Speaking is Messy: Finding Clarity in the Chaos

Speaking is messy. But don’t let the messiness of public speaking discourage you.  Embrace the chaos as a natural part of the process. From uncertainty to anxiety, it’s all part of crafting a compelling talk.  Even the best speakers navigate through the mess to deliver greatness!


It starts with a little tickle to the ego.

Add some excitement about the opportunity.

Perhaps a little feeling of overwhelmed.

But generally ready to take on the challenge.


That’s what you feel when you get invited to speak, maybe? I know I do.

Now –  how I respond to being invited to speak depends upon what’s going on in my life. I might wonder when I’ll fit the time in to practice. And depending upon the event, I might start to feel uncertain – since I don’t usually have all the details right away. But once I get into organizing my thinking, writing out an outline, maybe even starting to think about slides, I start to feel the positive momentum.

Until that moment.

That moment of queasy in my stomach, frustration in my heart, and pure anxiety in my brain as I wonder why I accepted the invitation in the first place.

That is what we call “The mess.” The good news is positively everyone experiences it. Often it happens right in the middle of your prep, just as you feel some momentum. Then you don’t.

But it’s not just a feeling. It’s what makes it messy. First, it’s the fact that your story or talk has many places to start and finish. And second, it takes much iteration – cranks to the wheel I say – to get to the right stories, content and sequence of what you will say. By no means is it linear. And positively –  it’s not neat.

The time in the mess makes you want to rescind your acceptance of the invitation and call it quits.

We call it the time you must push through — not around.

I remember one of my very first TEDx speakers who took themselves out of state to a quiet cabin for three days. He came back with the best ten minutes of a talk. Yes, it can take that long. He worked through the mess, many times over.

The mess is normal, although it feels icky. Scientifically, very icky. Embrace it and know it’s just a part of the process of getting to a great talk.


About The Threshold Concepts for Learning to be an Effective Speaker

Articulation has established Six Threshold Concepts for Learning to be an Effective Speaker. Embrace all six and practice the rituals, habits and patterns associated with them to become a better speaker.