by Gino Perrotte
MA, Interpersonal Communication
An outline organizes your thoughts, helps guide your writing, and provides you with a speech manuscript with which you’ll practice from. When I was an undergraduate in college, I thought that creating an outline was complex because of having to follow all of the formal rules for Roman numerals, letters, and numbers. The formal structure that was intended to help students organize actually confused me! Now that I understand why and how to use an outline, I have simplified the format when outlining a speech. I find this so much easier. This outline serves as a basic template with which you can build any speech.
Sample of Simple Outline
In the workplace your topic, and to some degree your audience, will most likely be decided for you based on your role and the situation. You will have to build an effective presentation around this topic for your audience. Fortunately, you will most likely be at least somewhat familiar with your topic since it’s likely to be in your professional field. Because of this, you probably will have an idea of what you should talk about to a particular audience. This idea will become your Thesis Statement and your Audience dictates your Relevance Statement. A Thesis is a simple statement of topic. The most basic language of a Thesis Statement is, “Today I am going to talk to you about (topic).” A Relevance Statement usually immediately follows the thesis and tells your audience that they should care about what you will speak about because it has personal value for them. A good Relevance Statement comes from your work of analyzing the audience so that you understand how their lives intersect with your topic. The most basic language of a Relevance Statement is, “By the end of this presentation, you will (insert appropriate verb and the value the audience will gain). The Thesis and Relevance Statement are the start to the body of your speech. So once you have these to guide you, begin with the body.
That’s right, you begin with the middle of your speech. Once you know what the guts in the body of the speech are, the introduction and conclusion basically write themselves. The body of the speech is made up of your main points. These are the big ideas that you are sharing with your audience. Each big idea is its own main point. You will elaborate on each main point with valuable information from credible sources. Remember to verbally cite each of your sources out loud along with the credentials of the source (if appropriate) at the time you are presenting the piece of information from that source. Citing your VALUEable sources makes you more credible with your audience. The number of main points for a speech depends on the length of the speech and what you want to accomplish. In general, try to have 3 to 5 main points.
The body of the speech also contains transitions. These are verbal cues (and often also include visual cues such as a change in PowerPoint slide or the speaker moving to a new area of the room) that indicate to the audience that you are moving from one main point (or area of the speech) to the next. Helpful transitions include a recap of what was just covered and an introduction of what’s coming up next. The most basic language of a transition is, “now that we’ve just talked about (previous main point), let’s take a look at (next main point). Note that you also transition from your introduction into your first main point and from your final main point into your conclusion.
With the body of the speech written, move on to the introduction. You’ve already created the Thesis and Relevance Statements. That just leaves the Open with Impact, and Preview of Main Points. An Open with Impact serves to grab your audience’s attention right from the beginning and get them interested and engage with you and the topic. You might open by asking a question, doing an activity, or telling a story. The Preview of Main Points is simply an in-order list of the main points you will cover during the speech. It serves as a basic road map of where you will be bringing the audience for the presentation.
Write your conclusion by summarizing the key ideas for each of your main points. This is an important step because audience members tend to remember what they hear first and last. What’s the first thing they hear? Your introduction. And the last? The conclusion. So you want to make sure that you give them important take-aways that adequately summarize the speech. Essentially these take-aways should become your audience’s talking points when someone asks, “what was that presentation about?”
If you’re doing an informative style presentation, you can skip this next Call to Action step. For persuasive speaking, use a Call to Action after summarizing your main points. Remember that the persuasive style is about feeling and doing. The Call to Action says, “now that you know this important information, here’s what you should do about it!” The action should be achievable for the audience and consider whether you need to provide detailed steps or additional information about it such as a website address.
Finally, finish your conclusion by Closing with Impact. Similar to the Open with Impact, you can ask a question, do an activity, or tell a story. Whatever you choose to do, keep it brief and design it to grab the attention of your audience one last time in an effort to be memorable. My favorite way to Close with Impact is to refer back to the Open with Impact. This brings the speech full circle and the repetition also helps the audience to remember the Impact.
Audience, topic, technical terms, and abbreviations
Complete the Simple Outline template by filling in what you learned (by analyzing the audience) about the types of people who will be audience members. Then list your topic along with any technical terms and abbreviations that you will want to define early on in the speech for those audience members who are not familiar with them.
With your outline complete, you can now prepare speaker notes and begin to practice the speech.
Gino Perrotte is a university instructor for a variety of Human Communication courses including Communication for Executives, Persuasion and Influence, Nonverbal and Intercultural Communication, and Public Speaking and Technical Presentations. He is the 2015 “Teacher of the Year” for the Florida Communication Association. His professional career is dedicated to communication coaching, consulting, and training. Learn more about Gino and the services he offers at www.rightbrainjourneys.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.