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How to Outline a Speech for a Great Performance

How to Outline a Speech for a Great Performance

To speak with influence, practiced speakers combine strategy and tactics. So learn both! Here's how to outline a speech for a great performance. 

How good are you at setting out your ideas? I don't mean talking points (which we'll get to in a minute). I mean your ability to set out your full thinking logically and powerfully, then conveying it strongly to others.

If that sounds to you like the way to prepare and execute an effective speech or presentation, you're right.

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What I'm talking about here is an outline—actually, two outlines. And the distinction between them makes all the difference when it comes to performing dynamically for an audience.

How to use an outline to prepare for a speech or presentation.

Your Preparation Outline Helps You Think

What you need first to make this process work reliably for you as a speaker, is a preparation outline. This document can be as formal as the one you learned in school, with Roman numerals followed by Arabic capital letters, then lower-case letters and numbers, etc. Or it can be considerably less so.

Whichever style you prefer, in this outline, it's important that you write out full sentences to convey your thoughts on your topic. The outline, that is, helps you think—and complete sentences are necessary to convey your ideas without short-circuiting them in any way. That's one reason you don't use talking points at this stage. Actually writing everything out is a way to cement those ideas in your head, so they don't thrill you today but disappear tomorrow.

When you've finished the process (which should take some time) and step back, you'll see a well-formulated and coherent speech which is logically sound. If one idea doesn't lead inescapably into the next, you'll see it and realize you need to correct the hole in your thinking. Otherwise, your audience won't be able to follow you where you're taking them, and it's vital that they do. After all, you need to know how to stay fully focused when speaking!  

Knowing how to create talking points is an important skill in great public speaking.Your Speaking Outline Allows You to Deliver

Next, it's important to free yourself from the outline you've so carefully constructed, while realizing the reason you need to do so. It all has to do with the immediacy and high impact that a spoken performance needs, and which can never be supplied by anyone who's reading.

That's why your first document is called a preparation outline, and the second one—the one you need now—is known as a speaking outline. Once you've spent the time understanding and refining your own ideas, you need to boil the thought process down to the harder-hitting punches of speaking. Remember: we write in sentences, but we speak in ideas and emotions. This is the mistake too many speakers make: they read the literary document in front of them, instead of expressing themselves through the medium of well thought-out conversation. 

That of course is what your presentation should sound like: you sharing your ideas in the rhythm of everyday speech. All it takes is reforming your preparation outline into talking points (they're called that for a reason), then sharing them with us. 

Here's an added benefit: When you look down and see only key words and phrases instead of a lengthy document, where do you have to look next? At the audience, of course. And what listeners see at that point is someone who just needed a reminder of what to bring up next. Then he or she (i.e., you) talks about that point from true knowledge. If you just read something from a page instead, do you think we'd have as much faith in you? 

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