How to organize your speech so your audience stays with you the whole time

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I’m sure you’ve heard people say things like, “I’m a much better speaker when I just speak off the cuff. Preparation makes me more boring.” 

postits-organizingMaybe you’ve even said this yourself. No shame in that – I get where it comes from. Sometimes the anxiety during preparation makes us feel like we are less natural and easy going when it comes presentation time. (Especially if we don’t know how to prepare in a way that makes our talk awesome.) 

Fact is, for the vast majority of us, it simply is not true that we are better presenters when we skip the preparation process (Sorry).

The only people who do really well presenting “off the cuff” are people who have been presenting for years and have become masters of speaking structure and of their own message. This is people like the late Wayne Dyer, Tony Robbins and some excellent pastors and ministers who use the same speech structure every time and gather stories to share as a practice in their daily life.

The rest of us must prepare in order to deliver a fabulous, engaging talk. This is true of our best speakers today. First let me show you the structure you should use for every presentation and then I’ll share with you examples of awesome, popular speeches that use this same structure. (You’ll be amazed to see how clear it is once we pull the curtain back on this.)

The Simple Speech Structure Most Likely to Keep Attention (and help them remember what you said).

It’s so simple, it’s going to astound you. In fact, it will likely look very familiar to you from 5th grade writing class. Here it is:


Captivating introduction (a relevant story, real questions for the audience, a powerful quote or statistic)

Tell them why they should care (How will their life be better because they pay attention to you now?)

Establish your credibility (why should they listen to you specifically?)

Preview of main points

(3 main points is ideal. Shoot for this every time.)





Body of Speech

Main Point 1. 

support a Story

support b Research/data

support c Example, practice exercise, direct application


Main Point 2. 

support a Story

support b Research/data

support c Example, practice exercise, direct application


Main Point 3. 

support a Story

support b Research/data

support c Example, practice exercise, direct application




Powerful Close (quote, direct action request, quick story or question to take with them for consideration)


Since I want you to feel the simplicity in this, I don’t want to go on about all of the ways you can play within this structure. I do want you to note that within each main point there is a place for different types of content. It doesn’t matter what order they come in (it depends on the topic and content you have) but it does matter that you have a mix of emotional content:

  • Stories (simple powerful images can evoke a lot of emotion too)
  • Facts/data and more left-brain information (statistics, research findings)
  • Help them apply it to their own lives through activities (even just visualizing a scenario is great), examples that resonate with this audience and somatic experiences where they actually connect with their bodies as they engage with the material. 

And if you'd like to see this outline played out in a couple of the most engaging, fascinating talks online, check these out:

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

http://www.ted.com/talks/amy_cuddy_your_body_language_shapes_who_you_are (Her three main points essentially: 1. what is nonverbal power and dominance, 2. an overview of her research study on nonverbal power and dominance, and 3. how this applies to real life using her own personal story of transformation – and how you can use it too starting today/)

Brené Brown: The Power of Vulnerability

http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability (Her three main points: 1. Connection is why we are here, 2. Shame as the fear of disconnection, 2. the power of vulnerability in connection.)

I am often asked if using a speech outline like the one above makes for a boring speech. You tell me, after listening to both of these speakers. Both Brené Brown and Amy Cuddy are master storytellers and highly engaging speakers. You don't even hear their outlines as they speak, but you can see them if you study their transcripts (available below their TED talks). This is the art of great speaking – building a beautiful, engaging message through a time-tested essential structure.