Creating a Solid Presentation OutlineJonathan Berntsen
Speech outlines are often overlooked in presentations. They’re dismissed as a waste of time by amateur presenters who don’t realize their relevance. Why flesh out your speech when you can go straight to writing it whole, they’d argue. Most professional speakers, however, claim the opposite. They know better, and they understand that time spent mulling over a presentation’s basic framework is never wasted time. In fact, they consider it as time well-spent.
Think of your speech outline as the blueprint of your presentation. It’s there mostly as an assurance that your speech is coherent, focused, and ready to be brought to life. It will help you clear your presentation anxiety, so you’ll feel less apprehensive about muddling it up with ambiguous ideas and obscure statements. Crafting a speech outline is a critical step to make sure that your presentation is ready to go.
The Importance of Preparing a Speech Outline
Your speech outline will help you see your core message clearly and without obstruction. It will force out from your mind the key logical elements of your presentation—the bits that, together, form your speech skeleton.
An outline is a good way to find out, possibly for the first time, exactly what it is you want to say. It will help you organize your material and put your thoughts together in a way that yields a comprehensible output. It will ground you and keep you on topic from the time you write that first draft to the moment you deliver the actual presentation. And the best part is that it’s easier than it seems. You don’t need a flurry of words to make one—you need ideas. Cues and fragments would do, as long as they mean something to you.
As the backbone of your speech, the outline will help you enhance the logic of your content and the sequence of your narrative. It will improve the flow and style of your presentation so that whatever you share to the audience will be received with interest and understanding. Laying out the basics of your presentation will help you look at the bigger picture without delving deep into the details.
Structuring Your Speech Skeleton
Speech outlines, like many write-ups, usually follow a three-part structure. This basic formula is something that anyone who has ever read or written anything can easily recognize:
- Introduction – where you tell your audience what you’re going to tell them
- Body – where you actually tell them
- Conclusion – where you tell them again what you just told them
It’s an easy enough way of framing a speech. Structuring your outline this way will help you determine which sections of your presentation need to be given more importance.
The Brainstorming Stage
Before you can write your outline, you need to go through one more stage: brainstorming. This will jumpstart your creative process by allowing you to explore all possibilities, exhaust all means, and let your stream of consciousness flow. In this stage, you’ll have to experiment with different concepts to come up with the basics of your presentation. Decide on your topic to keep your speech firmly grounded. Define your goals and identify how to achieve them. Determine the essence of your presentation from the audience’s perspective. Of course, whatever you decide on while brainstorming won’t necessarily be set in stone. They can still change as you move forward. Brainstorming will only help you create idea maps in your mind so that you can organize your thoughts before outlining.
Part One: Introduction
The Introduction is where you establish the topic and the core message. This is where you define the problem, state your goal, and tell the audience how they can benefit from it. It’s concise in form, but it encapsulates the theme well. Your first few minutes onstage is your chance to establish your credibility and assert your qualifications. This is where you establish your right to speak on the topic.
Professional speakers will agree that, more than anything, an introduction must grab the audience’s attention and compel them to listen. This is why the most memorable presentations use humor as an opening salvo. A bit of wit is effective in offsetting the somberness of later discussions.
Part Two: Body
The Body contains the bulk of your talk because this is where you elaborate and flesh out your main points. It’s your opportunity to give credence to your claims and present supporting points to your arguments. You can either support your premise by introducing factual evidence, or you can dismiss opposing arguments. The body is also where your story solidifies—you can tell a narrative that relates back to your core message.
Part Three: Conclusion
The Conclusion is where you recap your main points—the pieces of information you want your audience to remember. This is where you neatly wrap up your main arguments and reiterate your core message to tie every aspect of your speech together. Before you step out of the limelight, you should’ve already established your call to action. Move the audience to join your cause and suggest future actions that they can take. But most important of all, you need to make your closing remarks memorable. Dress them up so you’ll end with a bang that will resonate with your audience long after you’re done talking.
The initial draft of your outline is unlikely to be the final draft. Writing is a process, after all. You’ll have to constantly review and revise your work until the finished output is seamless. Instead of a tedious hurdle, see this as an opportunity to shape and refine your speech to perfection. Don’t worry, the outline is 60% of the work, so once you’re done with it, you’re more than halfway to finishing your presentation.
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