We’re not all Obamas and Martin Luther Kings. Even though we’d like to think we would kill it on stage, let’s not kid ourselves; coming up with a line like “Give me liberty, or give me death!” was not made up on the spot.
A good speech has to have the right structure. A speech structure encompasses 3 main components: the introduction, body, and conclusion. Following a structure allows you to integrate multiple elements into your speech while still keeping the purpose intact.
Of course, speeches take time to write. They’re not done in a spur of the moment. Even improv speeches aren’t actually improv speeches. Up until the time leading up to a speech, thoughts about how to start, how to grab attention, and how to end will constantly float through your mind.
The best way to avoid becoming a jumbling mess on stage is to take the time to sit down and come up with a structure to your speech.
It may be evident depending on what type of topic you want to approach, or it can take weeks to decide what structure best suits your statement. So how exactly do you decide what structure is best for your case?
Here are 7 simple tips on structuring a speech right.
1. Create an Outline for your Speech
Just like a letter or a report, a speech has a basic outline. You may have learned this in your English class but just in case were here to refresh your memory.
Every address contains 3 parts: the introduction, body, and conclusion.
To better understand how to form each section let us break down this speech delivered by Julian Treasure on “How to speak so that people want to listen.”
The introduction in the example: “The human voice. It’s the instrument we all play. It’s the most powerful sound in the world, probably the only one that can start a war or say, “I love you.” And yet many people have the experience that when they speak, people don’t listen to them. Why is that? How can we speak powerfully to make a change in the world?“
Analysis: Julian Treasure immediately introduces the focus of his speech: How to speak powerfully. He highlights the significance of talking, a common problem regarding speaking, and poses a question that his speech will address.
This introduction is concise and to the point. Using a problem-solution strategy he effectively introduces the audience to his topic.
Your opening line is your chance to grab the attention of your audience and will determine how impactful your speech will be. Here are some ideas you could use to write your opening line:
- Ask a provoking question
- Open with a shocking fact or statistic
- Start with a personal story that is connected to your topic
- Make your audience do a simple short activity with you
If you have a hard time coming up with a good opening line, here is an article on 50 Speech Opening Lines (& How to Create Your Own) l The Ultimate Guide that will help you come up with a memorable and influential introduction.
The thesis statement in the example: If you speak powerfully, people will want to listen consciously.
Analysis: The speaker bases his whole speech on this one sentence and effectively weaves his speech around it.
Your thesis statement will decide what you’re gonna focus on and what your talk will revolve around. Your entire speech structure will be woven around your thesis statement.
4 Questions to Help you Form your Thesis Statement
Before deciding your thesis statement ask yourself these questions:
- Why have you chosen the topic?
- What is your take-home message? What have you learned, and why do you feel it is relevant?
- Is the purpose of your topic to inform, convince or entertain your audience?
- What do you want the audience to take away from this speech?
The body is like the main course of a speech. This part is where you deliver all the information you’ve learned. This is where you need to incorporate 3 things:
The primary idea in the example: To give the audience tips on how to improve their speaking.
Decide the main idea of your speech. Once you have formed your thesis statement writing about the main idea of your speech becomes a piece of cake.
The sub-topics in the example: The seven deadly sins of speaking, foundations of speech and the toolbox of speech.
Breaking down your speech will make it easier for the audience to follow.
Under your central idea, what are some specific areas you want to highlight? If you are delivering an informative speech then it might be better to divide your main category into sub-categories to avoid overwhelming your audience.
The supporting evidence in the example: The speaker demonstrates the importance of tone in speaking by enacting the different types of inflections on stage, proving his point effectively.
Similarly, to add credibility to your subtopics, you need to use examples to prove why your topic is essential.
Depending upon the context, you could enact a scene either by yourself, using a prop or with the help of a volunteer, talk about a personal experience, or use statistics to support your statement.
The closing line in the example: “What would the world be like if we were creating sound consciously, and consuming sound consciously, and designing all our environment consciously for sound? That would be a world that does sound beautiful, and one where understanding would be the norm, and that is an idea worth spreading.”
Analysis: The speaker summarises the goal of his speech and provokes the audience to think about the power of speaking and listening using rhetorical questions.
Tie your speech and make it concise. If your purpose was to inspire the audience to change, you could ask the audience to do something on the spot.
For example, before concluding his speech, Julain Treasure asks his audience to perform some vocal exercises with him, giving the audience a chance to learn something new.
Here’s a small tip: If the address is followed by a question-and-answer session or a small activity like filling a form, then deliver a small summary before it.
In our example, Julian Treasure first asks the audience to perform the exercise with him and then delivers his closing line reinforcing his main statement one last time.
The proper closing line will succeed in making your audience feel inspired and motivated. To get some ideas on what type of closing lines might best suit your speech, here is an article you can read on 50 Speech Closing Lines (& How to Create Your Own) | The Ultimate Guide
2. Know your Audience
Your speech is for the audience, so having prior knowledge of what kind of audience you are speaking to, be it in terms of demography, age, gender, or occupation, all influence how you will structure your speech.
Suppose your address is for the purpose of entertainment, to inform, or to commemorate an important event. In that case, your audience’s demographics will be diverse, so your content must be relatable and appeal to these diverse groups.
In addition to using search engines, here are some sites you can make use of to gather information on your topic that will help refine and make your content more relatable:
However, if your speech is for the purpose of persuasion or to promote, then there are specific steps you can take to curate and refine your content to suit your audience.
In addition to using the previously mentioned sites, you can carry out the following:
- Conduct surveys
- Use Google Analytics to analyze customer base and traffic to your website
- Research competition and their marketing strategies
- Observe trends
3. Choose a Speech Pattern to Structure your Speech
Now that you have a basic outline of your speech, you have an idea of what you want to say and what message you wish to impart.
Now you have to build your topic into something comprehensible and logical. You have to make it appealing to the audience and engaging.
Your speech should be focused on your case, easy to follow and understand, and should align with your audience’s interests.
There are multiple styles you can use to structure your speech. Following a tone will help organize your speech and make it transition smoothly while sticking to a theme. Adopting the right pattern is a crucial step to structuring your speech.
As the name suggests, a chronological pattern follows a specific sequence of events organized by the time or date they occurred.
Indeed, using this pattern will make it easier for you to deliver your speech and more accessible for the audience to follow.
A perfect example of a chronological speech pattern is the speech delivered by Martin Luther King Jr., titled “I have a dream”
Summary: He highlights an event of the past (the Emancipation Proclamation), talks about the present scenario (racial discrimination), and finally sends off the audience with his ambitions and dreams for the future.
Spatial means something that occupies or is related to space. A spatial speech pattern quite literally incorporates the spatial aspects of what you are going to talk about.
For example, talking about the layout of a building you would start by saying, “The building has one entrance and one exit, on the ground floor there are 3 rooms and on the second floor…“
Spatial patterns are used when your central idea is derived from an object or specific location. They will enable you to delve into the properties and relations of objects and form connections between them.
For instance, Damaris Hollingsworth, an architect, highlights her growth that has been influenced by buildings.
Summary: Here, she describes a building, its layout, and how it influenced her growth. Her main point, which is “architecture can influence social behavior and connections,” is derived from different styles of architecture that she has encountered.
A topical speech pattern is suitable when the topic you have chosen contains several subtopics that you might want to talk about.
A topical design organizes your speech into several categories allowing you to delve deeper into your topic while still providing a sense of flow.
Most suitable for speeches that are informative in nature, you can choose a general statement, then make subcategories that go into the specifics of your account and provide support for your general idea.
Although not necessary, usually organizing your speech by topics and delivering them in chronological order makes your address become more organized and makes it easier to smoothly transition from one case to the next.
Take this speech by Louise Evans as an example.
Summary: Her main topic is on how to master communication. However, she further divides her subject into 5 subcategories allowing her to explain the barriers that prevent effective communication, talks about her personal experiences, and makes it easy for the audience to follow.
Compare and contrast
Using the compare and contrast pattern gives you a segue to support your claims while showcasing the advantages it has over another object(s).
To use a compare and contrast pattern, in-depth research needs to be conducted on what two objects you will compare, like their properties, how similar they are, and what differences they have.
An easy way to form your speech using this pattern is to first draw up a Venn diagram of the two topics you want to compare. This will help you track what similarities you want to draw up and what differences you want to highlight.
To effectively use this pattern, you could take the two objects in question and compare and contrast them in different aspects, such as how they appear or behave in a specific environment related to the main topic.
Example: Comparing the real-time responses of Siri and Alexa.
Aspects you could cover:
- Rate of response time
- Accuracy of the responses
- Suitability of the responses
This is a common pattern seen in speeches targeted to introduce or market products, and in debate speeches. Compare and contrast patterns allow speakers to highlight their idea while providing the audience with the whole perspective.
Cause and Effect
The cause and effect pattern simply talks about an event or a series of events and the effect it has produced as a result.
This pattern is effective as you focus on various aspects of your speech, allowing you to analyze events responsible for the cause and dissect the implications that the reason has produced.
In simple words, you explain the action and analyze the reaction.
In this informative speech delivered by Ruairi Robertson, he cleverly incorporates cause and effect to elucidate the mechanisms of the body.
Summary: He talks about the events that led to an increase in antibiotics. Because of this, there was an increase in gastrointestinal disorders and brain health, which led us to understand the importance of food in health.
Keep in mind, You don’t need to follow only one pattern. You could use a combination of patterns depending on your preference.
Without a pattern, your speech will not have logic and structure and makes it difficult for anyone to follow. An unstructured talk is like trying to align a circle to a triangle. No one sees the point, and it becomes exhausting to listen to.
4. Don’t Shy Away from Repetition
It goes without saying that your audience is bound to lose parts or zone out from time to time. Holding the attention of a room is tough, and it becomes more daunting when your audience is more extensive.
Statistics show that the average attention span for an audience is 5 to 10 minutes, so it is almost impossible to expect your audience to remember everything from a speech.
However, the main aim of your address is to highlight the importance of your central idea, so try to repeat your thesis statement from time to time by paraphrasing it.
For example, take the commencement speech delivered by Mary Schmich, famously known for its opening line, “Wear sunscreen.”
The idea of her speech is to push the youth to embrace their present, and she drives in this point using simple lines like “enjoy the power and beauty of your youth” and “don’t worry about the future.”
5. Work on your Transitions
Transition helps make your address attain fluency. To keep your audience hooked, you have to master the journey from point A to B to C and so forth.
Take this speech delivered by Shashi Tharoor as an example where he talks about the importance of a well-formed mind.
Summary: He explains the problems of the education system using 4 E’s: Expansion, Equity, Excellence and Employability. These are excerpts taken from the speech showing how he transitions from one E to the next:
“…So expansion has taken place. We’ve also had to fight for the second E of Equity...”
“...in getting those two things more or less right, I dont know how well we did on the third E, which is the E of Excellence.“
“…and that ties into the fourth E that I’ve added to this catechism: Employability.”
Speech patterns contribute significantly to the smooth transitions of a speech. If you’re looking for ways to transition from one part to the next, there are a list of transitional devices you can make use of.
6. Revise and Edit
Now that you know what will essentially go into your speech and have decided a pattern to follow, the final step is to revise.
Revision involves reading through your speech and editing it, correcting any mistakes, be it grammatical or spelling.
These are some questions that need to be ticked off:
- Have you focused on your central idea?
- Do you have enough supporting ideas and evidence?
- Have you established credibility?
- Have you offered enough for the audience to take away?
7. Identify the gaps
In-depth research will always pull up shortcomings of your particular topic.
There will more often than not be something that has not been considered, and this will help you provide a unique spin on your perspective.
Make a note of the flaws and gaps of your topic. This will help you write a speech that has clarity and logically convey your ideas. It also adds to your credibility as a speaker who is objective and willing to accept all aspects of your speech.
Writing a speech takes time and effort. Right from choosing the topic up till deciding your closing line can take weeks to write.
Followed by rounds of editing and revision, structuring a speech is no easy feat. However, just following these 7 simple tips will ease your workload and certainly make sure you nail structuring your speech the right way.