3 Tools to Build Your Speech’s Structure

Cartoon of a faceless construction dude with hardhat, vest, a handsaw, and carrying 2X2s on his shoulder.In previous posts, I talked about how the power of stories and how to frame a speech. This week we’re going to look at three tools to build your speech’s structure.

Structure is actually the first step in writing a speech but I saved it for last because it’s also the most borinnnnnng part of writing a speech. But stay with me because it’s just as important. If writing a speech was pure fun, everyone would be a speechwriter.

There are three primary tools to structure a speech:

  • An outline
  • Mind-mapping
  • Stream of consciousness

I’m a big believer of stream of consciousness. I give myself a topic, then just start writing. I enjoy writing, so it’s the most enjoyable form of structuring a speech for me. The problem with stream of consciousness speech writing, however, is that it’s the least structured structure. So once you’re done, you have to rework it to give it form.

I tell a story about wearing Jerry Garcia ties. That story came out of stream of consciousness. My chamber of commerce decided to start a speaker’s bureau. They asked me for three speeches I could give and one of them was “Give a Eulogy to Your Public Speaking Fears.” I wanted to give examples of how you could find stories anywhere. What’s the most mundane thing I can tell a story about? I thought. I looked down at my tie and said AHA! And I just started writing about my tie.

A screen shot of the first half page of an outline for my speech workshopThat’s fine for a 5- to 7-minute normal-length Toastmaster’s speech, but when preparing for an hour-long workshop, I sit down and write an outline first. There are points and sub-points I need to make and I need a bit more structure to pull it off. For a workshop I am planning for early next year, I wrote up an outline and sent it to a colleague. He gave me some feedback and off I went to writing the speech. I referred to the outline from time to time, but the speech I wound up writing did not strictly follow the outline I wrote. Which is fine. All the elements are in there.

We’ve all done outlines before – in school if nowhere else, but to quickly explain it, outlines have a hierarchal structure. In the case of a workshop on speech writing, I had four capitalized Roman numeral sections for the Introduction, Stories, Skeleton, and Structure pieces. Then there were lettered subsections for the points to be made under each main section, and lowercase Roman numerals for each point to be made under the subsections. All very neat and orderly.

A depiction of a mindmap: BLue circle in the center with the words The third method of structuring a speech is mindmapping. I am not a big fan of mindmapping, perhaps because the thought of seeing where my mind goes scares the ever-loving life out of me. But it may work for you so I offer it as an alternative.

Think of mind-mapping as stream of consciousness outlining.

Here’s how Toastmasters International describes mindmapping:

“A mindmap is a diagram that represents an individual’s random thoughts on a particular subject. Its purpose is to discover what will be included in the speech and when it will be mentioned.

“Step I:

“In a mindmap, the main topic is printed in the center of the page and is circled to stand out.

“Ideas about how to organize a speech are recorded in squares around the main topic. The squares are linked to the main topic with lines. Finally, important points about those ideas are added.

“Step II:

“On a separate paper create a mindmap for one of the ideas. The idea is in the middle of the page surrounded by specific elements of that idea. For example, the specific elements related to the ‘Outline’ idea would be ‘Intro,’ ‘Body,’ and ‘Conclusion.’

“Keep the mindmap free of clutter. Use a separate paper to record direct quotations or other extra material. Connect the extra material to the mindmap using asterisks, numbers, or color coding.”

Sounds like way too much work for me. And too much paper to mix up. But it may be the way you work best. Try it and see. If not, you have two other structures to fall back on.

Happy writing!


Related Posts:

Start with Your Speech Skeleton, Add Some Tasty Skin

This Is Your Brain on Stories

Donald Trump Targets Audience’s Emotions

Give a Eulogy to Your Public Speaking Fears

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Don’t Trap a White-collar Worker in a No-collar, Tanned and Toned Body

Line of diverse college students in front of an American flag background with thumbs upAccording to my mother, I announced at the age of 4 that I was going to be a writer. I don’t remember that, but I do know I have been carrying a writing utensil and pad of paper in my pockets since I was 7. Despite that, I didn’t embark on a career as a professional writer until I was nearly 30.

What made it finally possible? A tuition-free community college education.

I grew up in a hopelessly blue-collar family on New York’s Long Island and entered the workforce in the landscaping industry at age 15. For a variety of reasons, when I graduated high school a college education was out of financial reach for me. New York’s community colleges were just too expensive—and forget about a university. I took a class here and there, but I did not pursue it full time or with an intent to receive a degree.

On Oct. 4, 1978, fate stepped in and literally slapped me upside the head. My head was pinned between a skip loader and a dump truck in a horrific work accident. I was 24 years old and came within inches of dying. Realizing my mortality, I took the settlement money and set out on a cross-country round trip the following spring. I wanted to see California before fate took me from this planet for good.

Twenty years later I left California as a professional writer with a college degree. Without the tuition-free college education, I probably would have remained a white-collar worker stuck in a no-collar, tanned and toned body. See how lucky I was?

There are some very good arguments against universal free community colleges. But in my humble opinion, they are misguided and lack analysis.

Here are some of them:

It costs taxpayers too much: This is the big one, Elizabeth. Among those making that argument is Dr. Monica Herk, vice president of education research at the business-oriented Committee for Economic Development, writing in the Wall Street Journal. I agree, Dr. Herk. Free education isn’t free. Somebody has to pay for it.

But there are ways. Clearly, waste exists in the federal budget that can be used to educate our populace. For example, the Affordable Care Act was passed with the promise that it would drive down medical costs—or at least insurance costs. But according to conservative writer Christopher Chantrill, federal spending on Obamacare will increase by $320.4 billion over the next five years. That’s $64.08 billion a year. Cure Obamacare’s ills and we have more than five times the $60 billion in federal funds President Obama budgeted over 10 years to pay for 75 percent of taxpayer-supported community colleges. And don’t even get me started on the F-35 fighter jet. Fifteen years and $200 billion over budget, not a single plane has been put into service.

Even if there wasn’t waste to be found, education is a sound investment that will produce good-paying jobs, which produces taxpayers, which increases taxes in our federal, state, and local coffers. And, as it turns out, a community college education is a very sound investment. The non-profit organization College Measures reported in 2013: “In Texas, graduates with technical associate’s degrees earned on average over $11,000 more in their first year after graduation than did graduates with bachelor’s degrees. Graduates with career-oriented associate’s degrees in Applied Sciences out-earned their counterparts with bachelor’s degrees in Colorado by more than $7,000 and in Virginia by more than $2,000.”

College Measures only studies five states that track graduates. Of the five, only Arkansas saw bachelor’s degrees outpace associate degrees in first-year earnings. Blue state Oregon and red state Tennessee both recently instituted tuition-free community college education for their high school graduates just because they recognize how it can boost their economies. Tennessee calls it the Workforce and Economic Development Program.

Not everyone needs free tuition: Dr. Herk also argues if we implement universal tuition-free community colleges, the well-off will opt for it instead of community colleges. I have no data to refute that (just as she has no data to support it), but commonsense dictates that if an Ivy League school education is important to you, you are not going to soil your educational record with community college test scores. Yes, there will be some on the border of economic success/distress who will choose a taxpayer-funded first two years of college because it’s free, but I would argue that those numbers would be small. It’s not a bad thing either. It saves students two years of accumulating college debt, which means they can pour their earnings back into the economy sooner.

Not all community colleges make the grade: Dr. Herk and I agree on that. Community colleges must do a better job of providing a quality education based on skills needed to succeed in the work world. Artists need that grounding as much as financiers. Ironically, when California community colleges started charging tuition, their ability to provide a quality education decreased. The experiments in Oregon and Tennessee will be interesting to watch to see if the new emphasis of preparing students for the workforce has the side effect of increasing quality. I’m betting it will.

And that’s a win-win for all.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Start with Your Speech Skeleton, Add Some Tasty Skin

Imagine your body without a skeleton. You’d be a blob of loose skin covering a glutinous glob of quivering gelatin. Just as your body’s skeleton provides a framework to your body, you need to provide a skeleton to your speech.

Smiling skeleton in tophat raising a glass of red wine.There are a number of ways to frame a speech, but the basic framework is framed in threes. You have:

  • An opening
  • A body
  • A closing

Within that opening, body, and closing framework, you want to:

  • Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Then tell them what you told them

The opening is the most important part of your speech. You have about 60 seconds to entice your audience before they begin reviewing their shopping lists or fiddling with their smartphones. Professional speakers do not start by thanking the person who introduced her, or even telling the audience what she is going to tell them. Instead, a professional speaker will put some skin on the opening with a story, a rhetorical question, or an outlandish declaration that grabs the audience’s attention and encapsulates the theme of the speech.

I started a speech once by shouting, “I’m great!” with outstretched arms. You can bet I had the audience’s attention with that.

It also can be a joke that relates to your theme:

“Speeches are like the horns on a steer. There’s a point here and a point there, but in between it’s mostly bull.”

If I’m giving a speech on success, I might start with a rhetorical question: “Have you ever failed?” Or better yet, I would engage the audience’s brains right away: “Think about a time when you failed. (Pause) Got it? Was it really a failure?”

Once you have the audience’s attention, you can tell them what you’re going to tell them. “Today you’re going to learn how to turn your failures into success.”

Then you’re ready for the body of your speech. It’s the ribcage, with tasty ribs.

A good body also uses the power of threes. Our brain is geared to remember and respond positively to a series of three. A 2014 study determined that a series of three persuades, but four or more provokes skepticism.

And here’s where stories are a must. A 2011 study underscored what storytellers have known since the beginning of human communication: stories sync the storyteller’s brain with the listener’s and invokes empathy.

So using the power of threes and the power of stories, you want to serve up three tasty ribs with three personal stories that illustrate the theme of your speech. In a speech on turning failure into success, you will want to tell stories of when you failed and how you did—or could have—turned them into successes.

Now you’re ready for the close. It’s the second most important part of your speech. It’s where you serve up the call to action, or leave them laughing, or satisfied that they’re learned something. Therefore after you tell them what you told them, dress up your skeleton with a strong closing. For example, in the speech on failure and success, you might ask your audience to think back to the failure they identified at the beginning of the speech. Did they turn it into a success? How? If not, can they see now how they could have turned it into a success?

Opening, body, closing. Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them. That’s the skeleton. Add skin and dressing with stories, rhetorical questions, and thought-provoking statements. Now you have a skeleton ready to come out of the closet and play to your audience.


Related Posts:

This Is Your Brain on Stories

Donald Trump Targets Audience’s Emotions

Give a Eulogy to Your Public Speaking Fears

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

This Is Your Brain on Stories

Book concept Landscape young boy walking through crop field at sunsetAs Jim watched Maria on the screen twisting and screaming in a frantic attempt to free herself from the fleshy jungle vines, oxytocin flowed from Jim’s pituitary gland, allowing him to share Maria’s fear and desperation.

Stories are as old as humankind, told in caves, in tents, and around the dinner table since humans first were cognitive of time and space. It’s how we passed down traditions and morals and told tales of conquest and defeat. From the Odyssey to the Bible to cave paintings, telling stories is the history of civilization.

While we know the power of storytelling intrinsically and anecdotally, it’s only recently that some of us humankinds found the chemical link to storytelling. Not surprisingly, it has a maternal tie. Webster’s New World College Dictionary makes no mention of oxytocin’s storytelling ties. Instead, proving once again that dictionaries take time to catch up, Webster’s tells us only that oxytocin “stimulates contractions in the smooth muscle of the uterus and facilitates the secretion of milk.”

Recent research shows it is also released when one hears, reads, or watches stories.

Perhaps because of its primary maternal applications, oxytocin when released through storytelling enhances “the sense of empathy, our ability to experience others’ emotions,” Paul J. Zak, a professor at Claremont Graduate University and president of Ofactor, Inc., wrote in a 2014 Harvard Business Review article.

But to be effective, storytelling must follow the classic narrative arc taught in creative writing classes. “We discovered that, in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention—a scarce resource in the brain—by developing tension during the narrative,” Zak wrote. “If the story is able to create that tension then it is likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviors of those characters. This explains the feeling of dominance you have after James Bond saves the world, and your motivation to work out after watching the Spartans fight in 300.”

Its application in the business world is equally clear.

“I advise business people to begin every presentation with a compelling, human-scale story. Why should customers or a person on the street care about the project you are proposing? How does it change the world or improve lives? How will people feel when it is complete? These are the components that make information persuasive and memorable,” Zak wrote.

Storytelling puts us in touch with our feminine side. And we are motivated to act.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

5 Steps to Running an Efficient Meeting

Business people at a conference table taking notes with pen and paperI leave a meeting at the 90-minute mark – unless I have been notified beforehand that a meeting is scheduled to run longer. Most meetings can be run effectively in 90 minutes or less. I’m an entrepreneur with deadlines to meet and if you’re not paying me by the hour to be there, you’re cutting into my profitability.

Most meetings I attend outside of client meetings are for volunteer groups. Chambers of commerce. Sub-chambers of commerce. Toastmasters. Society of Professional Journalists. I also run meetings for my Business Networking International chapter and my chamber marketing committee. You can bet that unless there is an overwhelming reason to go over, when I chair a meeting, it adjourns at 90 minutes or less.

Here are five steps I take to ensure that happens:

One: Have an agenda

An agenda is your planning guide for the meeting. It lets people know what is expected. It’s also your timing guide. Once you have run enough meetings, you will have a pretty clear idea how long each agenda item will take. But if you’re a newbie to running a meeting, include times on the agenda: 10 minutes for Item A, 15 minutes for Item B – and ensure that it all adds up to 90 minutes.

Two: Be a clock-watcher

If Item A is scheduled to take 10 minutes and it actually takes 12, you need to adjust for Items B, C, and D. Otherwise, you’ll run out of time before you conclude the agenda. The other option is to shelve the least important or least time-sensitive agenda item for the next meeting.

Three: Control your attendees

You are chairing the meeting. It is your responsibility to ensure the meeting begins on time and ends on time. It’s a fine balancing act to allow ample discussion of an issue and cutting off unproductive conversation, but that’s your role. If the discussion tends to veer off-course, gently guide it back on track. “This is a fun (good, important) discussion, but it’s not addressing the issue at hand. The issue at hand is …” Doing it with a smile helps.

Four: Announce how much time is left for the last agenda item

This signals to the attendees that the meeting is about to wrap up. It also lets them know there is a concrete time to discuss the next issue on the agenda. You’ll be surprised at how focused meeting attendees can be when that announcement is made.

Five: Do not allow anyone to bully you

It rarely happens in business meetings, but it does happen. In a networking meeting I chaired, one of the attendees decided that he didn’t agree with the time limit set to ask questions of the guest speaker. He was determined to ask his question after time expired. I assured him he could ask his question – after the meeting – but we had an agenda to get through and it was not fair for the others to prolong that agenda item. He began to ask his question anyway, and I cut him off by beginning discussion of the next point on the agenda. He began to yell at me and went on a two- or three-minute tirade about how I was out of line and he was going to ask his question whether I liked it or not. I just sat there, looked him straight in the eye, and took his berating silently. Then, when he began to ask his question again, I cut him off by starting discussion on the next agenda item. He stood up and walked toward me, yelling. He was a big man. I am not. I just sat there quietly with my best you-have-got-to-be-kidding-me look. After about 30 seconds, he stormed out and we continued the meeting. We ended on time and he never returned.

Notice I did not react to his bullying except to move the agenda along. Had I tried to argue with him, I would have lost control of the meeting. An argument is what he wanted. Don’t take the bait.

As a meeting chair, you are responsible for planning the meeting, controlling the time, guiding the discussion, signaling discussion is coming to an end, and ensuring no one person hijacks the meeting. Do that and you will have professionals clamoring to attend your meetings and the non-professionals will stay away.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

Donald Trump Targets Audience’s Emotions

(Writer’s note: As part of a fellow Toastmasters’ advanced manual project, I was asked to be one of three panelists discussing Donald Trump’s effectiveness as a speaker and leader. I spoke last. This is essentially what I delivered.)

Well, those were wimpy presentations from my fellow co-presenters!

Madam moderator, fellow Toastmasters, and distinguished guests:

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.

Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C. (Credit:
Gage Skidmore)

Is Donald Trump succeeding because he embraces Toastmasters’ guidelines or because he violates them?

The short answer is: Yes.

Let’s look at how he violates Toastmasters rules or culture:

  • He doesn’t listen.
  • He interrupts.
  • He bullies.
  • He thrives on being politically incorrect. He uses terms like “anchor babies” and “illegal immigrants.”
  • No matter how many times he claims he is not, The Donald is crass.
  • He’s bombastic.
  • His speeches are not polished.
  • He has very poor transitions between segments of his speech.
  • He starts his speeches by saying how nice it is to be here.

And how does he embrace Toastmaster rules and culture?

  • He closes his speeches by revisiting his main points.
  • He uses stories—To illustrate his position on trade with China, he tells a story about a business friend who can’t get his manufactured products into China without paying a 35 percent tariff.
  • He uses analogies—To illustrate his view on the U.S. negotiating weaknesses, he compares China negotiating with the U.S. to the New England Patriots playing your high school football team.
  • He has good vocal variety.
  • He uses pauses effectively.
  • He uses gestures effectively.

But mostly, Donald Trump succeeds because he taps into how real people think and talk. Ever watch a TED talk? Most of them are not polished, Toastmaster-like speeches either. But they work because the message touches a piece of our psyche or soul.

More than 332,000 Toastmasters think and breathe in the world. But they make up a small portion of the more than 7 billion people who walk this planet. In fact, fewer than 5 percent of people in the world are Toastmasters or think like Toastmasters.

As Toastmasters, we’re a supportive people. We try not to be politically incorrect. We watch our language.

We’re so freaking polite that we don’t even use the word “criticize.”

The other 95 percent of the world’s population don’t think like that. Most people who are politically connected this early in the game think like Trump. That’s why the talking heads on Fox are so popular with conservatives, and the talking heads on MSNBC are so popular with liberals. They don’t listen to anyone but themselves. They interrupt. They bully. They are just like the majority of opinionated people in the world. But most importantly, their message resonates with their target audience in their language and at their emotional level.

You can be the most polished speaker in the world. But if you can’t connect to your target audience by speaking their language and energizing their emotions, you’ll flop. Trump uses stories, analogies, and other good speaking tools. But most importantly, he has the language and emotional appeal down pat. His message is clear: The current president and all the other presidential candidates are too meek to solve illegal immigration and take on ISIS, al Qaeda, and China. His strong language makes it clear that The Donald is anything but meek. He knows his audience – which, of course, is another Toastmasters teaching.

Will that take Donald Trump to electoral victory in 2016?

I’ve been in politics one way or another my entire adult life. One of the lessons I have learned in 40-plus years is it’s too early to predict what may happen more than a year from now.

All I can say is: I hope not.

Madam moderator.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at Tom@YourConsistentVoice.com.

CVC’s Tom Pfeifer Certified in Inbound Marketing Methodology

Badge signifying that Tom Pfeifer is Inbound Certified by HubSpot AcademyFOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Aug. 3, 2015
Contact: Tom Pfeifer

CVC’s Tom Pfeifer Certified in Inbound Marketing Methodology

SPRINGFIELD, VA – Tom Pfeifer, managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications, has been certified in Inbound Marketing Methodology by HubSpot Academy.

Inbound Marketing recognizes the current buying practices of customers and clients. It is customer-focused and draws in customers, rather than using a hard-sell. It focuses on educating consumers and building brand awareness so you are their choice when they are ready to buy.

“I was drawn to Inbound Marketing because it relies on customer personas, a concept I had independently developed as ideal clients,” Pfeifer said. “Building ideal clients – or customer personas – allows you to anticipate your clients’ wants and needs and build your marketing message around it.”

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