How to Structure a Speech
Building A Structured Speech
Is your audience looking somewhat bewildered?
Seems you may have lost them. That’s why we need effective speech structuring.
Speech layout is a key element in helping our audience to follow what we are saying and to remember the key points. And, most importantly, to take action as a result.
In this article we’ll look at how best to structure a speech or presentation for great results.
In a previous article we looked at the basics of how to develop a speech outline plan, with particular emphasis on the core message. The next step of the creative process is considering the structure of the speech. How are we going to introduce and conclude our presentation?
In effect, this is the roadmap that guides the audience through the presentation. No satnav here; we need a map.
Use the opening sentence or two to provide a bold statement or a question. Questions are a good way to focus the audience’s attention, particularly early in a speech.
When we’re at the start of our speech, we don’t want difficult questions diverting us from our planned introduction do we? Of course not, so rhetorical questions are usually best.
Why did I agree to write this article? What do you mean, you were wondering that as well? For example.
Make sure the audience knows there’s something in it for them. Outline where we’re going to take them. Most of us don’t like uncertainty. Have you ever jumped on a train and then had doubts as to whether it’s the right one? See what we mean about uncertainty?
By outlining the route we’re taking, it prepares the audience to be receptive for what comes next. If the listeners know what to expect, they are more likely to focus on what is being said. Just make sure that the opening is clearly related to the core message – if planning to take them to Brighton, don’t show pictures of Blackpool!
It may be helpful to reassure the audience that we’re knowledgeable on the subject we’re speaking about. But this shouldn’t be overdone. Remember, the audience wants to know what’s in it for them. They probably aren’t that interested in us. They can always ask for more information at the end. And, if they do, that’s usually a good indicator of interest.
It’s best to break up the message into clear sections to make it easier to follow. Ideally, they will be broadly equal in length. A good technique is to split the main part of the speech into three.
The so-called ‘Rule of Three’ suggests information presented in threes is more memorable. However, this will only work if it makes sense from a content perspective. For example, if we’re comparing the pros and cons of a subject, then we naturally have two main areas. Nevertheless, it’s a good general principle to follow, so perhaps our ‘pros’ and ‘cons’ can be grouped in threes.
Make sure the (three) key areas of the main message are arranged in logical order so the presentation flows. Check to ensure they support the purpose of the speech. They should contain the information required by the audience but no more. Once the audience is ‘hooked’, don’t unhook them by providing surplus information that may serve to confuse or bore.
It’s helpful to highlight when moving from one section to the next. In effect, the waypoints on the journey through the speech. By doing this it will also reinforce the message being conveyed.
A long pause helps differentiate the sections. A bit like a new chapter in a book. So now we understand how to plan the introduction and body of the speech, we’ll move to the conclusion.
Perhaps more appropriately, Summary & Conclusion. The Summary is to remind the listener about the key points discussed in the main part of the speech. These could be regarded as the key selling points.
We’ve used the analogy of a roadmap. The conclusion is where we need to alert the audience to the fact we are reaching journey’s end. The tone and pace of our voice should signal that we’re reaching the finish. This will prepare the listeners for that final sentence or two without us saying ‘finally’ or ‘in conclusion’.
We want to go out with a bang. We want the audience to know we’re done without resorting to a feeble ‘thank you’ at the end (that’s a damp squib).
The final message should be a powerful call to action. Think about call-to-action (CTA) buttons on websites: ‘Sign Up For Our Newsletter’; ‘Shop Now To Receive 25% Discount’.
Make it very clear what the audience is to do. In our case it’s Join Bromsgrove Speakers Club!
Let’s summarise all that.
We now have a speech structure to provide a roadmap for the audience. We’re taking them from the Introduction to the speech, through the Body – the key elements, ideally split into three – and on to the Summary and Conclusion. A conclusion with a powerful finish.
Remember to focus on what the audience wants. Be clear about the objectives and keep checking to see that we’re providing only the information required to achieve them.
And unlike this article, make sure the introduction and conclusion are in proportion to the body of the speech. As a guide, if the presentation is going to take 20 minutes say, the introduction should be around 2-3 minutes with a couple of minutes for the conclusion.
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