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The Value of an Outline in Public Speaking

Glazed eyes. Yawns. Fidgeting. All of these are signs that a speaker has lost his or her audience. Nothing is guaranteed to produce more nervousness than an audience that can’t wait for you to pronounce your last sentence. How will an outline help you?

An outline adds structure. It is the skeleton that supports the body of your speech. You know where you are going and it is easier to take your audience along with you. How does one prepare an outline?

Begin by establishing your theme. What do you want your audience to carry away with them? What idea do you want them to remember, what conclusion do you want them to reach? Stated in one sentence, this is the destination you want to arrive at with your audience.

Now choose your main points. These can be as few as two, for a short discussion, or as many as five. But no more than five. Remember our first paragraph? What does your audience already know? Don’t bore them with old news, excite them with something fresh. Above all, present information that you are convinced your audience needs.

Each main point will have supporting material. Facts. Examples. Illustrations. Convincing arguments. The length of time you have for your speech will determine how much supporting material you will use. But be careful! Don’t use too much material. Keep it short, sweet and simple. Edit ruthlessly. Distill each idea to its essence. Use only the supporting material that you cannot possibly do without.

Arrange these points in logical order, whether chronologically (earliest to latest), cause and effect, problem and solution, or another sensible way. Regardless of which you choose, your thoughts should flow from one point to another.

Now prepare your conclusion. What concept should they carry away with them? What do you want your audience to do? Your conclusion will be closely related to your theme. In simple, clear words, summarize your speech giving your audience a compelling reason to act on the information you have presented.

Finally, prepare your introduction. Now that you know what you want to say, you can think of a way to arouse your audience’s interest and curiosity. Present a problem. Use an anecdote. Relate a current event. Your goal is to point arrows to the mental road you want your audience to follow as you serve as their guide.

The more time you have to prepare your outline, the more effective you will be. But even a quickly scribbled one will keep your speech on track and your audience will be right with you.