Tips to help you structure a speech

Before you get down to writing your next presentation, or speech… stop. Pause. Think. Often we find our clients are in a hurry to start writing their script. They’ve identified their key message. They’ve found the stories that will make that message memorable. They’re on a roll. Now they just want to start writing.

And that’s a bad idea. It’s bad to two reasons:

  1. Writing in silence will ensure you have a lacklustre speech that doesn’t do justice to your personality and authenticity. If you’ve read other Podium Coaching blogs or newsletters, you’ll know that we train people to speak their words out loud before they commit them to the page. Remember, you’ve been asked to speak to your audience – not read an essay to them.
  2. If you’re building a house you don’t start on the exterior trim and the paint work before you’ve established solid foundations. Your words will be your trim and your shiny paint. But they won’t look so good if the structure is wonky.

So take some time to think through the structure of your speech or presentation. Create your road map. After all, you’ll be taking your audience on a journey. Take some time to plan your route.

At Podium Coaching, we encourage presenters to structure a speech using four elements:

  • Hook
  • Context
  • Content
  • Wrap

THE HOOK

The hook is vital. This is where you engage your audience. When they walk into the room and sit down, they’re probably leaning back in their chairs wondering if there’ll be a return on the investment of time they’re spending listening to you. With your first few words you want to get them leaning forward, engaged, eager to hear more.

The audience will judge you really quickly (and possibly unfairly). They’ll judge your appearance, your dress, the way you walk, your eye contact – and all of this before you’re even said a word.

Halina used her tips on how to structure a speech at the CAPS convention in Toronto
Halina St James on stage at the Canadian Association of Professional Speakers convention in Toronto

Your first words need to intrigue the audience, persuade them they’re in for an interesting session, and let them see you’re not like every other speaker or presenter they’ve seen. In short, you have to sell your self and your theme.

CONTEXT

Once you’ve engaged the audience and sign-posted your theme, there’s probably a little bit of background information they need. This is the Context section. Here you will deliver the information the audience must have in order to understand the rest of the journey you are taking them on. Without context, they may struggle to connect the points you will be making. But give them too much context and you risk boring them. Too much background information can be like a dull history lesson. The key to context is this: as much as necessary, as little as possible. Stick with the information they need to get launched into your presentation. Drop in other bits of background information later, when needed.

CONTENT

The main part of your speech will be the Content. Think of this section as chapters, where you build your argument and unfold the stories that support your key message.

Set out the elements for this section in a way that flows logically, and which builds in intensity. Save some of your best stories and strongest points for the closing stages of your presentation, before you sum it all up in the conclusion.

All the elements in the Content section have to earn their keep. Strip out everything that’s not central to your main message. If you’re not absolutely certain whether an element deserves to be included, it probably doesn’t.

THE WRAP

Finally, the Wrap. This is the conclusion, the section where you pull together all the points you’ve been developing. This is where you state – or re-state – your main message. This is your call to action, your big thought. It’s the point where your lodge in the minds of the audience the action you want them to take.

Time spent thinking about how to structure a speech is a smart investment. It will help the flow of your presentation. It will speed the writing process. And your audience will thank you for taking them on an interesting journey, without getting snarled up in road works or unnecessary detours.

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