The solution space of three-dimensional asymptotically anti-de Sitter or flat Einstein gravity is given by the coadjoint representation of two copies of the Virasoro group in the former and the centrally extended BMS3 group in the latter case. Dynamical actions that control these solution spaces are usually constructed by starting from the Chern-Simons formulation and imposing all boundary conditions. In this note, an alternative route is followed. We study in detail how to derive these actions from a group-theoretical viewpoint by constructing geometric actions for each of the coadjoint orbits, including the appropriate Hamiltonians. We briefly sketch relevant generalizations and potential applications beyond three-dimensional gravity.