*If you are speaking for a class and your instructor has given you guidelines or examples for organizing your speech and making an outline, be sure to follow their rules. This page offers advice, but your instructor’s expectations are what you should care about first.
In composing a speech, an important part of the process is organizing your thoughts into an outline.
Important why? Not only does it help you keep track of the points you have researched and organize your thoughts into a logical order, it also gives you a general framework to remember while you are giving your speech.
The first step is to form your main ideas. If you summarized your topic in only a sentence or two, what would you say? It needs to be a summary of the information that you most want your audience to hear and remember.
Outlines contain three primary components: Introduction, Body, and Conclusion.
The Introduction needs to attract your audience’s attention and convince them that the speech is worth their time and energy.
The BEST introductions:
- Make your main idea clear, or at least
- Provide a memorable piece of information that is relevant to your main idea
- Are assertive and include emotion
- Activate the audience’s imagination — make them picture things, or puzzle over the answers to difficult questions
- Challenge the audience’s perspective
Considering your topic, specifically, which of these types of introduction would be effective?
- A description of the background/setting
- A rhetorical question
- A quote
- A shocking or out-of-context statement
- A direct statement of the main idea
For some speeches, either during the introduction or right after, you might be expected to introduce yourself and explain the specific objectives of your speech and/or why you chose to speak on the topic. This is one way of transitioning from the Introduction to the Body.
The purpose of your speech will determine the best way to organize its body:
- If it is an informative description of an object or place, consider a physical or spatial pattern, which describes its appearance, its sound, and other sensory attributes, or its different pieces, locations, or uses.
- If it is an informative or narrative description of an event, a chronological pattern may be preferred, describing scenes or situations in the order that they happened. Also, a procedural or “how to” speech needs to be organized according to the order of actions taken.
- Informative and persuasive speeches can both be organized according to topic — what different parts of life does this thing that you are talking about affect? For example, when giving a speech on rainfall, you might order your information according to topics of farming, health, and flooding disasters.
- Otherwise, persuasive speeches especially can be organized according to patterns that show their arguments and evidence. Some basic patterns are:
- Cause and effect, explaining how one event or situation led to another.
- Problem-solution, explaining how specific needs can be met by taking specific actions.
- Pro and con, explaining how an idea or course of action can cost or benefit the audience.
- For a more detailed explanation of patterns of argumentation, see our Persuasive Speaking page.
Different subtopics or ideas contained within the body of a speech are the speech’s main points. Each point is best supported with examples that the audience can understand and visualize, and a speaker should take care not to over- or under-explain. Practice your speech for time and rate. If you are having to speak unnaturally fast to get all the information in, you need to cut the parts of your speech that are not necessary to its main argument or purpose.
Each point you make should emphasize something about the topic that will keep your audience interested. The last point you make before your conclusion should, in most cases, be the point that is most relatable, unique, or entertaining.
Each section or point of a speech should be transitioned naturally and conversationally, using common connective expressions such as furthermore, in consequence, additionally, on the other hand, or in conclusion.
For that Conclusion, there are two things you want to plan for:
- Make sure your audience has a final understanding of your speech topic.
- Compel your audience to think about your topic after you are finished.
Normally, a good conclusion contains a summary statement or concise retelling of the speech’s main point or points. Beyond that, it may contain the following:
- Looking Back: If your introduction contained part of a story or a description of a person or place, your conclusion can return to that and give your audience closure.
- Looking Forward: If your introduction led with the main point or most shocking piece of information, you can conclude by talking about that main point again, but describing what might happen in the future, or how it applies to your audience’s lives.
- Looking Inward: Your conclusion can take the points you have made and ask the audience to relate them to their own feelings or experiences.
- Solving the Puzzle: If your introduction asked a rhetorical question, your conclusion can ask it again and sometimes answer the question.
- Call to Action: Your conclusion can ask or tell the audience to get up and do what your speech has proposed.