How To Write A Speech Outline
Do you have a speech coming up soon, but don’t know where to start when it comes to writing it?
The best way to start writing your speech is to first write an outline.
While to some, an outline may seem like an unnecessary extra step — after giving hundreds of speeches in my own career, I can assure you that first creating a speech outline is truly the best way to design a strong presentation that your audience will remember.
Should I Write A Speech Outline?
You might be wondering if you should really bother with a preparation outline. Is a speaking outline worth your time, or can you get through by just keeping your supporting points in mind?
Again, I highly recommend that all speakers create an outline as part of their speechwriting process. This step is an extremely important way to organize your main ideas and all the various elements of your speech in a way that will command your audience’s attention.
Good public speaking teachers will agree that an outline—even if it’s a rough outline—is the easiest way to propel you forward to a final draft of an organized speech that audience members will love.
Here are a few of the biggest benefits of creating an outline before diving straight into your speech.
Gain More Focus
By writing an outline, you’ll be able to center the focus of your speech where it belongs—on your thesis statement and main idea.
Remember, every illustration, example, or piece of information you share in your speech should be relevant to the key message you’re trying to deliver. And by creating an outline, you can ensure that everything relates back to your main point.
Keep Things Organized
Your speech should have an overall organizational pattern so that listeners will be able to follow your thoughts. You want your ideas to be laid out in a logical order that’s easy to track, and for all of the speech elements to correspond.
An outline serves as a structure or foundation for your speech, allowing you to see all of your main points laid out so you can easily rearrange them into an order that makes sense for easy listening.
Create Smoother Transitions
A speaking outline helps you create smoother transitions between the different parts of your speech.
When you know what’s happening before and after a certain section, it will be easy to accurately deliver transitional statements that make sense in context. Instead of seeming like several disjointed ideas, the parts of your speech will naturally flow into each other.
Save Yourself Time
An outline is an organization tool that will save you time and effort when you get ready to write the final draft of your speech. When you’re working off of an outline to write your draft, you can overcome “blank page syndrome.”
It will be much easier to finish the entire speech because the main points and sub-points are already clearly laid out for you.
Your only job is to finish filling everything in.
Preparing to Write A Speech Outline
Now that you know how helpful even the most basic of speech outlines can be in helping you write the best speech, here’s how to write the best outline for your next public speaking project.
How Long Should A Speech Outline Be?
The length of your speech outline will depend on the length of your speech. Are you giving a quick two-minute talk or a longer thirty-minute presentation? The length of your outline will reflect the length of your final speech.
Another factor that will determine the length of your outline is how much information you actually want to include in the outline. For some speakers, bullet points of your main points might be enough. In other cases, you may feel more comfortable with a full-sentence outline that offers a more comprehensive view of your speech topic.
The length of your outline will also depend on the type of outline you’re using at any given moment.
Types of Outlines
Did you know there are several outline types? Each type of outline is intended for a different stage of the speechwriting process. Here, we’re going to walk through:
- Working outlines
- Full-sentence outlines
- Speaking outlines
Think of your working outline as the bare bones of your speech—the scaffolding you’re using as you just start to build your presentation. To create a working outline, you will need:
- A speech topic
- An idea for the “hook” in your introduction
- A thesis statement
- 3-5 main points (each one should make a primary claim that you support with references)
- A conclusion
Each of your main points will also have sub-points, but we’ll get to those in a later step.
The benefit of a working outline is that it’s easy to move things around. If you think your main points don’t make sense in a certain order—or that one point needs to be scrapped entirely—it’s no problem to make the needed changes. You won’t be deleting any of your prior hard work because you haven’t really done any work yet.
Once you are confident in this “skeleton outline,” you can move on to the next, where you’ll start filling in more detailed information.
As the name implies, your full-sentence outline contains full sentences. No bullet points or scribbled, “talk about x, y, z here.” Instead, research everything you want to include and write out the information in full sentences.
Why is this important? A full-sentence outline helps ensure that you are:
- Including all of the information your audience needs to know
- Organizing the material well
- Staying within any time constraints you’ve been given
Don’t skip this important step as you plan your speech.
The final type of outline you’ll need is a speaking outline. When it comes to the level of detail, this outline is somewhere in between your working outline and a full-sentence outline.
You’ll include the main parts of your speech—the introduction, main points, and conclusion. But you’ll add a little extra detail about each one, too. This might be a quote that you don’t want to misremember or just a few words to jog your memory of an anecdote to share.
When you actually give your speech, this is the outline you will use. It might seem like it makes more sense to use your detailed full-sentence outline up on stage. However, if you use this outline, it’s all too easy to fall into the trap of reading your speech—which is not what you want to do. You’ll likely sound much more natural if you use your speaking outline.
How to Write A Speech Outline
We’ve covered the types of outlines you’ll work through as you write your speech. Now, let’s talk more about how you’ll come up with the information to add to each outline type.
Pick A Topic
Before you can begin writing an outline, you have to know what you’re going to be speaking about. In some situations, you may have a topic given to you—especially if you are in a public speaking class and must follow the instructor’s requirements. But in many cases, speakers must come up with their own topic for a speech.
Consider your audience and what kind of educational, humorous, or otherwise valuable information they need to hear. Your topic and message should of course be highly relevant to them. If you don’t know your audience well enough to choose a topic, that’s a problem.
Your audience is your first priority. If possible, however, it’s also helpful to choose a topic that appeals to you. What’s something you’re interested in and/or knowledgeable about?
It will be much easier to write a speech on a topic you care about rather than one you don’t. If you can come up with a speech topic that appeals to your audience and is interesting to you, that’s the sweet spot for writing and delivering an unforgettable speech.
Write A Thesis Statement
The next step is to ask yourself two important questions:
- What do you want your audience to take away from your speech?
- How will you communicate this main message?
The key message of your speech can also be called your “thesis statement.”
Essentially, this is your main point—the most important thing you hope to get across.
You’ll most likely actually say your thesis statement verbatim during your speech. It should come at the end of your introduction. Then, you’ll spend the rest of your talk expanding on this statement, sharing more information that will prove the statement is true.
Consider writing your thesis statement right now—before you begin researching or outlining your speech. If you can refer back to this statement as you get to work, it will be much easier to make sure all of the elements correspond with each other throughout your speech.
An example of a good thesis statement might read like this:
- Going for a run every day is good for your health.
- It’s important to start saving for retirement early.
- The COVID-19 pandemic had a negative impact on many small businesses.
The second part of this step is to know how you will communicate your main message. For example, if your key point is that running improves physical health, you might get this across by:
- Citing scientific studies that proved running is good for your health
- Sharing your personal experience of going for a run every day
Your goal is for all of your sub-points and supporting material to reflect and support your main point. At the end of the speech, your audience should be appropriately motivated, educated, or convinced that your thesis statement is true.
Once you have a topic for your presentation and a good thesis statement, you can move on to the bulk of the outline.
The first part of your speech is the introduction, which should include a strong “hook” to grab the attention of your audience. There are endless directions you can go to create this hook. Don’t be afraid to get creative! You might try:
- Telling a joke
- Sharing an anecdote
- Using a prop or visual aid
- Asking a question (rhetorical or otherwise)
These are just a few examples of hooks that can make your audience sit up and take notice.
The rest of your introduction shouldn’t be too long—as a general rule of thumb, you want your introduction to take up about 10% of your entire speech. But there are a few other things you need to say.
Briefly introduce yourself and who you are to communicate why the audience should trust you. Mention why you’re giving this speech.
Explain that you’re going to cover X main points—you can quickly list them—and include your thesis statement.
You could also mention how long your speech will be and say what your audience will take away from it (“At the end of our 15 minutes together today, you’ll understand how to write a resume”).
Then smoothly transition into the body of your speech.
Next, you’ll write the body of your speech. This is the bulk of your presentation. It will include your main points and their sub-points. Here’s how this should look:
- Main point #1
- Sub point
- Sub point
- Sub point
- Main point #2
- Sub point
- Sub point
- Sub point
- Main point #3
- Sub point
- Sub point
- Sub point
Your subpoints might be anecdotes, visual aids, or studies. However you decide to support your main points, make them memorable and engaging. Nobody wants to sit and listen to you recite a dry list of facts.
Remember, the amount of detail you include right now will depend on which outline you’re on. Your first outline, or working outline, doesn’t have to include every last little detail. Your goal is to briefly encapsulate all of the most important elements in your speech.
But beyond that, you don’t need to write down every last detail or example right now. You don’t even have to write full sentences at this point. That will come in your second outline and other future drafts.
Your conclusion should concisely summarize the main points of your speech. You could do this by saying, “To recap as I finish up, today we learned…” and reiterate those primary points.
It’s also good to leave the audience with something to think about and/or discuss. Consider asking them a question that expands on your speech—something they can turn over in their minds the rest of the day.
Or share one final story or quote that will leave them with lasting inspiration. Bonus points if your conclusion circles back around to your introduction or hook.
In other cases, you may want to end with a call to action. Are you promoting something? Make sure your audience knows what it is, how it will benefit them, and where they can find it. Or, your CTA might be as simple as plugging your Twitter handle and asking listeners to follow you.
Finally, don’t forget to say thank you to your audience for taking the time to listen.
Additional Helpful Speechwriting Tips
Your speech outline is important, but it’s not the only thing that goes into preparing to give a presentation. Take a look at these additional tips I recommend to help your speech succeed.
Use Visual Aids
Visual aids are a good way to make sure your audience stays engaged—that they listen closely, and remember what you said. Visual aids serve as an attention-getter for people who may not be listening closely. These aids also ensure that your points are sufficiently supported.
You might choose to incorporate any of the following in your talk:
- A PowerPoint presentation
- A chart or graph
- A whiteboard or blackboard
- A flip chart
- A prop that you hold or interact with
- A handout
- A video
Don’t overdo it. Remember, your speech is the main thing you’re presenting. Any visual aids are just that—aids. They’re a side dish, not the main entrée. Select one primary type of aid for your speech.
If you decide to include visual aids, use your speaking outline to make a note of which items you will incorporate where. You may want to place these items on your working outline. They should definitely be on your full-sentence outline.
Keep Your Audience Engaged
As you write and practice your speech, make sure you’re doing everything you can to keep your audience engaged the entire time. We’ve already talked about including stories and jokes, using visual aids, or asking questions to vary your talk and make it more interesting.
Your body language is another important component of audience engagement. Your posture should be straight yet relaxed, with shoulders back and feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your body open to the audience.
Make eye contact with different people in the audience. Incorporate hand gestures that emphasize certain points or draw attention to your visual aids.
Don’t be afraid to move around whatever space you have. Movement is especially helpful to indicate a clearer transition from one part of your speech to another. And smile! A simple smile goes a long way to help your audience relax.
Practice Your Speech
When you’re done with speechwriting, it’s time to get in front of the mirror and practice. Pay attention to your body language, gestures, and eye contact.
Practice working with any visual aids or props you will be using. It’s also helpful to make a plan B—for instance, what will you do if the projector isn’t working and you can’t use your slides?
Ask a friend or family member if you can rehearse your speech for them. When you’re through, ask them questions about which parts held their attention and which ones didn’t.
You should also use your speaking outline and whatever other notes you’ll be using in your speech itself. Get used to referring to this outline as you go. But remember, don’t read anything verbatim (except maybe a quote). Your speaking outline is simply a guide to remind you where you’re going.
Learn to Speak Like A Leader
There’s a lot of work that goes into writing a speech outline. That’s undeniable. But an outline is the best way to organize and plan your presentation. When your speech outline is ready, it will be a breeze to write and then present your actual speech.
If you’re looking for more help learning how to become a strong public speaker, I recommend my free Speak Like A Leader resource. In this handbook, I share power words and phrases that will allow you to get your point across—plus, expert tips and strategies to make you come across more professional in any and every situation. Download the handbook here and start learning how to give a winning speech.
About Brian Tracy — Brian is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian's goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.