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How to Use an Outline to Improve Your Speeches and Presentations

How To Use An Outline To Improve Your Speeches and Presentations

Do you organize your thoughts with skill for public speaking? Here's how to use an outline to improve your speeches and presentations. 

How good are you at setting out your ideas? I don't mean talking points (which I'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.

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.

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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. It's your well-organized ideas that count.

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Whichever style you prefer, in the preparation outline, it's important that you write out full sentences to convey your thoughts on your topic. This helps you to think—and complete sentences are necessary to convey your ideas without short-circuiting them in any way. Can you learn how to read a speech and still be an effective speaker? Yes, you can. But writing everything out first is a way to cement your 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 the gap and be able to correct it.

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Your Speaking Outline Allows You to Deliver

Next, it's important to free yourself from the outline you've so carefully constructed. It all has to do with the impact of your performance in the moment, so you know how to reach the level of high-impact speaking that spells leadership.

You do so by creating a speaking outline. That simply means boiling the full sentences of your preparation outline (the one that helped you think) into the hard-hitting words and phrases you'll actually use when speaking. The idea here is this: we write in sentences, but we speak in ideas and emotions. Rather than anything that presents itself as a written document, your speaking will now have the all-important sound of a well thought-out conversation. And that means using your voice so you know how to achieve full vocal expressiveness.

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. What listeners see then is someone who talks directly to them from true knowledge. The speaker who has to keep referring to notes or a manuscript to express what they want to say? Let that be the other person, not you.

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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in public speaking and overcoming speaking fear. His company, The Genard Method offers live 1:1 Zoom executive coaching  and corporate group training worldwide. In 2022 for the ninth consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of the World’s Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of the Amazon Best-Seller How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speakingwas named in 2019 as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." His handbook for presenting in videoconferences, Speaking Virtually offers strategies and tools for developing virtual presence in online meetings. His latest book is Speak for Leadership: An Executive Speech Coach's Secrets for Developing Leadership PresenceContact Gary here.

Suits photo by Pixabay.


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