Tag Archives: speech writing

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.


5 Keys to Writing a Great Speech

One of the greatest challenges that I faced in public speaking was mastering the art of speech writing. Speech writing has a style all its own that I had to learn by trial and error. There were a plethora of style books to guide me in writing for magazines, but nary a one on speech writing. Sure there were and are books on speech writing, but I wouldn’t call them “style books”. Perhaps, one of these days, I will write and publish a speech writing style book as an e-Book. For now, here are the 5 keys to writing a great speech. These are the corner stones on which every award winning presentation is built.

Sentence length.

One of the greatest challenges for me was to overcome my love affair with long, convoluted sentences. According to Philip Yaffee, a mathematician, speech writer, and journalist, when writing a speech the length of an average sentence should be between 15 and 18 words. Some sentence can be longer, such as my last sentence. The majority should average 15 to 18 words in length. I haven’t counted the words in each sentence in this post, but I think they average 15 to 18 words. Shorter sentences makes it easier for the audience to understand and retain information presented to them orally.

Practice the K.I.S.S. Principle.

This was another of my foibles in speech writing. It was even a problem for me in my technical writing at first. I had the tendency to assume too much knowledge on the part of my audience. I had a tendency to write and talk over their heads. Then, one day, a very wise editor wrote K.I.S.S. in huge letters diagonally across the first page of a manuscript that I had sent him. At the bottom of the page, he Keep It Simple Stupid. He very quickly explained that he wasn’t calling me stupid but to write my articles in such a way that assumed no knowledge on the part of my readers. Today, one of the most popular book series are written on that very principle, The For Dummies series. The bottom line is, that as writers or speakers, we must present our material in such a way that our audience can understand and use it.

Use Simple Words.

Use the vocabulary of the masses. As public speakers, as writers, we pride ourselves on our vast vocabularies. We love to speak and write in a declamatory style. OK, let’s take a break here. Most of you probably knew what the word “declamatory” meant, but, admit it, didn’t it make me sound really pretentious? Never, ever use a 5 dollar word when a 25 cent word will do the same job. As writers, as speakers, we are not, or we at least should not be, out to impress our audience with how many impressive words we know. As writers, as public speakers, our objective should be to convey useful information in a way that our audience can understand and use. Keep those big words in reserve for the next time you play Scrabble. Use them on the Scrabble Board and rack up those extra 50 bonus points for putting down those seven letter words.

Just the Facts.

If you were a fan of the old TV “Dragnet” series, you probably recall Sergeant Joe Friday saying at least once on every program, “Just the facts, Ma’am. Just the facts.” That’s a good mantra for the speech writer to utter over and over as he or she writes his or speeches. Keep your speeches terse, free of fluff. People come to presentations to get answers to to a problem they are facing or to get information on ways they can earn more money, improve their production, find more clients, or some other such reason. They don’t come to most presentations to hear you tell stories that serve no meaningful purpose for them.

Speak to keep your audience actively involved.

No matter what your speech objectives are, you need to keep your audiences actively engaged with you and your speech if you are to meet those objectives. To keep an audience actively engaged, you need to use a lot of verbs in your presentation. Speak in the active voice. Begin as many of your sentences with an action word whenever possible. This principle was driven home again for me when I started writing how-to articles for Demand Studios. Their guidelines required that every step started with an action. Using action words not only keeps your audiences actively engaged, they make it easy to cut out the fluff because the active voice is a terse voice.

In Conclusion.

There you have it folks, the 5 pillars of a great speech. The next time you have a speech to write for a Toastmasters Club project, or for an outside presentation, put these 5 principles to the test. You will be amazed at the results you get.