Writing a talk or presentation? Ask yourself this essential question

Woman wearing beautiful jewelry and smiling

Sitting at my desk, I heard a knock and looked up with tears in my eyes. Opening the door and catching sight of my face, my girlfriend’s eyebrows furrowed, “Are you ok?? What’s wrong?”

I motioned to my computer. “I just listened to Pradeepa’s story again. It’s so beautiful!”

When my client Pradeepa Narayanaswamy got in touch with me, she’d just seen an 8 minute talk I’d done at World Domination Summit.

I’ve been invited to do a TEDx Talk, she said. I know my story is powerful and I want to inspire people, but I have a lot of stories and content in my head. I’m a bit stuck.

This is kind of like catnip for me — helping people figure out what their message is and which of their myriad of stories they should tell onstage is literally my favourite work to do — so of course I jumped at the chance. And I knew exactly the first thing we needed to do:

Before we even wrote the talk, I asked Pradeepa the question I always start with (that you should, too):

“What are your goals for this talk? Both in terms of Good For The World and Good For you?”

(side note: these two things are NOT MUTUALLY EXCLUSIVE!!)


The reason I always start with this question, is because

(A) it helps you make sure you’re not wasting an opportunity

Yes, speaking on stage for its own sake is fun, but wouldn’t you rather get something more out of it than a thrill and glory?

(B) This helps you write the talk. Because it helps you know what MUST be in there — and what you can cut

For example:

Got a story that supports a point you’re making? Put it in.
Got an exercise or fact that is fantastic but doesn’t directly support your goals? Cut it.


Let me elaborate, with examples. Pradeepa has allowed me to share her goals with you, so here they are, with annotations by me.

Pradeepa wanted to:

(1) Emotionally connect with and move the audience in some way

Because, otherwise, what’s the point of pushing air through your vocal chords?

2) Help people in the audience; make a difference to their lives through the talk

Pradeepa is a coach. Helping is in her bones. She agrees with me that inspirational talks are fun, but she really wanted to see if she could give this audience a tool that would help them in their day to day lives — and make sure they truly understand how to use it (no mean feat in a 15 minute talk!!)

3) Raise awareness of infertility, in order to help normalize it

This was a big one for Pradeepa. As both a coach who specializes in working with people who are struggling with their infertility journey, and someone who has personal experience of it, she knows all about the secrecy that surrounds that subject.

Even more so in India, location of the TEDx conference she would be speaking at. And even more so for young people — many of whom would be in the audience that night. They would most likely still be far off from having to think about their fertility (if that’s to be their decision) so she wanted to normalize it while they are young.

She hoped that, by educating this audience in a way that didn’t feel preachy (or dull!) her talk could double as activism around reducing the stigma of infertility, saving future sufferers from the pain of feeling that no one understands what they’re going through.

(4) Promote her work as a coach (WITHOUT breaking the “no sales pitches” rules of TED!)

I always ask, “What is your goal in terms of bringing money or glory to YOU?”

While most of the speakers I work with don’t do talks where they’re “selling from the stage,” there are still ways to make those who might want to hire you aware both of your services and your credibility as someone who provides those services.

And, in fact, not overtly selling is more persuasive, because anyone who chooses to learn more and then hire you is doing so purely of their own volition!

So how do you do that? You drop tiny commercials for yourself into your talk that DO NOT SOUND LIKE COMMERCIALS.

Let’s see how we achieved these four goals in Pradeepa’s talk:

(1) Emotionally connect with and move the audience in some way

You’ll be unsurprised to hear me say that we did this through STORIES.

The opener is the most important story, so we chose one that ANYONE could relate to. While not everyone will have been in that exact situation, we ALL have an experience where we’ve felt like garbage but had to try really hard to smile.

The closer didn’t come easily at first. But as Pradeepa and I worked on the talk, she happened to tell me a story that made me burst into tears, so I figured THAT should go in. That’s the closing story and the one I was listening to when my sweetheart came in and caught me crying :)


2) Help people in the audience, make a difference to their lives through the talk

While Pradeepa knew she wanted to talk specifically about infertility, it was important that we found a more universal topic when it came to the teaching part, so that anyone could relate. To do this, we found a dilemma within Pradeepa’s experience with infertility that pretty much anyone can relate to:

What to do when you just don’t know what to do.

3) Raise awareness of infertility, in order to help normalize it

This was a goal that we didn’t want to make overt. Pradeepa’s activism meant that she wanted to educate audience members, but not go too far off-topic or make it sound like she was lecturing. To do this, we wove the teaching parts into her story. When she talked about having tried IUI and IVF, she would briefly describe what each of those things was. In a purely performative story (ie one without any agenda beyond entertainment), I would have cut those details. But with purpose (even a secret, personal one!) we left them in.

(4) Promote her work as a coach (WITHOUT breaking the “no sales pitches” rules of TEDx!)

As you listen to the talk, you’ll note the few times Pradeepa says, “my clients” or “working with a client.” It’s never said for the sake of it — she is always using an example to support another point. But the mentions are in there so that, anyone in the audience who might need help is aware that she is available for that kind of work.

Ready to see all of this in action? Click here or below to watch Pradeepa’s talk — as I write, we’re two days into it being up and it’s already had over a thousand views!

And by the way, these rules apply to literally any kind of presentation you give — onstage, online or anywhere else. Planning one of those and need some help? Or think you’d like to put together your TEDx talk?

Whether you want to do one session where we find your topic and start putting together a structure, or the whole Captivating Keynote package — where we build your talk from the ground up! — I’d love to help. Book in a free, no obligation chat with me here:



Thanks so much for reading. Any thoughts on the above? Is one of those a new trick for your old dog heart? (jk you are EVER YOUTHFUL). If so, let me know in the comments below!

If you know anyone who has a presentation coming up and is wigging out about it, you can share all of the above with them by sending them here to yesyesmarsha.com/pradeepa or click HERE to share this post on Facebook. Thanks!

You rule!

xx (Yes Yes) Marsha

PS here’s what Pradeepa had to say about working with me:

“Before working with Marsha, I was completely scattered in my thoughts on what would be an impactful talk and did not know how to proceed. Her process was methodical and it made it so easy for me to just follow her guidance. She is a genius! I am so glad I worked with her. Hire her!

If you’re feeling like it’s about time you got your iSht together when it comes to the presentation or under-performing sales page you’ve been dragging your heels on, let’s figure it out together. You can book in your free, no obligation call with me, here:


PPS want tips, stories and secrets that I won’t put on the internet (and my guide for the magic bullet when it comes to telling stories? Come and join the Yes Yes Family. It’s free! Just pop your details in below:

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