Sunday, January 1, 2017

Writing a speech outline

I’m sure you have had to give a speech before, so does this scenario sound familiar?  Someone assigns you a speech topic that you have to present.  You then take that assignment, sit down at your computer, open up Word, and start writing. First the introduction;  then the body and finally the conclusion.  It may just be bullet points, but that's your outline that will start your speech.

 We often use this approach because it is similar to the way we learned to write in English composition classes in high school and college.  Since we often write our speeches down, we naturally follow this approach.   However, It leads to many problems during the delivery.  The speech is too long. The objective isn't clear.  The conclusion doesn't even match the introduction.

Writing a speech outline is different than writing a publication outline, but we are not trained how to draft a speech. This post presents an effective way to outline your speech with a framework called the five core elements of a speech outline by Michele Caldwell, Public Speaking Instructor and Professor at UNC.  This framework uses five steps: a goal, a power statement, main points, introduction and conclusion to outline your speech.

The first step is when you have a topic and a blank piece of paper. You need to write down the speech goal. (Spoiler alert: this is only going to be one sentence.)  Writing down your speech goal is the most important step for keeping yourself organized.  But it is often skipped because we think we know what to write.

An example: Let's say you are a medical student, and your professor asks to speak on the Zika virus to incoming students.  You’ve worked with some bio-tech firms, so you have an overall idea what the latest technology against Zika.  You don't worry about drafting a goal; you assume you know it.  In your head, you think you overall goal would be: "I'm going to speak to my audience about the Zika virus." But this isn’t effective.  A speech will always have a duration.  How exactly do you know when you reached your goal of informing the audience?  Zika and any virus are very complex and unless you're giving a speech that has a length of 3 years there probably isn't enough time.

 However, with a one sentence goal, you can limit and organize what you need to say.  A better speech goal on Zika could be:  "I want my audience to know two reasons why they should not worry about the Zika virus.  What this one sentence does is takes the topic and draws a border around it.  That way for the rest of my speech I know when I reached my goal, for you what is in scope for your speech and what is out of scope.

There are four rules to writing a compelling goal and a goal is not just a summary of your speech:
  • It should have one idea-- you can't speak forever
  • It should be specific -- for guiding length and helping you know when you are done.
  • It should use purposeful language--  you need to know if you are trying to inform, persuade or entertain
  • It should only be one sentence.  
Your speech goal is never stated in your speech; it's just for when you have a blank piece of paper to get started.

The next step in this framework is to write the power statement.  It's the most important sentence since it does go in your speech and it previews what you're are going to say.     It stems directly from your goal but it is going to elaborate on specific items you are going to talk about. Using my Zika example. My power statement could be. The two reasons you should not fear Zika is that there are no cases of it in Connecticut and your body fights off the disease in 4 months.

Now with your power statement defined you need to now support it with details.  Thus at this time we start writing the main points, the third element, for our speech.   The main points will be the body and thus the largest part.  There aren't muh guidelines for writing main points.  They can be stories, examples, abstracts from google scholar -- pretty much anything as long as it supports the power statement.  There are no rules for writing your main points, but If you did give your statement in a specific order then the main points. Should follow that order.

After writing out main points we are ready to finally start the introduction.   Why does the introduction get written as the 4th step in this framework?   Well, we are at the point that we know what the speech is going to be about since we’ve written the goal and worked through the main points.  The reasoning for putting the intro as the 4th step is that it is easier to find an intro to something that you know you are going to speak about next.

From an outline perspective, you can put your power statement as the last sentence of your introduction

The last step for this framework is to write the conclusion.   There is a writing guideline that applies directly to speech conclusions. And that is don't introduce new info in the conclusion.  The speech conclusion for this outline will just reiterate what you said in the power statement and give final closure to all the points discussed.   What's great about using this 5 step outline approach is the order: Unlike the normal intro body conclusion outline you just wrote your introduction, so you know exactly what needs to tied together in the conclusion.

The five elements for a speech outline is a better way to outline speeches.

So, I’m sure you are going to give a speech in the future.  When it happens, don’t open up Word and start writing the introduction: instead, use the 5 points and write the goal, then the power statement, the main points, the intro and finally the conclusion.

**This post was at one point a speech, so I did not edit the grammar since the ear cleans up most grammar mistakes. I will post further on why you don't have to write down your speech word for word.

***Here is a handout I created. You can use this to supplement the post

The five core elements are a framework used for outlining a speech.  You need to follow the outline in order.

1. Goal
  • Write one sentence to organize a clear and meaningful message for your speech.
  • It can only be one complete sentence.
  • It should be specific.
  • It should have only one idea.
  • It should contain purposeful language (Inform, persuade, entertain).
“I want my audience to know the three reasons they should vote for me for chief resident.”
“I want my audience to know the four reasons Mary and Bob are the perfect couple.”

2. Power Statement
  • A direct result of your speech goal and previews to your audience what you are going to say.
“The four reasons you should vote for me as the chief resident are because I am dependable, experienced, and trustworthy.”

3. Main Points
  • The main points are anything that support your power statement.
  • Main points can be anything: examples, stories, facts.
  • They should follow the order you gave in your power statement.
4. Introduction
  • The introduction is written after the main points to ensure your intro matches the body of your speech.
  • You can use a story or fact that didn’t go into your main points as an introduction.
  • You can take your entire power statement and append it as the last sentence of your introduction.
5. Conclusion
  • Reiterate your power statement.
  • Don’t include new information that was not in your main points.



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