How to Craft a Masterful Outline of Speech

How to Craft a Masterful Outline of Speech intro image

I’m sure you have all seen at least one captivating Ted Talk online. One thing you probably noticed is how smoothly it went. I can assure you that every public speaker has done their homework and put together an outline of speech before presenting it in front of an audience. This wouldn’t be possible without some preparation beforehand.

DR

An outline done right can do wonders for organizing your speech, and public speaking teachers often stress the importance of this organization tool. A rough outline can help you come up with more main points and sub-points for your arguments. It will help you brainstorm ideas. Some people use index cards with keywords or brief phrases from their speech outline to help them accurately deliver their speech.

The outline functions as a visual aid, too. Some people with photographic memory can use the outline as supporting material and ensure they do not forget crucial elements of their speech. Logically ordering your speech points can also smoothen your speechwriting process.

The speech outline is one of the most critical elements to have. Simply put, it has two main functions: it’s a point of reference and an organizational tool. Our guide will help you understand how an outline is used, the structure of an outline, and the different types, so you can create the most helpful outline for you.

Speech Outline Types

Preparation Outline

The preparation outline is your first draft. It includes the bare bones of your speech, and it’s often referred to as a working/rough/practice outline. You will write the main points of your speech, the supporting points, organized logically, and the other various components, such as attention getter and so on (we expand on the parts of a speech outline further in the article).

The preparation outline is used to help put your thoughts on paper and arrange your material. It is also the place where you should pay attention to your arguments. Are they convincing or lacking evidence? You might need to rearrange some parts to make your speech flows better. Don’t be afraid of removing parts of your preparation outline if they don’t make sense.

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The preparation outline is then transformed into a speaking outline. Even though your preparation outline should include full sentences, don’t forget your it is not an essay. Try not to get carried away with writing, and use it to get your textual arguments in order.

Speaking Outline

The speaking outline is your reference point. Unlike the preparation outline, this one is more concise includes keywords to serve as quick reminders during your speech. These short phrases should briefly encapsulate your main points, conclusion, introduction, and an attention grabber. Unlike the first outline, which uses long sentences and breakdowns of your textual arguments, the speaking outline could easily fit on cue cards and help prepare for your speech.

You shouldn’t solely rely on index cards, however, as you may come across as unprepared in the eyes of the audience. Most speakers use them to prepare for their speech and simply refer to them when they get stuck. Make sure to check the instructor’s requirements to see if you’re allowed index cards during your speech.

Things to Consider Before Outlining Your Speech

The Big Picture

Before you get into arranging your outline, it’s essential to think about the big picture. Before you begin, consider three things: think about the speaker, the subject, and the audience. Here is more detail about each element:

Speaker – Why are you discussing the topic at hand? Why does this subject matter to you? Do you have any significant insights on the topic? Do you have any expertise or qualifications that can help convince the audience of the legitimacy of your words?

Subject – Are you covering a controversial topic? How do you think your audience will react to it? Are you going to make some interesting points? Try to predict the audience’s reaction s you can be more prepared for your speech.

Audience – What do you know about your audience? Are they all from a particular age group? Are they qualified in the same area you are? Are they familiar with your work? Has the audience paid to listen to your speech?

Try to take a step back and look at the big picture. You might find some exciting takeaways when doing that.

Type of Speech

Think about the purpose of your speech. Are you there to convince the audience to do something? Or is your goal to inform the audience of some less-known facts? Generally speaking, there are two common categories of speech, and yours most likely falls under one of them:

Informative speech – the primary purpose of the informative speech is to educate the audience on a subject. The goal is to have the audience learn something and leave your speech with a better understanding of a specific subject. We have an in-depth article about informative speech outline with examples here.

Persuasive speech – a persuasive speech aims to convince the audience to do something or change their opinion on a topic. It is similar to a sales pitch and combines credibility, logic, and emotion to help convince the listener. We have in-depth article about persuasive speech outline here.

Before you start outlining your speech, make sure you have chosen your preferred type, as the outlines vary depending on your speech category.

Title

The title is highly underestimated when making a speech outline. Logically we think that we don’t need one. Since we are more or less presenting the speech verbatim, we are not exactly going to stand in front of an audience quoting our speech title. But we might still need one. A title helps summarize your main goal. It holds the central idea behind your speech. You will have no trouble writing a title once you are sure what message you are trying to deliver.

Message

What is the central idea of your speech? Is there e certain question you are aiming to answer? Determine the essential message behind your speech. Try to sum it up in a single sentence. Try to explain your message simply, without overcomplicating it.

Use your central message as a reference point throughout your speech. When you get stuck, write up your main points and supporting arguments, and always ask yourself, do they support the key message? If not, they might be redundant.

Relevance

In order to make a captivating speech and maintain the audience’s attention, you need to think about the relevance of your message. You should always put the audience first, so now that you have your key message prepared, list the reasons why the audience should care about your message. Is it relevant to them somehow?

Think of at least one reason why the speech should matter to your audience. For example, if you’re writing a persuasive speech about texting and driving, the audience would find it relevant because it concerns their safety. If you can’t think of a relevant reason why the listeners should care about your speech, reconsider your message.

Hook

You have probably heard about hooks before when you used this technique to begin your essays. The hook is the attention-getter, and it is paramount to your speech. It’s the first sentence your audience will hear and usually determines whether or not your audience would listen to the rest of your speech. There are many clever ways to start your talk and ensure you’re being heard:

  • Ask the audience a rhetorical question.
  • Start with a joke.
  • Tell a short personal story.
  • Recite a quote.
  • Prompt the audience members to do something.

Speaking of encouraging the audience to do something, this brings us to our next point.

Call To Action

When presenting a persuasive speech, you’ll most likely need a call to action. The most convincing speeches prompt the audience to make some kind of action. You can ask them to raise a hand if they have done something (drink more than 5 cups of coffee a day). Alternatively, you can ask them to scan a QR code to reveal some useful information on the topic at hand. These small steps will move the audience in the right direction.

Speech Outline Structure

Now that you have prepared thoroughly, you can formulate your speech outline. Get familiar with the main points of your speech. You can find examples and references below, explaining each topic. Remember that all the various elements of your speech will make an organizational pattern supporting your central thesis (key message). An organized speech has main points, typically between 2 and 5, and any supporting material is put in your outline as a sub-point.

A Roman numeral numbers every main point, while subpoints are listed with capital letters. The hierarchal order that follows is Arabic numerals and, finally, lowercase letters. For further subordination, speak to your tutor or the person in charge of your public speaking project.

Here is the basic speech outline, including an introduction, body, and conclusion. For planning purposes, each section is explained to understand the textual arrangements best. Examples are given later in the text.

  1. Introduction

    Every basic speech outline includes an introduction. This is your speech opening, and it needs to be robust and captivating. It is critical to prepare a compelling introduction. An introduction has 3-5 parts, depending on the length of your speech.

    1. Attention getter – Capture the audience’s attention.
    2. Thesis statement – Your key message is introduced here with a couple of short sentences.
    3. Motivation – Explain how this speech will be relevant to the audience
    4. Qualifications – Explain to the audience why you are qualified to discuss this topic
    5. Transition – Smoothly transition the audience to the next part of your speech

  2. Body

    The body is an integral part of any basic speech. Here you can develop your thesis in detail. The body holds the bulk of the information you will be presenting in front of an audience. It is important to do plenty of research on your speech topic. Gather content you might need during your talk. are you going to need any visual aids? Perhaps make some charts of your statistics. Or, if you’re going for a humorous approach, some memes on the topic can get the audience laughing and hungry to hear more on the topic. Aim for a sheet full of ideas. It’s worth noting that too much information doesn’t mean better speech. Once you have gathered all your engaging material, subtract some supporting material that you feel isn’t genuinely helping your presentation. You shouldn’t try to talk about everything. Instead, choose what is most important and focus on making it relevant and believable by adding sub-points:

    1. First main point (provide a reason why the audience should think the way your thesis statement suggests)
      1. First subpoint (Give some support to the reason above)
        1. Sufficiently supported statements (Provide more factual arguments to support the above statements)
        2. Sufficiently supported statements
      2. Second subpoint (Structured like the one above, with its supporting point listed below)
        1. Sufficiently supported statements (Provide more factual arguments to support the above statements)
        2. Sufficiently supported statements (…)
      3. More points, following the above guidelines
      4. Transitional statement
    2. Second main point (Another reason the audience should support your thesis)
      1. First subpoint (Supporting the main point)
        1. Continue organizing your outline this way.
    3. Third main point
      1. First subpoint (supporting the main point)
        1. Continue your outline as shown above.

  3. Conclusion
  4. The grand finale of your speech is where you must tie together all previous elements in a clear and solid point.

    1. Summary – Here, all your main ideas and points will connect together and formulate a convincing conclusion. You can provide short examples of why the listeners should agree with your proposed thesis:
      1. Reason 1
      2. Reason 2
    2. Call to action – give the audience members a suggestion, something they can do to support what they have learned. Or instead, think of a unique or memorable ending to your speech.
    3. Closure – Bring the speech to an end by thanking the audience for their time.
    4. Bibliography – in some cases, you might get asked for your bibliography of references. If you’re using many statements, quotes, or statistics from various sources, remember to collect them throughout your research.

Let’s help you visualize these instructions and see how these elements correspond by looking at an example.

Topic: Hypoalergenic Cats

Specific Purpose: To debunk the myth of hypoallergenic cats.

Thesis: Despite there being breeds of cats known as “hypoallergenic”, no cat breed is guaranteed to relieve you of your allergy symptoms.

Preview: I will talk about the misconceptions behind cat allergies and explain how they work.

Here is an example of the structure of a Body:

  1. To start, let’s determine what makes someone allergic to cats.
    1. People are allergic to a protein called FEL D1.
      1. The protein is contained in the cat’s saliva.
      2. The saliva is being transferred to the cat’s fur during their cleaning process.
      3. This fur is spread around your house in the form of dander.
    2. People are not allergic to a cat’s fur, just the protein.
  2. Different cats produce a different amount of FEL D1.
    1. This means you could be allergic to some cats, not all of them.
    2. You could potentially own a cat. Here is what you can do regarding
      1. Get a check-up and find out if there are any medications you can take to ease your allergy symptoms.
      2. Vacuum regularly around your house to reduce cat hair and dander spreading.
      3. Swap your drapes with blinds and carpets with hardwood floors. That way, less fur will stick to your furniture.
      4. Buy HEPA air filters for every room.
      5. Clean out their litterbox more often.
  3. No cat is hypoallergenic.
    1. All cats make the protein FEL D1.
    2. Some breeds are known to produce less FEL D1, but there is no guarantee you won’t be allergic to them.
    3. Even the “naked” cat breeds such as Sphynx, Donskoy, Bambino, etc., produce FEL D1.
  4. Buying “hypoallergenic cats” only creates a bigger rehoming problem.
    1. Many cat breeders like to use the myth of hypoallergenic cats to sell expensive cat breeds.
    2. Once people realize the cat isn’t hypoallergenic, they can no longer keep it.
    3. The cat is either thrown out, put in a shelter, or resold, creating tons of stress for the animal or potentially resulting in its death.

Now that you know the structure of a speech, you are almost ready to start writing it. By all means, if this has inspired you, grab a sheet of paper and write down the ideas that come to mind. But before you start putting your outline on paper, double-check you are familiar with the rules of outlining a speech.

Rules in Outlining

Speech outlines follow a specific set of rules. Going by these rules will only help you polish the particular details that make your speech stand out. To double-check that your speech makes sense, go through your outline and give it another read to check for coherence. Here are some characteristics you should pay attention to:

Coordination

Think of your outline as a staircase – your final draft should have subordinate points diagonally placed beneath your main points. They should all interlink and reference one another.

Looking at the example from the section above, points A. and B. explain what determines a cat allergy and what doesn’t. Points 1-3 give information on why the protein affects people and debunks the myth that people are allergic to cat hair. Points 1-3 are called subordination of point, just like  A., B., and C. are to main point III. Your overall organizational pattern should not only include Roman numerals, points, and thesis statements. It should be cohesive and coordinated. 

Parallelism

Another important part of speech writing is parallelism. It is the concept of beginning sentences similarly whenever possible, using similar grammar. Pay attention to our example once again. Note section II and the subordinate points of main point B. – all points start with a verb: “Get,” “Vacuum”, “Swap,” “Clean.” This type of structure adds clarity to your speaking and shows you have really paid attention to your full-sentence outline. Don’t worry about sounding boring – parallelism helps you sound acute!

Division

Another essential part of your speech outline is division. The concept is simple – when you’re trying to make one point, you should also try to expand it. If your point is convincing enough, it will have plenty of meaningful information that you can lengthen in sections A. and B. Similarly. You can use a supporting point for sub-points A. and B. to help expand them, and so on. Remember you’re doing this only to support your main thesis statement. If your sub-points aren’t doing that, you might be waffling on and confusing your audience.

Transitions

A clever way to connect your main points is by using transitional statements. In most cases, speakers use these sentences to glue together two distinctive (yet connected) ideas. That way, the audience is prepared that something else is being discussed. You have used transitional sentences in essay writing. Maybe these words will ring a bell: “next”, “also”, “moreover”, “firstly”. These words and phrases will greatly improve your writing skills and, eventually, your entire speech.

There is another way you can integrate a transition into your speech – by using non-verbal transitions. Adding brief pauses or moving around the stage grabs the audience’s attention and helps them understand some other concept is being introduced. Most extemporaneous speakers take it to another level by stepping out of the podium or raising or lowering their voice rate. These can all be signals to your audience that a transition is taking place.

A third way to include transitions into your speech outline is to make internal summaries. To write an internal summary, summarize what has already been said in a brief sentence or two. For example:

So far, we have explored why n cat can be hypoallergenic. But does that mean you can be less allergic to some cats?

We have hinted at the next point in our speech with this question. We could also use  a summary to build on an issue we are currently expanding:

Now that you understand how cat allergies work, let’s see if there is a way to share your life with a cat despite being allergic.

Cite this article as: Jim Peterson, "How to Craft a Masterful Outline of Speech," in My Speech Class, March 2, 2022, https://www.myspeechclass.com/outline.html.