A lot of speakers cautiously choose their topics, select a concrete purpose, look for good supporting resources, and yet never experience success in public speaking. It may be partly due to misfortune, but it is mostly attributable to how they have outlined and organized their thoughts.
It is like writing an essay. You need to start with a thesis and decide the main points that will clarify or develop it. Organizing, therefore, is stating the thesis of the speech and listing down the main ideas that will be used to support it.
1. Organizing the Introduction of Your Speech
The beginning of your speech is essential. It gives your audience their first impression of your subject, purpose, and main point. But your beginning must do more than help them to understand your speech. It must also catch their interest. It is not sufficient to say, “Today I am going to talk about why the school needs a new basketball gym.” It’s difficult to captivate the audience using this statement. The introduction needs to be planned so that listeners want to pay attention to your speech, consider you as a credible speaker, and have some notion of your speech’s focus and objective.
A lot of good speeches fall short because of their confusing and boring introductions. If you do not get off to a good start then chances are, your audience may “tune you out,” like a radio listener who simply changes channels to get rid of silly programs. Just because people sit as part of the audience does not mean they intend to listen – except that you should make it impossible for them not to.
Effective introduction includes capturing the attention of your audience. When you get up to speak, the audience will usually give you their full attention. But that attention is short. Below are ways of maintaining audience attention:
- Establish common ground. Listeners are more likely to pay attention to speakers with whom they share common experiences, problems, or goals.
- A startling statement or statistic. Use intriguing or startling statements or statistics that arouse curiosity. For example, “950,000 people in the Middle East may not be able to eat three meals a day in the year 2010.” or “Dinosaurs aren’t extinct. Every time you see a songbird, you’re looking at a survivor from the Paleozoic era.”
- A story or a brief anecdote. An interesting story – whether it isemotional, humorous, puzzling, or intriguing – commands attention. The story can be factual or fancied. It can be a personal experience, or it can be something you have read. For example, “An interesting thing happened on my way here today.” or “The first time I jumped out of a plane…”
- A rhetorical or actual question. Rhetorical questions don’t ask forimmediate responses. Instead, they are aimed to get the audience thinking about an issue or concept. For example, “Did you know that you lose ten billion skin cells everyday?”
- A quotation. You can use the words of a famous performer, author, athlete, or singer or other renowned and highly esteemed figures to get the audience’s interest and attention immediately. For example, “When I was a small child, I heard a wise man say….”
- Use humor. Some speakers love to start a speech with a humorous anecdote, but you have to handle humor with care. Regardless of how funny a story is, it must be appropriate to the point you want to make. Merely telling a few jokes is not a good way to introduce a speech, and a joke that falls flat is humiliating. Humor should never be rude and should never be intended to ridicule someone or something, so you have to be cautious.
You can use several of the above simultaneously. For instance, you might tell an interesting story that also establishes common ground and piques curiosity.
Pausing after telling a compelling story, asking a rhetorical question, or sharing a memorable quotation may help audience members reflect what you are about to say. In whatever technique you use, be sure it attracts in the sense that a magnet attracts. The important factor here is capturing and maintaining the listeners’ interest and attention.
An effective introduction gets attention and generates audience interest on the topic. It also creates appropriate expectations by preparing the listeners to receive the message. What three distinct parts make up the introduction?
- The opener – This is the first sentence. It can be a quotation, astartling statement or statistic, or a brief anecdote. This opening should be short, interesting, and appropriate to the topic.
- The topic – This is simply stating the title of the speech. Say it directly as: “I have been asked to speak about _____________________.” or “I have chosen to speak to you about _____________________.”
- The agenda – This briefly explains your points of view or what youwill be discussing.
Here then is an example of an introduction:
- Good afternoon, everyone. (2) It’s a pleasure to be here with you today. (3) I have been asked to introduce myself and been given 3 minutes to do this. (4) There is not much I can tell you about myself in that length of time; so, what I will do instead is to start with my topic which is The Increasing Involvement of Women in Social Issues Today. (5) I feel verystrongly that women’s response to current social issues are evident in, one, the way she deals with home and domesticity, two, her participation or support of community-based groups for change, and three, her involvement in national issues through a stronger sense of awareness of these issues.
Sentences 1-3 are the openers, sentence 4 is the topic and sentence 5 is the agenda.
In effect, the introduction is brief, direct, and should get the audience’s attention while preparing them for what is to follow. In an interesting manner, an introduction clearly establishes the topic and sets a guide on what the audience can expect from the speech.
2. Organizing the Body of Your Speech
At this point you’re set to organize your main ideas and provide visual and verbal supports. The body of your speech is its meat, and you should put the major points you want to expound in this portion of your speech. These main points should be simple, declarative sentences so that they are easily recognized and remembered when people leave your speech. These points need support, elaboration, clarification, and evidence. These can come in the form of specific and concrete details, comparisons, examples, and illustrations.
There are several steps you can do to make your main points memorable:
- Limit yourself to no more than three to five main points.
- Keep your main points brief and use parallel structures when possible.
- Arrange your material so that you cover your most important point either first or last.
- Make your main points memorable by creating your own rhyme or acronym when possible.
3. Organizing the Conclusion of Your Speech
A lot of speakers don’t actually conclude their speeches – they merely stop talking. Others may fall through their concluding paragraph, decreasing the success of the speech.
The concluding paragraph is very essential. It gradually ushers the audience back to an overall assessment of the discussion. Of course, a competent discussion in the body will give the speaker more leeway to device a conclusion to this effect.
No speech is complete without a concluding remark since the conclusion ensures all ideas were understood and remembered. It provides the needed closure. It’s very likely that some might have missed, have misunderstood, or have forgotten a point (perhaps they were unfocused or they were daydreaming for a while). Without a conclusion, we cannot correct these problems. A conclusion is also essential because listeners like and need closure. Without it, they may feel like vacationers left adrift after a pleasure cruise – much of the enjoyment created by the cruise is lost.
Conclusion is particularly significant if you have a question-and-answer period at the last part of your speech. Provide a brief summary before the question-and-answer and another one after it to tie up any loose ends and to redirect attention back to the main points presented in your speech.
But like the beginning, the ending should be relatively brief, preferably not more than one-seventh of the whole speech. Most devices suggested for beginnings are appropriate for endings. The shorter you make your ending, the more forceful it will seem to your audience, and the more easily they will remember it.
Here are some techniques to make effective conclusions:
- Summarize what you have told your audience – your main points and ideas.
- Issue a challenge to your audience.
- Make an appeal to your audience for action.
- Visualize the future.
- Include memorable quotations.
- Refer to the introduction, i.e. return the audience to your opening statement.
Since conclusions are so essential and potentially memorable, they should (1) be brief, (2) never ramble, (3) not introduce new information, and (4) be constructed carefully. As you can see, the conclusion of a speech is too crucial to take lightly. If you make your conclusion carefully, then you will end your speech with a strategic close and produce a final positive effect.
If you see that time is running out, don’t remove your conclusion. It is better to shorten your final point (or even leave it out completely) than to exclude your conclusion. If you time your speech while practicing, you won’t have to be bothered about time problem. The time to conclude is when the audience wants more and not when the speaker has exhausted them.