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April 2024
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Organization Leads to Clarity

Use three basic structures to outline your speech and guide your listeners.

By Bill Brown, DTM

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Click play to hear author Bill Brown, DTM, discuss his most common method for speech organization—the key point structure.

Last month we looked at a speech’s purpose. But if you are to achieve your purpose, audience members need to be able to follow what you are saying. The best way to ensure that is to organize your speech in a way that makes sense to the listener.

Speech organization may come easily to you. Then again, it may not, especially for newer Toastmasters with little writing experience. What, then, is a good way to organize your speech?

There is no right way to construct one, which allows for flexibility. But that also means you have to plan what you are going to do. Fortunately, some simple structures have been proven beneficial over the years.

The first technique is what I call the key points structure. This is, perhaps, the most common method. Discuss your key points, one by one. In this method, the exact order is not critical. I recommend that you give your strongest points first. That way you have your audience agreeing with you early in the presentation.

The second technique is what I call the sequential structure, which helps when the time sequence or chronology is important to your speech. If that’s the case, by all means discuss your topic in that order. Your audience members will be able to follow the timing as your story unfolds. Let’s look at a few possibilities.

A sequential structure helps if you are describing some sort of step-by-step procedure, such as assembly or disassembly. It may also apply when discussing geography. For example, let’s say you are giving a report on sales performance for various territories in your company. You could list them in order of size, alphabetical order, or some sort of geographic order, like west to east or east to west.

Sometimes, when discussing geographic information, another order might present itself. For instance, if you were making a report on criteria for each of the 14 Toast masters regions, reviewing them in numerical order would make the most sense.

A complicated structure has the potential of confusing your audience.

A third way that you can organize your speech is what I call the problem/solution structure. One strategy is to state an issue or problem, analyze the possible solutions, then finish up with your recommendation. You could also state the issue or problem, make your recommendation, then present an analysis of why that solution is the best.

For example, let’s say you are recommending a contact management software package for your company to purchase and you have evaluated three options: brands X, Y, and Z. You could describe the situation, show your analysis of the three options, and give your recommendation.

On the other hand, especially if you are presenting to top management, an alternative tactic is to say, “Our task was to evaluate and recommend a contact management system for our company. We recommend going with Brand X. Here is why.” And then give your analysis of the pros and cons of each.

Management tends to like the bottom-line up front. Other groups might prefer to see your analysis first. Gauge your audience and organize accordingly.

The problem/solution structure is also common for stories and speech contests. You describe a problem, then reveal an “aha” moment that transformed your thinking. Finish with the results you now enjoy with your new perspective.

Obviously, this can be employed in many ways, and some are more desirable than others. It all depends on the characteristics of your audience.

While you have many ways to organize your speech, I recommend two principles to follow. The first is keep it simple. A complicated structure has the potential of confusing your audience. The second is to use three main points or categories. You can make many points, but I suggest that you lump them together into three main ones. What did I do above? I described the key point structure, the sequential structure, and the problem/solution structure. Hopefully, that made it simple.

Organization is one of the key actions in your presentation planning phase. It is a vital part in making sure that you achieve your speech’s purpose. And that, after all, is why you are speaking in the first place.

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