How to Structure a Speech
Constructing a Speech
Good speech construction is essential. In this article we’ll explain why it’s important and how to construct a speech for maximum impact.
But first a question.
Have you ever read a book and found it hard going?
And then you read another book and you can’t put it down.
Have you stopped to wonder why one is a delight to read and the other almost becomes a chore?
Obviously the subject matter will have a bearing. If it’s something that interests you, you’ll likely be more tolerant of the writing style. But what if the two books are about the same subject?
Why does one work for you and the other doesn’t?
What makes one easy to read and the other not so?
And some answers
Simple language for a start – not lots of obscure words. And not too much mind-numbing detail.
Then it’s helpful to have information or the storyline presented in a logical flow so we can follow where the writer is taking us.
You see, most of us like certainty. We want to know where we are and where we’re going. When we read a book we want to be able to follow it easily. Too many characters, too much information and it’s easy to get lost. An account that jumps between past and present or different eras can confuse.
Did Someone Mention Speaking?
OK, so what’s all this got to do with public speaking?
Because what works in books, also works when we are speaking.
A presentation that flows, uses easy to understand language and isn’t rammed full of detailed information, is likely to be more enjoyable, more understandable and more memorable than one that doesn’t.
Changing analogies, a good presentation is like a journey where we are clear about the destination, we can follow the route, so we know where we are, and there isn’t too much traffic along the way.
Creating Presentation Flow
You want your presentation to flow smoothly, don’t you? It’s important that the audience stays focused and take in what you say, especially the key points. The action points. The actions you want the audience to take as a result of your presentation.
Let’s have a look at how to structure a speech so you can achieve your objectives.
In another 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 you going to make it flow?
You need a map!
A map that helps you guide the audience through the presentation. No satnav here; you need a good old-fashioned map.
The Journey Starts – Introduction
Grab attention! Give it some welly, even a bit of tyre-smoking wheelspin.
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 you’re at the start of your speech, you don’t want difficult questions diverting you from your planned introduction do you? Therefore, 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 you’re going to take them. Remember, 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 you’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 you’re knowledgeable on the subject you’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 you. Sorry!
They can always ask for more information at the end. And, if they do, that’s usually a good indicator of interest.
The Main Act – Speech Body
Have you heard of the ‘Rule of Three’? It’s so-called because it suggests information presented in threes is more memorable.
Therefore, try to break up the core message, the speech body, into three clear sections to make it easier to follow. Ideally, they will be broadly equal in length.
However, this will only work if it makes sense from a content perspective. For example, if you’re comparing the pros and cons of a subject, then two main sections make sense.
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.
That’s covered the introduction and the main body of the speech (recap to make sure you’re still with us), it’s time to look at the conclusion.
Conclusion – Grand Finale
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 map. The conclusion is where you need to alert the audience to the fact we are reaching journey’s end. The tone and pace of your voice should signal that we’re reaching the finish. This will prepare the listeners for that final sentence or two without you saying ‘finally’ or ‘in conclusion’.
You want to go out with a bang don’t you. For the audience to know you’re done without resorting to a feeble ‘thank you’ at the end (that’s a damp squib).
That’s easier said than done. Audiences are used to speakers saying thank you at the end. So you need to make it very clear you’re done
That 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’.
OK, got all that?
But before you dash off, a word from Winston Churchill (allegedly):
“Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, and then tell them what you’ve told them.”
Put another way, provide a clear Introduction to the speech, outlining its purpose. Tick
Then give detail in the main Body of the speech – the key elements, ideally split into three. Tick
And then finish with a Summary of the key points, and the call-to-action Conclusion. Tick
But before you rush off to add structure to your speech …
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