Some speakers are great writers. Some are great at delivery. And some are good at both.
The problem is that even if you are one of those speakers who can write good content as well as deliver well, if your speech is not structured properly, your message’s effectiveness will plummet.
I’ve seen it time and again (including with myself) – speakers come on stage and start off really well…but somewhere the audience gets lost.
Have you ever been in this situation? This is probably because the speech is not structured properly. A well-structured speech helps navigate your audience through your message. And that is why it’s so important.
Without it, your speech will be scattery and not be held together, leaving the audience the same way – scattered.
Writer, Daniel Pink, put it well when he said:
Give the speech a beginning, a middle and an end. You don’t have to take the audience by the hand and walk them through each step. And you don’t have to proceed chronologically. But having that structure in your head will give your speech a shape. And it will provide your audience some guideposts about where you’ve been and where you’re going.
3 Things to Keep in Mind
Here are some things to keep in mind while writing your speech.
Don’t write like you write. Write like you talk
This one is tricky, especially if you’re a seasoned writer as opposed to a seasoned speaker. I learned this when I was giving my first few speeches. I was writing my speeches like a writer, not like a speaker.
That means to say that my speech was written in a way that would sound great if someone read it on paper. But when I would deliver it on stage, it wouldn’t be that good.
Nowadays, when I sit down to write a speech, I keep re-reading the words to see what they would sound like out loud. This makes me edit my speech to make it sound more natural and conversational and less “article-types”.
Don’t use fancy language. This is not a grammar essay. When we talk with our friends, we tend to use shorter, more crisp sentences with simple language…which is exactly how we should write our speech.
You can also be informal when you speak. So no need to be worried if you’re not following every grammatical rule out there. Using informal language (to an extent) helps to make you sound more natural and makes your speech more conversational.
Keep it simple
I stress this a lot. But it’s mainly because so many speakers (who are starting out) try and make their speech very fancy!
Keeping your speech simple, in language and thought, will make it that much easier to structure your speech and thus, that much easier for the audience to consume your speech.
When you write your speech draft, relook at it and see what words or sentences you can cut. It’s best to simplify…which brings us to our next point:
Focus on one idea
Keep your speech centered around one thought or idea. If you try to cram too much into your speech, it can get cluttered. But more importantly, the audience won’t remember much of your speech anyway!
If you talk about 4-5 ideas, they’re quite likely to remember none. But if you focus on just one idea, you can structure your whole speech around that, and it will be much easier for the audience to consume your speech and remember your idea.
Let’s get into how you can structure your speech. Just to keep it simple, this article breaks down the speech into its core basics: the beginning, the middle and the end.
The way you start your speech is of course, very important. It’s what will grip the audience. They say that people have judged you as soon as you go up on stage, so it’s crucial to catch their attention quickly.
There is no right way to start your speech, but when writing it, make sure you spend some time crafting a good beginning.
Most speakers start with a story, or ask the audience to close their eyes and imagine something, or start with some sort of outstanding fact.
The point is that the beginning should be something that sets the tone for your speech and gets your audience into the mood you want them to be in. There is no set rule as to how long your introduction should be – it can be a few lines or even just a sentence.
Related article: 15 Powerful Speech Opening Lines (And How to Create Your Own)
Here’s the meat of your idea.
This is where you get into what your speech is really about. Again, if you’ve focused on too many ideas, the body gets cluttered up and it becomes hard for the audience to consume the speech. So, focus on that one idea that you want to communicate.
Talk about a personal story, throw in some researched facts, show the twists and turns. I like to use the statement-problem-solution approach. I start off with the idea, then I move on to what the problem with it is and finally to the solution.
This might hard to explain since every speech is different, so I rather show it to you instead.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will send across a speech drafted by one of my speech mentors. It really drives home the idea of how you can structure your speech in an effective manner.
The best is for the last.
Remember, the audience does not tend to remember much of a speech.
So in the end, try to summarize your idea and give the audience some sort of actionable takeaway. That means that you should give the audience something that they can try or change about themselves right this very moment (or at least in the near future) so they can see the benefits of your idea.
Again, this is subjective for different speeches. But the basic idea is to repeat your idea towards the end so it sticks with your audience and give them something to take away.
You can read more on how to end a speech, here.
Related article: 5 Ways to End Your Speech With Maximum Impact!
I’ve written an entire article on speech outlines which you can read so I’m not going to spend too much time here.
A basic outline of a speech broken down into a good ol’ Intro-Body-Conclusion:
The Opening – While it’s important to have a strong opening, your opening should seamlessly tie into your premise which is basically the core and the main reason for your speech.
The Body – The body, while being the larger chunk of your speech, shouldn’t be just that – a large chunk. Break the body up! Split your ideas within the core message of your speech and transition smoothly through each idea so your audience can digest what you’re trying to communicate.
The Conclusion – Here is where many new speakers fall short. While you must focus on having a bang ending, tell the audience what you want them to do! Give them a clear indication or a ‘call-to-action’.
Related article: Speech Outline: What is it & Why is it Useful?
Types of Speech Structures
These are some types of speech structures that you might relate your speech to:
This structure implies that you start your speech off with an introduction by hinting your main idea and then use the body to tell 3 different stories supporting that idea.
For example, if you were talking about the importance of confidence, give the audience 3 anecdotes of how you missed out on opportunities because you were not confident. Each story can address a different sub-idea within the main idea.
Again, this does not mean that you talk about multiple things, it just means that you are really fleshing out your main idea. These types of speeches work well when you want to tackle a singular idea from different angles.
This is the approach I use a lot. What it basically means is that you start off your body by emphasizing on the issue at hand. Really build it up to make the audience believe that this really is a problem!
Put in facts, use your own story and make your problem feel like the audience’s problem as well (does that make sense?).
When you introduce the solution, show how it has benefited you as well as how it can benefit the audience. This also makes it easier to add an actionable takeaway at the end.
These types of speeches are great when you have to persuade or convince your audience about a particular matter.
Bed Time Story
This follows the flow of a classic story. Start with an intro. This is where you build up the narrative by setting the scene (try not to say “once upon a time” since it’s become too clichéd).
Then, flesh out the idea. This is where you introduce the hero, the villain and the plot twist.
Eventually, you end with a happy ending. These types of speeches are great for people who are speaking to an audience with a low attention span, like children. However, if done correctly, it can be a great speech for adults as well!
Many times, when you have to make a presentation, you may have to demonstrate a product, feature, service or idea of some sort.
When doing this, don’t just jump in to whatever it is you’re demonstrating. As Simon Sinek says, “talk about the WHY” of whatever it is you’re talking about. Then move on to the “HOW” of it and eventually the “WHAT” of it.
This will help you demonstrate with more effectiveness rather than just talking about what you have to present. If you want to know more about “Starting with the WHY”, you can check out Simon Sinek’s best selling book “Start with the Why”.
There are several ways to structure a speech, and there isn’t really a right or wrong way to do so. As long as you feel it’s simple and easy enough for your audience to understand, you’re good to go.