Category Archives: Public Speaking Skill Sets

Outline! Outline! Outline!

Once you have selected the subject that you will be speaking on and have narrowed it down so you can cover it adequately in the time allotted you, it is time to begin outlining your speech. Many people will tell you that there is no need to spend time outlining a short speech i.e. a 5 to 7 minute Toastmasters Project speech. Do not listen to them. Do not become one of the sheep they will have led astray. You need to begin writing every prepared speech by creating an outline.

During the topic selection stage you narrowed your topic down to manageable size. You decided upon your core message. If you were writing an essay instead of a speech, that core message would have become your thesis statement. Every English teacher that I ever had in school said repeatedly that if we could not express our paper’s thesis in one sentence, we were not ready to start our outline. The same thing applies to your “core message,” if you cannot express it adequately in one sentence, you are not ready to start outlining your speech. You need to have a clear understanding of your core message because your speech outline will be built on that core message. Outlines are essential to crafting a coherent and focused presentation.

An Overview of an Outline.

Just as a blueprint would be a contractor’s guide to erecting a new room addition on your home, your speech outline is your guide to constructing coherent and focused speech. It is a road-map that leads you from your place of departure, your opening attention getter, to your final destination, your speech closing where you will tell your audience what you have just told them. It is the road-map that delineates all the interesting points along way, your main points and their supporting points in the body of your speech. It is a road-map that links all the key elements of your speech—the opening attention getter; the main points and their supporting points in the body of the speech; and the close or recap of your speech—together in one unified message. The outline also defines and smooths out the transitions between the speech elements, although some speech writers leave the creation of smooth transitions between speech element for the speech editing and rewriting stage.

The Basic Speech Outline is a Template for the Structural Elements of your speech. The structural elements being

  1. Introduction

  2. Body

  3. Close

of your speech.

The Basic Speech Outline is a Template for the logical elements of your speech. The advise given every new speech writer as well as every beginning public speaker is to

  1. Tell your audience what you are going to tell then (speech opening)

  2. Then tell them (speech body)

  3. And then tell them what you have just told the (speech close/recap)

Combine the Structural Elements Template with the Logical Elements Template and we get the Generic Speech Outline. The Generic Speech Outline contains the following elements

  1. Introduction: The introduction gets your audiences attention, establishes the subject of your presentation, establishes your core message, and establishes your supporting points.

  2. Body of your speech: the three main points of your speech each with one to two supporting points. Your speech should be limited to three to five main points because studies have shown that is the maximum number of points an audience will retain.

  3. Conclusion: The recap (tell them what you have just told them), give them your call to action.

There are several major variation to this Generic Speech Outline and I will cover those in individual, future articles here on TheToastmasterJerryWalch Blog. The Generic Speech Outline is an outline that will work with any speech and is the ideal one to use with your very first speech, which, if you are a new member of a Toastmasters Club, will be your Icebreaker Speech.

General Speech Writing and Outlining Tips.

Your first order of business when outlining the body portion of your speech is to seek and extract the meaningful relationship between your main points and supporting points. This relationship can take one of five formats

  1. Chronological: i.e. a historical/biographical speech

  2. Spatial:i.e. a travel log

  3. Cause and Effect: the relationship between drug use and crime

  4. Order of Importance (low to high):i.e. reasons to eat healthy

  5. Broad vision to specific details:i.e. The mission of Toastmasters International to the mission of you TI club.

Time:a typical Toastmaster presentation is 5 to 7 minutes long for projects in the Competent Communicator Manual, the manual every new member must complete. Most competent speakers will agree that most successful speeches follow the Rule of Thirds. The rule of thirds would imply that you divide your stage time into three equal parts. For a 5 to 7 minute speech, that would mean devoting 1.7 to 2.3 minutes for each part of your speech. For a 5 to 7 minute speech, figuring that the speaker will use his or her allotted 7 minutes, I modify the Rule of Thirds, advising speaker to allow themselves 1.5 minutes for their opener, 4 minutes for the body, and another 1.5 minutes for their close and call to action. I teach this to new speakers because the speaker needs at least one minute speaking time for each of his or her main points that he or she will cover in the body of his or her speech.

Many word processing programs have outlining functions that make creating and editing outlines a snap, but if you are more comfortable using pen and paper, then, by all means, use pen and paper. It does not matter what method you use to create your outlines, what is important is that you start outlining all your speeches beginning with your very next speech.


Audience Analysis

Audience analysis involves gathering and interpreting information about the recipients of oral, written, or visual communication. Back in the day when I got my start as a freelance writer, I was told to not even consider querying any magazine with an article idea until I read, no, not read, analyzed 6 months to 1 year of back issues of that magazine. I was told to analyze the articles to see the slant or approach the published writer took to their subjects. The tone they used, the voice they used, the level of the vocabulary they used, all provided valuable information about the magazine editorial preferences, as well as those of their readers. The display ads told the writer about the readers economic and social status. Everything between the covers provided valuable insights for the writer and helped him or her craft their query letters and send them to the right target market. Audience analysis does the same thing for the public speaker. The techniques involved in gathering the information is different and more involved but the purpose behind doing an audience analysis is the same. Let’s begin by looking at the kinds of data a speaker gathers while performing an audience analysis.


I love acronyms. An acronym can be defined as a pronounceable word made up of a series of letters or groups of letter taken from other words. In some cases, as in this case, we can transform a single word into an useful acronym. For the public speaker getting ready to do an audience analysis, each letter in audience points the speaker towards certain type of data that he or she needs to know about his or her audience. What does A.U.D.I.E.N.C.E. Stand for?

  • A nalysis
  • U nderstanding
  • D emographics
  • I nterest
  • E nvironment
  • N eeds
  • C ustomized
  • E xpectations

We will now look at each of these items in greater detail.

A is for Analysis.

We should begin our audience analysis by determining who will be in the audience we will be presenting to and the number of people that will be in our audience. The size of the audience is especially important at this point because it will determine whether we will need to use a microphone or not.

U is for understanding.

How much the audience already knows about the subject you will be presenting on will determine how much background information you will have to present before getting into the real meat of your presentation. For example, if you are presenting on the flight characteristics of a new single-engine trainer to an audience consisting of flight instructors and other aviation executives, you will know that you will not have to define terms like “Roll”, “Yaw”, and “Pitch”. Audience understanding will determine the vocabulary you can use for your presentation.

D is for Demographics.

Demographics is data on the age range of the people in your audience, their educational background, their social-economic status, and their sex. For example, if you are presenting on the benefits of Final Expenses Insurance Plans to high school seniors, you will know that they will not feels the need for this kind of insurance that a group of senior citizens would. Audience demographics determines the approach you take in making a presentation.

I is for Interest.

Why did they come to hear your presentation? Did they come because they have a sincere interest in the topic you are presenting, such as the senior citizens in my last example, or, perhaps, like our high school seniors, they came because it was required of them? To put that same question a different way, will the people in your audience have a real and pressing need for the information you will be providing them? The urgency that your audience has for the material you will be presenting on will determine how hard you will have to work to hold their attention during your presentation.

E is for Environment.

In this case the environment that I’m talking about is the speakers environment. You need to acclimate yourself to the area in which you will be presenting from. Will you be speaking from a stage or raised podium or will you be on the same level as your audience? If there is no stage or podium, will everyone in the room be able to see and hear you? If you plan to go down into the audience during the Q&A, are the aisles between the seats wide enough for you to move easily?

N is for Needs.

You need to be aware of your audience’s needs as well as your needs as the speaker. If you are presenting in a large room with no raised platform to speak from many of those in the room may not be able to see you easily. In this case the need of your audience is to be able to see you. Your need as the speaker is to be seen by all those in your audience. Your need as the speaker is to get the people who requested you to speak to provide you with a platform to speak from. Your audience has a need to hear you. If you are presenting in a really large room or in a room with really bad acoustics, you have the need to be heard. You have the need for a sound system. If you move around a great deal during your presentation, you will have the need for a wireless microphone.

C is for Customization.

Depending on your assessment of your needs and your audience’s needs and the accommodations that the event coordinator can provide you, you will need to adapt to your speaking environment so that your audience can benefit the most from your presentation.

E is for Expectations.

The last letter in our acronym stands for Expectations, your audience’s expectations, not yours. You need to know what your audience came to hear, what they came to learn from you. You need to know what their needs are and then you must meet those needs. If you fail your audience in this respect, two things will happen and neither of them will be good for you and your career as a speaker. First, they will never pay good money to hear you speak again. Second, the event coordinator will never hire you to speak at one of his other events ever again.

Unlike with writers who can study six to twelve months of back issues when doing his or her audience analysis, you cannot study your audience in advance, that’s the bad news. The good news is that you can get the answers to all of these questions by visiting the venue where you will be speaking and by talking with the event coordinator. The event coordinator is paying you good money to speak, so it is in his or her interest to provide you with everything you need to make your presentation a success. That’s the rule. Of course there is an exception to every rule. You may run into a lackadaisical event coordinator from time to time who is anything but helpful. As a rule, you chances of encountering one of those is slim unless you are speaking for free at an event that was free to attend.