the structure of a speech

The structure of a speech – addressing needs

It’s time to prepare a speech. You have the topic and the delivery date. Now, you need to find a structure on which to base your speech. Structure will help you deliver the message in an organized, understandable way.

The basic structure of any piece of writing, no matter the form, is: introduction, body, and conclusion. You open the topic by telling what you will talk about – the introduction. Then, you’ll deliver the different points you want to focus on, with the support material you prepared – the body. Finally, you present an ending – the conclusion. Focus on the main message on what you want your audience to remember; after all, it is the most important. Looks easy, right?

A critical step in preparing a speech or presentation is to do the research. For a successful speech, you want to know as much as you can about the topic. Here, the problems begin.

After the research, you find yourself with a lot of information at hand. Definitely too much content for a single presentation. So, what needs to be there? Stop for a second and ask yourself: in the end, what do you want your audience to remember?

Speaking and Writing are two very different things

Confronted with a choice, most of us would prefer to write a document and hand it to 10000 people, rather than make a speech to 100. Writing has many advantages that make us feel protected.

Written words can be chosen more carefully, and we can rewrite our text until it’s perfect. It can be more sophisticated and as long as it needs to be. The reader can take their time to read it and reread it as many times as they need.

Writing gives us a precision that is impossible to reach when speaking. You simply don’t have the same amount of time to spare and the words once said can’t be erased. That’s why, when confronted with the possibility of giving a speech, we try to write it down.

In the spoken speech, you don’t have time to choose the most appropriate word. It has to be simpler for better understanding and there is no chance to edit. When you write a speech to be said out loud, you need to focus on the properties of the spoken language. Otherwise, you may have an excellent text that can’t be said naturally.

Despite all the advantages of the written words, speaking has a tremendous advantage that shouldn’t be underestimated: the visual. The body language and facial expressions help the speaker to express the meaning of the message. More important, with your audience right in front of you; you can adapt your speech in the moment, whenever you feel you need.

The structureof the speech should focus on the audience

When preparing a speech, the audience should be your primary motivator. What would be suitable for them? What would be exciting or necessary? Remember that a presentation is not a document. Think about it as a performance and, as such, try to include all those ingredients that make a good movie or book:

  • Suspense;
  • Surprise;
  • Turning points;
  • Well constructed arguments.

There are many different types of speeches, and each one should obey specific rules. In this post, I’m focusing on what will make your audience interested and responsive, based on Alan Barker tips in his participation in the ‘Doris and Bernie’ podcast. This structure can be used for different speeches, you just need to adapt these five steps to your goal.

You find a similar structure developed by Alan Monroe, a professor at Purdue University, in the 1930s known as Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

“The success of your presentation will be judged not by the knowledge you send but by what the listener receives.”

Lilly Walters

1. Capturing attention

Make them listen. Having your audience’s attention is the first step and often the hardest one. However, it doesn’t need to be.

The best way to capture the attention of any person is by showing them something they are not expecting. Open your speech with a shocking statistic or an unusual fact that may be interesting for them.

One common tip you hear over and over is to start with a story. Stories are useful to connect, sure, but you need to tell them in the right way. Think about it as a movie plot: you know the character and his life, something happens that disrupts everything, and he fights until he overcomes it. That’s how you catch your audience’s attention.

The goal of this first step is quite simple. You want the audience to listen and think, “Okay, you have my attention. What’s next?”

2. Stating a need

Now that you got their attention, it is time to introduce a need to the audience. This need is a problem, and it’s time to talk about it. It can be: the lack of something, a conflict, a question without an answer.

Convincing the audience of a need will make them pay attention to know your answer.

According to Alan Barker, the goal with this point is to have the audience desperate for a solution.

3. Addressing the need

You showed your audience they have a need. Now is time to tell them how your topic addresses that need.

4. Visualizing the future

It’s time now to work their imagination. Help your audience visualize what comes next. Design a vivid picture of the future in front of them, engaging their emotions and desires.

You can choose a future in which the solution was implemented or one where it wasn’t (light or dark), whatever you believe has more impact on your audience. Eventually, you can present both options. Showing the two sides can be an excellent way to keep your audience thinking about the problem.

5. Call to action

The ultimate reason to make a speech or presentation is to lead the audience to new behavior or conclusion. We want them to do something. The call to action is then an essential part of the structure of the speech.

After all these steps, when you reach this point, your audience will be ready to take action, to do something about the problem. It’s time for you to do your call to action.

The structure of the speech is your guideline

Sometimes, there is a speechwriter that isn’t the same person that will deliver the speech. If you are the speechwriter, try to learn more about the person delivering the speech. Focus on the way they talk and express themselves, writing accordingly. Remember that a good speech has to sound natural.

If you’re preparing your own speech, avoid writing it down completely. Make an outline, from which you’ll be speaking freely. You’ll sound more natural this way.

The excess of information can harm a good speech. Try to focus on what needs to be there. The rest of the information may be useful, nonetheless, for the questions and answers session.

The first and last things you say are more likely to be remembered by the audience. Take that in mind and reserve some time to focus on these two points. If possible, after the questions session, make a summary of the main idea to make sure they will keep it in mind.

Cátia is a psychologist who is passionate about helping children develop and train social skills.


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