The Ultimate Guide to Structuring a Speech

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Empty pages waiting to be filled by a well structured speech

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. Structuring your speech is necessary as it makes it easy for your audience to understand its contents.

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.

Daniel Pink
Daniel Pink

3 Things to Keep in Mind for a Good Speech Structure

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.

Writing a conversational speech might not be as easy as it sounds, and that’s why we have just the right video for you. From writing a conversational speech to delivering it, this video will definitely help you through the process.

Keep the speech 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.

It sounds like a piece of cake when we put it like that, and you might think that simply avoiding jargon or using more visuals will make your speech easy to follow.

Still, there are just three tips you need to know to keep a speech simple: Know your audience, focus on the outcome and finally, use a narrative structure. This video will tell you just how to use these three tips to your advantage.

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 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.

You can use a simple method to make sure that your speech does not have any redundancies and you do not overwhelm your audience. This framework is called the “what? so what? now what?” framework. We put out a video you can watch explaining how to use this framework for any public speaking event and has some extra tips on how to deliver a concise and clear speech.

Step by Step Guide to Structuring a Speech

Here is a step-by-step guide to writing a great speech structure, which is broken down into two parts, that is, preparation and writing. 

Preparation

1. Audience

This includes researching your audience in order to better understand them and their interests. With proper audience research in place, one can adapt the speech as per the beliefs, interests, and level of understanding of the audience. 

Audience research mainly entails their educational background, profession, ethnicity, sex, age group, etc. But besides this, we should strive to also understand the knowledge the audience has on the topic that we are speaking about.

One way of researching your audience can be by sending a questionnaire to them before your speech. If that is not possible, try and speak to the host or the person who invited you to speak. They will probably have valuable insights into the crowd you are about to address.

Another way is by reaching the venue early, greeting the audience, and asking them questions to better understand them. However, with this method, you are required to be spontaneous and make changes which could be quite last-minute. 

This is an essential step to writing a speech that is relevant and will resonate with your audience.

This video has several additional tips on collecting information about the audience, what kind of questions need to be asked, and even some last resorts that might work when all else fails!

2. Purpose

This includes knowing the purpose of your speech and what exactly you want to convey to the audience. I have attended some presentations where at the end of the speech, I was wondering what the speaker was trying to convey because the purpose of the speech was not clear at all. 

On a broader level, the purpose of your speech can be to inform, persuade, or entertain the audience. It is crucial to know which category your speech falls into. On a narrower level, we need to ask ourselves, “What do we want the listeners to take away from my speech?”. 

Once we have this down, all our efforts should be focused on driving that point.

3. Ethos

Ethos mainly includes establishing credibility and convincing your audience that you are trustworthy. It is important to establish credibility from the start of the talk or it might be difficult for the audience to accept what you say. 

In order to identify ethos, one can ask oneself questions like “Why should I give this particular speech?”, “How can I get the audience to believe me with the contents of the speech?”. 

Once ethos is established, the audience is likely to listen to you more attentively and be persuaded.

4. Research

Delivering a good speech is not just about speaking or writing a good speech but also confidence in your ability to deliver it. This confidence stems from thorough research which gives your speech authenticity and credibility. 

Including statistics in your speech and the sources from where you have picked up the information can prove helpful. Moreover, if you are willing to go the extra mile, doing primary research in your speech can also help you gain insight and a comprehensive understanding of the topic. Moreover, it will make your research stand out and add to your ethos.

Writing

1. Narrative

There are different narrative styles when it comes to speeches. It helps us story-tell much more effectively and helps our audience retain a lot of the information. 

Choosing the right narrative style is important as it also helps us understand the type of structure we should follow. I’m noting down a few narrative styles for you to get inspiration from, but we have written extensively on the topic which you can check out here: 9 Storytelling Approaches For Your Next Speech or Presentation.

Nested Loops

In this, three stories or more stories are told but none of these stories are completed. Once the gist of all the three stories is given, we start closing the loop in reverse order, that is by finishing the last story first and so on. 

This is a better way of gaining the audience’s interest and attention as psychologists believe that people remember interrupted tasks better than the complete ones.

In Medias Res

In this, the narrative is started in the heat of the action rather than starting from the beginning. Basically, you launch your story right into the action–providing the snippets of how you got there. This works because you take your audience to the most titillating part which makes them inquisitive to know how you got there.

Sparklines

In this, you shift between hope and reality where you and your brand promise to bridge the gap between the ideal and contemporary situations. Basically providing a ray of hope to all the problems in one’s life. Through an emotional appeal the speaker fuels a desire for change among the audience. 

Rags to Riches

This is a narrative style where the protagonist has struggled and suffered greatly because of his/her background but later reaches success. This narrative instills hope in people and makes them relatable to the failures or difficulties faced in life. 

2. Outline

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’.

3. Transition

Speech transitions are words or phrases that help you to move from one topic to another without breaking the flow of the speech. A speech without transitions can seem disorganized and confusing to an audience. There are different types of speech transitions, as given below.

Counterpoints
This particular transition is used while talking about contradicting ideas. Phrases such as on the other hand, contrary to what was said earlier, at the same time, on the flip side, etc. can be used to make this transition.

Important Ideas
Having a transition for the important ideas in your speech can make them stand out and gain attention causing the audience to listen attentively. These transitions can include pausing before the important statement to make an impact or slowing down the pace of your speech while making the important statement. Posing a question before starting the main idea of the presentation can also put emphasis on it. 

Processes
While speaking about the steps on how to achieve something or the process of something, numerical transitions can be simpler for the audience to follow. For instance, firstly, secondly, lastly, etc.

Example
While giving an example of something, transitional phrases such as for instance, take the case of, to better understand this…, etc. can be used to maintain the flow of the presentation. 

Here’s a detailed article written on the different types of transitions along with an example for each, which is titled Effective Speech Transitions: How to Make Your Speech Flow

4. Content

The content is the main matter of the speech which is divided into 3 parts, namely, beginning, body, and conclusion.

The Beginning

How you start your speech introduction 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.

To learn more about how to begin your speech with powerful openers, read our extensively written article on 15 Powerful Speech Opening Lines (And How to Create Your Own)

Body

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 be hard to explain since every speech is different, so I rather show it to you instead.

Email me at hrideep@franticallyspeaking.com 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.

Conclusion

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 gives them something to take away.

This video on 5 powerful speech-ending lines (And how to use them), displays some memorable speech endings and also gives tips on how to deliver a closing line of equal caliber on your own.

5. Editing

After forming the first draft of your speech, editing requires you to go through your speech and remove any kind of repetition or errors that you come across. 

Editing mercilessly is the key to delivering a good speech. Anything that strays from your core message should be edited. Making sure that there is clarity in your speech is also crucial in order to avoid confusion among the audience. 

While editing, the aim should be to make the speech concise by eliminating words that do not add meaning to the sentence, removing paragraphs if the meaning is conveyed fine without them, and using shorter and simpler words rather than using complex words.

Types of Speech Structures

These are some of the speech structure types that you might relate your speech to:

The ‘3 Anecdotes’ Structure

This structure implies that you start your speech off with an introduction by hinting at 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.

Problem-Solution Approach

This is the approach I use a lot. What it basically means is that you start off your body by emphasizing 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

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!

In addition to this, there are several other speech structures you can use depending on the suitability of your topic. Read the details of the various other types of speech structures (with examples) in this article called Structuring a Speech Right: 7 Simple Tips

Demonstration of the idea of your speech

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 into 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 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.

Conclusion

Structuring your speech is important in order to make the audience better understand the matter of the speech and also to maintain their attention and interest. The message of an unstructured speech cannot reach the audience, as the speaker is confused most of the time regarding what topic to present.

A structured speech also helps the speaker to stay calm and not stray from the topic of the presentation. If you’re still not convinced writing a speech is useful, read this article on 9 Reasons Why Writing A Speech Is Important which will change your mind.

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