3 Ways to Structure a Speech the Professional Way

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Legos representing how we can structure a speech

The Public Speaking sector has grown and soared. We all know what Public Speaking is and at some point in our school or work life have been faced with the challenge of presenting something or more popularly – talking about yourself or some other similar topics.

Sometimes you get a chance to prepare sometimes you don’t. Regardless of that fact, what you speak leaves an impression. Let’s try to make sure that it is a good one!

Structuring your speech is a way to consolidate information in a manner to make it more understandable and engaging. It is a great way to build up to important points and make your transitions more seamless and natural.

How do we go about this?

Public Speakers have different communication styles and even though every style has a unique approach and every speaker has their own process, we are going to try and explore some methods and tricks which can help you build and structure your speech in a more organised and systematic manner.

Since Public Speaking has been integrated into our lives so firmly, I thought it best to focus on the two main umbrellas of Speeches – Prepared and Unprepared.

No. This does not reflect the prepared of the speaker.

Prepared Speech

Whiteboard showing how a prepared speech is structured

Have you ever been asked to speak at an assembly, give a keynote address or at the most basic level: seen a speaking competition?

These types of speeches give you time to prepare and are usually on a topic which has educational or entertainment factors.

Prepared speeches are well researched, rehearsed speeches. The speaker receives the topic / is intimated about the speech well in advance to make the content more concise and relevant to the audience.

Prepared speakers have the luxury of working on their speaking skills and build them based on what their speech demands. Be it their tonality, body language, voice modulation and all the other things that work into creating and executing a great speech.

If you are looking to build on your voice modulation and tonality, then look no further! We’ve written an expensive article just on that: 8 Essential Tips on Voice Modulation and Tonality.

How to Structure a Prepared Speech

1. Stick to the Classic

What is the classic way?

Let’s go back to school. Do you remember the time when you first learned to write an essay? Maybe this will jog your memory:

Introduction

Body

Conclusion

Yeah, I think that should about do it! 🙂

This method of structuring your speech is the most basic and direct way of structuring your speech. It lays a solid foundation but there is a lot more than three topics that need to be covered while structuring your speech so my advice would be to check out the other methods as well.

Introduction

An introduction holds about 10-15% (it is an estimate, I am a public speaker not a mathematician, give me a break) of your speech’s content and time. A solid introduction can make and break your speech. Now there are millions of ways you can begin your speech, lets look the ones which help you build a strong foundation.

1. Audience Engagement

There is no surprise in the fact that you need to engage your audience. However, it isn’t really necessary to get them and keep them hooked from the very first word you utter because believe it or not, they will zone out.

So how do you engage the audience? Simple. Understand their demographic. Find out what interests them, figure out a way to connect their interests to your speech.

Pro Tip: Try not to create or imply a disconnect with your audience. Even if you are 50 and your audience is 13 or vice versa. It is best not the address the obvious.

You may accidentally create a disconnect in your speech.

For example: “Your generation was/is used to XYZ and (TOPIC) may not be of great importance to you but let me try to show you why it (the topic) is of significant importance.”

Why should we not create a disconnect?

To engage your audience you need to be able to connect with them, in other words: find common ground and by establishing a difference between the two parties doesn’t really work. Don’t forget the fact that you are the only active participant and a differentiation highlighted from your end may not work to your advantage.

Understanding and analysing your audience can go a long way for you when preparing for or delivering your speech. Check out our video to figure out how to analyse your audience.

2. Answer the who and why.

To complete your introduction the two main questions you need to answer are: Who are you and Why are you here?

Who are you?

The answer is pretty simple right? Not really. We need to find a way to make you sound qualified and yet not boastful all while keeping this section of your introduction to a sentence or two at the most.

Remember, the Master of the Ceremony would have already introduced you. There is no need to state every achievement. Instead what we can do is find out your most relevant achievement / qualification and mention that in brief.

Why are you here?

As much as the narcissist in you and I wants to believe that this question expects an answer specific to the speaker, we are wrong.

Speaking about a sliver of the topics you are going to touch in your speech is a great start to your introduction.

Pro Tip: Following up with this after the previous question gives you a great chance to shift the focus from yourself and segue into the topic at hand.

Body

Mannequin showing how to structure the body of a speech

Here is the meat of your speech and it is the section your audience will be in contact with the most. Lets work on a sound way to go about getting the most out of it.

1. Research

You have had the chance to work on and build your content the best you can and even though the procrastinator in you wants to watch one more episode. Lets get cracking!

A well researched speech can do wonders for you! For starters, it can boost your credibility and make the audience actually invested in the content you are providing and another added benefit is that your confidence would be at its peak because you are sure of all the stats, all the data and information.

Sounds really promising doesn’t it? Try it. The hours you put in hunched over books or starting at screens just to build the right form of content with everything fact checked will be worth it.

2. Organisation

You have your data ready, how do you organise it? Check out the chart below:

Personal Anecdote

Topic

Sub-topic – relevant to your area of expertise

Current Trends / Career / Anything you found cool

Your experiences

Build to a general conversation

By following the above chart you can build a great body which will cover all possible topics and sub-topics of your speech and will also give you the opportunity to hit multiple touch points.

Pro Tip: Always hold back on a little information instead of spilling all the beans if you are having a Q&A session after or during your speech. It will help satiate the audience and you would still be able to get your point across with the same confidence and surety as you did in your speech.

Remember, just because it is a different section of your speech doesn’t mean that the tips and ideas of the other sections do not apply.

Conclusion

Conclusions are simple. Even though there is this unbelievable pressure to make a lasting impact, sometimes I believe, if you content is engaging enough, you don’t need the flare and pompous show of quotes, rhetorical questions, cliff hangers and other techniques.

These techniques albeit extremely helpful and when used and combined aptly give out amazing results, lets focus on the main content of your conclusion:

People usually say that your conclusion should summarise your whole speech, but how do you go about doing that? Do you list things down that you covered? Screen the outline of your speech? Please. Don’t.

Here is an example of summarising and building to a close to help you get an idea of how to go about it:

With the end of the world seeming like a very plausible occurrence, we need to do something for mankind’s survival, and do it sustainably. The windmills, the solar energy innovation, the plastic free lifestyle, they are all just small individual measures taken by small, tiny species on a small, tiny planet.

It is time we face the music and realise that we aren’t killing nature but ourselves. Nature is dynamic. It can adapt and survive. We have become so self-centred that we think just because we can’t live, nothing can.

Notice the various topics (windmill, solar energy, plastic free lifestyle) were mentioned and got together but the conclusion isn’t just that, it brings out the essence of the topic – climate change.

The last line isn’t a quote but a simple observation which is sufficient to close a conversation but it still gives the audience something to think about, something to connect with while building their own opinions.

If you are interested in checking out closing lines and quotes, honestly, there is nothing wrong in that. They are a tool just like others. It is up to you to figure out what suits you the best. Here is an extensively researched article by us on the same: 50 Speech Closing Lines (& How You Can Create Your Own) The Ultimate Guide.

2. Points and Lists

Working on structuring your speech can be taxing and fun at the same time. Some people are a natural, some learn with experience and some find a little bit of research to go a long way.

The Intro | Body | Conclusion method is the most popular one and a favourite among professionals. But after a few years of experience people tend to get used to writing speeches and stop segregating their speech.

But then how do they write it and divide it so perfectly? Here is how:

When using this method, you need to have your research and content ready and in place. Along with that study the demographic as well. The next step is to follow a systematic order.

A notebooks with lists and points to build and structure a speech on

How do you find out the order?

This section may sound tricky but is fairly easy.

  1. Introduction to the Main Theme.
  2. Introduction to your area of expertise (do not focus on you but what you work on).
  3. Current Trends and other sections of the topic that you think would help your audience.
  4. What is the future of the given topic?
  5. Go back to the main theme.

While this is a rough outline of what you can work on, lets make it less vague by working on points for the example given before about climate change. Here is how the points might look:

1. Climate Change
2. Latest affect (major) of it on humans – Ozone Layer, Rashes, Asthma, Etc,.
3. What can we do about it?
4. Renewable Energy
5. Windmill – Benefits and usage
6. Solar Energy – Benefits, projects, innovation.
7. What can an individual do?
8. Plastic free lifestyle – what it is and how does it help?
9. Working on things and speaker’s point of view.

Now that you have know the points you need to cover and speak about it becomes fairly easier to build your speech.

The added benefit of this method is that you don’t really need to work on transitions because as and when you move from point to point you begin to find a way to connect the previous one to the next one.

Please remember that just because there are 5 points listed here as the possible avenues you can take, it does not mean you limit yourself at 5 or force yourself to reach 5.

Each topic, each speech, each speaker is different and you are the best judge for your speech’s preparation. Who knows when inspiration may come knocking. It is best to keep an open mind and door. 🙂

Unprepared Speech

Have you been ever called up in class randomly to speak about a topic? Or at a new job to “introduce yourself”? Well what you just did there was give an unprepared speech. To make it more clear, it is known by multiple names: impromptu, improv, extempore, JAM (just a minute) and even as simple as on the spot speech.

An unprepared speech is usually for a short duration (1-2 minutes) and is on an easy topic that doesn’t require much preparation or research. Topics could be personal like an introduction or they may be related to current and popular trends.

Check out this article to get various impromptu speech ideas!

How to Structure an Unprepared Speech

Wood bricks depicting how to structure an unprepared speech

You can follow a simple flow:

  1. Opinion
  2. Reason
  3. Example
  4. End

For a better understanding, I have written this short speech to help you build your skills on impromptu speeches.

The topic I have taken is: “What defines you?”

What is a definition but something that limits you? It is strict, rigid and set in stone. If I define myself to be a person of life and joy, does that mean I don’t ever have low days? If I define myself to be hardworking, organised, focused, am I suddenly not allowed to relax, unwind, make mistakes and be human? I am life, I am colour, I am the gloomy rain and I am the storm that comes with it, I am many things but what I am not is a definition.

PS. I had time to write this out and fit it perfectly to the 4 points given, remember that even with experience, many people don’t usually get this sound a structure. It takes a lot of practice and consistency to become an efficient speaker and no one expects the other to be one. It is okay to fumble and mess up, as long as you keep working towards your goal!

Organising your thoughts

In the moment there will be multiple things that will rush through your mind. Here is where your decisiveness comes into play. Pick something that you know your can build on and work from there.

You may also be given some time to think about what you have to speak, use that to build on your topic and decide a direction. Once you have a train of thought all you need next is to work on your speaking skills which after all develops with practice and practice alone.

Final Thoughts

Structuring you speech the way the professionals do it is a great way to build and challenge yourself. A structure maybe be one element of a speech but if even one point is out of place it sticks out like a sore thumb.

At the end, all you need to do is practice because I can’t claim anything about other things but in Public Speaking, practice is what makes perfect.

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