Structuring Your Speech


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This speech will be presented at the staff training day for the Timberland Regional Library System on 9/21/2011

Introduction

When writing a speech for an audience – particularly when you want to teach said audience – remember that you are giving the presentation because people learn more and learn faster with a live presenter. As the comic below shows, your presence makes a much stronger impression than any other medium. Knowing this, utilize everyone’s time wisely by using a speech structure built for retention:

  1. Get to the point
  2. Use the rule of three
  3. Remember, less is more

Get to the point

When writing a speech, start at the end.

Decide:

  1. What is the point of my presentation?
  2. Why do they care?

Boil this down to your main theme. Everything you want to say – your entire reason for writing the speech, be it six hours or six minutes – should fit on the back of a business card. (In 12-point font, in 1 sentence). This is the Mission Statement for your speech!

Now, you may start building your speech around this theme.

Remember the basic formula:

  1. The Introduction – the appetizer – Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em.
    1. Tell them in such a way that it’s exciting!!
    2. This is where you bring your original business card statement in and tell them what they’re about to hear, why they should care, and (if you were not introduced by someone else as I was) add why they should listen to YOU.
  2. The Body – the main course – Tell ‘em what you said you would
  3. The Conclusion – aka Summary – the dessert – Tell ‘em what you told ‘em.
    1. This is where you leave room for questions, too.

 The Rule of Three

It all seems so simple, right? Now, we will discuss what we put in that main course/middle part. All the juicy goodness of your speech’s body.

I’m going to shout out some words – please do not write them down:

Drum, Cake, Horse, Camera

You are a well-educated group and are most likely well-versed in the different learning styles. Some of you are auditory and will remember those four items forever. The rest of you, like me, may be able to remember two easily and three if we think about it. If each were a point and discussed at length, we might still remember three. A few of you can’t remember even one of them, and that’s why we take notes. But, if you remember any, you most likely remember three, not four.

The fact is, three is a magic number. Many studies have shown things coming in threes are more satisfying, more humorous and easier to remember. Comics have three panels. There were three bears. We buy houses because of location, location, location. We want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. From Shakespeare to Cosmo – the magic rule of three is used to embed ideas into our brains because it works.

Your speech should have only three points. Any more, and your audience’s brains fall out. What do you bet that the whole zombie phenomenon started during a presentation with 10 points. Yes, those top 10 lists are fun – but no one remembers numbers 4 through 10. That’s why there are only three medals in the Olympics.

Now how many remember those four words?

How many of you remember one of these words? Two? Three? All four? How many of you think I just threw out four completely different words?

 Less is more

Imagine having to write a 10-minute persuasive speech about shelving. Not only does it sound really boring, but you might think, “I have nothing to say.” Sure, you know a lot about shelving, but what would you speak about to a group of people that also know a lot about shelves?

The reason that the topic seems too difficult or too boring is that it is too broad. When you find yourself unable to come up with anything to say, it seems counter-intuitive to narrow down the subject, but that is exactly what you must do.

Start with a mini brain-storming session. Consider aspects of your topic that are:

  1. Relevant
  2. Interesting
  3. Timely

The basic structure does not leave a lot of wiggle room. Not only is this the point, but it takes into consideration the attention span (and bottom endurance) of your audience.

When you must speak about a convoluted or technical subject, break it down into segments of similar subjects, and then divide those segments into smaller chunks. Try your best to uphold the rule of three so that each chunk is digestible. Too much of a good thing is still too much. If you have a list of resources for them to peruse or very detailed data for them to ogle, give it to them afterwards. They won’t retain it if you rattle it off for them.

Here is how to tell if your speech was effective: listen to the questions. If you start thinking, “why are you asking this – I already TOLD you this!” then your presentation was not clear enough. Your audience did not hear what you were trying to convey. Questions should expand upon the information you presented. In fact, when the information you present is put together well, you will find that most questions are actually statements, leaning towards commentary or asking for your opinion. This means that the audience members understood what you had to say and they are either agreeing or disagreeing with your points. Either way, that’s a good sign that they followed.

Conclusion

If you use these three basic steps, you will not only write and deliver a cohesive, informative and entertaining speech – but you can do it quickly!

Remember:

  • Get to the point
  • Use the rule of three
  • Less is more
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