Contrary to many politicians, Winston Churchill wrote all of his speeches. From his famous “We shall fight on the beaches” speech addressed to the House of Commons in 1940 to the scores of others, Churchill wrote and delivered his speeches in his own way. Despite his contemporaries describing him as “a word-spinner,” and, “a second-rate rhetorician,” people remember Winston Churchill’s words even today. And in his hand during his speeches, you could almost certainly see a piece of parchment that was his speech outline.
The National Social Anxiety Center says that almost 75 percent of people suffer from public speaking-related anxiety. So how do great speakers ease their pre-stage jitters? One of the most effective ways to ditch your nerves is by creating a speech outline you can follow while presenting. Novice presenters skip the outline, which is a big mistake. Veteran orators, like Churchill, understand the role of a speech outline.
If you feel like you’re not a naturally gifted public speaker, a speech outline can help get your message across to your audience. In this article, you’ll learn how to write a speech outline and why one is important. You’ll also see a speech outline example you can follow.
Why Use a Speech Outline?
As Stephen Keague writes in The Little Red Handbook of Public Speaking and Presenting, “Proper Planning and Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.” Using a speech outline goes beyond overcoming any fears or anxieties you may have from giving a speech, although that may be reason enough. With a speech outline, you can organize your thoughts before fully writing out your speech. This organization helps to put everything you think about into a neatly ordered form.
An organized speech is also more persuasive. A speech where you show your points in a scattershot manner, even if they’re good points, won’t have the same impact as one where you lay out your main points in a logical, convincing fashion. In other words, writing a speech outline will help your comments stay with your audience for longer.
Lastly, a speech outline becomes a handy guide you can use to stay on track during your speech. While some people may prefer to read from a speech they prepared word for word, following an outline helps you sound more natural. That, in turn, helps your audience give you their undivided attention.
The Two Outline Types
A speech outline doesn’t have to follow a one size fits all template. Different outlines can serve different purposes. Most outlines fall under two categories: a preparation outline and a speaking outline. Here’s how both of them break down.
A preparation outline is also known as a practice or a working outline. As you can probably guess by the name, this outline helps you prepare your speech. While writing this outline, you can develop a solid thesis and call to action for your speech while also writing down the main and supporting points you need to include. Every point you place in the outline should go in a logical order that builds off each other. Your preparation outline should be an evolving document as you make additions, take away the fluff, and refine your speech into an effective persuasive piece. The result is a full script of every line in your speech, one that you can save in your archives. You can also use it to develop the second outline type.
The speaking outline is what many people think of when they hear the term “speech outline.” This is the outline you’ll actually have with you when you deliver your speech. The speaking outline shows all the points you want to hit, including any phrases or quotes you’ll want to say word for word. The points serve as helpful guides, allowing you to navigate your way through the speech without needing to look at your papers constantly. This outline acts as a reference point to make sure you provide all the information you want but still sound natural in your delivery. Many people choose to put this outline on notecards that they carry with them as they give their speeches.
Speech Outline Template
With those types in mind, it’s time to dive into the speech outline. By using a speech outline, you’ll have more confidence as you deliver your prepared remarks. While not all outlines follow the same format, you can use the following template as an excellent starting point for speech writing. Here are some elements to include with your speech outline.
Every speech should have a title, even if people don’t see it. On a basic level, the title should explain what the speech is about. It should also be catchy, something that people will remember and reference. For example, think about famous speech titles such as “I Have a Dream,” “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death,” and “Blood, Sweat, and Tears.”
Your outline should also include the topic you’re speaking about. Make the topic a short phrase. This can help you focus on the most important aspects of your speech.
Why are you writing this speech? What do you hope the audience gets out of what you say? The answers to these questions will form your purpose statement. Like a vision statement affects everything a business does, every part of your speech should speak to its purpose. Keep your purpose statement specific, so your speech remains a tight, persuasive piece. If you ever get stuck while writing a speech, you can refer to the purpose statement to get more ideas.
Similar to a purpose statement, your speech should also include a thesis statement. The thesis statement acts in much the same way it does for an essay. It provides a brief explanation of what you intend to prove or defend throughout your speech. Unlike the purpose statement, you will likely say the thesis statement aloud at some point in the speech.
The introduction is what will hook your audience. Once you know how to start a speech, you’ll be able to grab people’s attention so you can begin to persuade them. An introduction also establishes a connection with the audience. It indicates why they should listen to you. Openings can also serve as a preview of what you plan on talking about. Getting the speech introduction right is vital because if you lose the audience initially, it becomes challenging to win their attention back.
The largest portion of your speech will be in the body. This is where you lay out the main point of your presentation, explaining what you intend to show the audience. The speech body breaks up further into different sections, each establishing a sub-point that connects directly with your main point. On top of that, each sub-point should have supporting points to provide more meat to your argument.
Like the introduction, the conclusion should be a brief section that wraps up everything you talked about. A conclusion is a good place to summarize your speech, emphasizing your main point and most convincing supporting evidence. At the same time, your conclusion should have a final call to action that the audience can do after the speech concludes.
As part of your preparation outline, you may consider including a bibliography at the end. Like any bibliography, it provides a list of all the sources you use for your speech. If your speech gets published, others can look up the statistics, facts, and quotes you used. This isn’t required for something like a medium-sized conference keynote address, but presenters who regularly have their speeches published understand the importance.
While preparing your speech, you should also prepare transitions between each of the above sections. Whether moving from the intro to the body or the main point to a sub-point, transitions help smooth out a speech and keep people following along with little effort. Make sure your transitions flow seamlessly from one point to the next. Without them, a speech can come across as jarring and difficult to understand.
Speech Outline Template Example
- Purpose Statement
- Thesis Statement
- Main Point
- Supporting Evidence
- Supporting Evidence
- Supporting Evidence
- Main Point
- Bibliography (optional)
Use a Speech Outline For Next Time
Dale Carnegie once said, “There are always three speeches, for every one you actually gave. The one you practiced, the one you gave, and the one you wish you gave.” By creating a speech outline, you’ll show your audience the poise of a practiced public speaker, even if you still get nervous. A speech outline will help you give an effective speech, one you can be proud you gave no matter what the topic is about.
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