct, deadlines, etc. Finally we get to the point of writing the abstract, and it is a damn good abstract at that, or so we think.

You know what, it IS a great abstract. We are ready to share our excitement with the world about this awesome thing about web and software that we are passionate about.

After staring at a blank screen for what seems like eternity, we craft an abstract of a few sentences. Maybe the requirement is for an abstract and a description of the talk. Either way, we make sure it is solid and has a catchy title.

Log in to Sessionize, Papercall, or the dreaded Google Forms, we upload the abstract and hit submit!

Now What?

We patiently wait and feverishly refresh our inbox hoping to see an invitation to the event we applied to speak at. Out of nowhere, BOOM, "Congratulations, you have been invited to speak at XYZ Conference!" What?!? You jump for joy and are so stoked that you got in.

Than the reality hits you that you actually have to write the talk. We have all been there. We have an accepted abstract, but no outline, no slides, no talk. Maybe we have ZERO clue about what we are actually going to talk about even though the abstract is a good summary. I have been there.

I Present to you, Mind Mapping

I struggle with mental health and anxiety is a big part of that. Trying to stay focused to write a talk is a very daunting task, especially for someone with anxiety or even ADHD.

My friend Amber Conville told me about this great technique called "mind mapping" when it comes to getting your thoughts together when writing your talk and building your slides.

No Outline

You heard it right, the first thing you do is get the thought of an outline out of your head right away. Trying to focus your brain to be clear, concise and organized when ALL the thoughts of what you want to talk about are running through your head can be challenging. Now, you might be the type of person that can just put down an outline and start your talk, me? Not so much.

Creating your Map

The first step into creating the mind map is to make sure you have a sheet of paper, a notebook works of course too. Get a couple sharpies or highlighters in a couple different colors, and a pen/pencil.

Below I have listed the steps when creating a mind map and taking your amazing talk and ideas from map, outline, to your preferred presentation software.

Step 1: Put the title of your talk at the top of the paper, date it, and create a key to the right or left side of either a color or a shape that indicates your main, primary, secondary, and tertiary ideas. Also, create some type of symbol like a star for something that is "most important".

Step 1a: Make sure to leave some room underneath the key or to the side of the actual map for notes and a place to eventually put an outline.

Step 2: In the middle of the piece of paper write down your primary thought. The one that the whole talk will be based around and than circle it or put a cloud around it or use one of your colors that represents the main idea.

Step 3: Your brain will be filled with all the amazing things you want to branch off your main idea. The things you feel are the the most important would be your primary ideas. Write these down around your main idea, connect them with a line or dotted line, than use a color or shape from your key to identify them.

Step 4: Now, I am sure you can expand off your primary ideas deeper, these are your secondary ideas. Think about something you can talk more about based off your primary idea and write those down around the primary idea. Use a color or shape to identify those ideas.

Step 5: You just might have more ideas that you can base off your secondary ones called tertiary ideas. Those might be very granular things. For example:

  • Main Topic > Accessibility
    • Primary Idea > Assistive Technology
      • Secondary Idea > Screen Readers
        • Tertiary Idea > macOS VoiceOver
        • Tertiary Idea > NVDA
        • Tertiary Idea > JAWS

Step 6: Once you have ALL these ideas on paper, go back and number them. These will correspond to how you lay your outline out.

Step 7: Create your outline based on the mind map you created.


Feels Great Doesn't It?

I am sure you feel less anxiety than you started with. I know I do. Getting everything on to paper in a somewhat messy fashion makes it much easier to gather those ideas and craft an organized outline. You aren't searching the space in your mind to get things organized and having that flow to your pen and paper.

I hope this helps you in the process of crafting your talk. And if you are a first time speaker or want to get into speaking but stuff like this is holding you back, try mind mapping. It will take the burden off your shoulders to get something concrete down on paper.

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