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 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!

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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.

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One response to this post.

  1. Date: Thu, 1 Oct 2015 15:09:19 +0000 To: pewhite@msn.com

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