Speechwriting speech Structure How to organize your speech

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Speech Structure - How to organize your speech

Most good writing, we are told, must have structure. A good speech is no exception. By providing your speech with a beginning, a middle, and an end, you will lay the foundations for a successful speech that fulfills all of your aspirations.


The first thirty seconds of your speech are probably the most important. In that period of time you must grab the attention of the audience, and engage their interest in what you have to say in your speech. This can be achieved in several ways. For example you could raise a thought-provoking question, make an interesting or controversial statement, recite a relevant quotation or even recount a joke. Once you have won the attention of the audience, your speech should move seamlessly to the middle of your speech.


The body of your speech will always be the largest part of your speech. At this point your audience will have been introduced to you and the subject of your speech (as set out in your opening) and will hopefully be ready to hear your arguments, your thoughts or even your ramblings on the subject of your speech.

The best way to set out the body of your speech is by formulating a series of points that you would like to raise. The points should be organized so that related points follow one another so that each point builds upon the previous one. This will also give your speech a more logical progression, and make the job of the listener a far easier one.

Don't try to overwhelm your audience with countless points. It is better to make a small number of points well than to have too many points, none of which are made satisfactorily.


Like your Opening, the Closing of your speech must contain some of your strongest material. You should view the closing of your speech as an opportunity. It is an opportunity to:

  • – Summarize the main points of your speech

  • – Provide some further food for thought for your listeners

  • – Leave your audience with positive memories of your speech

  • – End with a final thought/emotion

Create a speech outline

Outlining is a popular pre-draft technique when writing and it is one I commonly recommend to aspiring speechwriters.

An outline is a hierarchical representation of the content of your speech. Think of it as the skeleton upon which you will add the flesh of your speech.

That was easy. It gets a little trickier though. The next step is try to flesh out some additional points, using the notes you have about the occasion, the theme, the subject and other information you have gathered.

For the first time, a speech is taking shape! Your speech will take further shape as you take each element of your outline and, where appropriate, you add more additional outlines.

Continue to iterate through your outline until you feel you have captured the essence of your speech. Be sure not to mistake the outline for the speech itself. That's the next step. For now, be happy to achieve a great framework that will guide you as you write your speech.

Draft your speech

It is now time to add flesh to your outline and create a first draft of the speech. Before we start, note that a draft is just that, a first-cut at your speech. Your first draft of a speech should never, ever be the final draft.

The outline we created in the last step will serve as the basis for our first draft. We take each element of the outline and apply our creative writing juices to turn that outline into a portion of a speech.

There is no right or wrong way to move from outline to draft. Be yourself, use your own voice and remember, you can change anything and everything you write later. For now it's just important to

Once you have finished your first draft of the speech, it's time to take a rest. Put the speech down and forget about it for a day or two. First, you need a rest. But second, your critical eyes will function much better in the cold light of day. You will be amazed at how much your speech will improve when you go from first to second to third draft - but only if you leave time between each draft.

There is no scientific way to know when you have reached your speech's final draft, but here is a good indication: If you find yourself broadly happy with the speech and find yourself making minor changes from draft to draft, it's time to stop.

Getting feedback on your speech

At this stage you have got the speech to a point where you are quite happy, possibly even very happy. That's great. The day for your public speaking debut is fast approaching.

It's now time to do something that many people are loath to do. It's time to get some feedback on your speech.

This is an invaluable step that will only enrich your speech and potentially save you from much controversial. It's much better to learn of any problems with your speech now, than when you are delivering your speech on the podium at your public speaking event.

Ideally you should seek feedback from 2-3 people, at least one of whom is not directly related to or attending the event - an impartial critic, if you like.

Examples of feedback you should seek include:

  • Inappropriate content

  • Error(s) of omission

  • Grammatical problems

  • Appropriate use of humor

On the topic of grammatical problems, I'm a strong advocate of natural language when it comes to writing non-formal (e.g. business, award ceremonies). In other words, if you're writing a best man speech, it's much preferable that the voice is yours, rather than perfect English. This familiarity will help your audience engage with you and put you at ease when delivering your speech.

Final version of your speech


You started this process with a blank piece of paper. You now have a final version of your speech. That's great!

Even though we label this version of your speech the final version, there is still room to change. In particular, as you progress through the How to deliver a speech section of this course, you may find that a part of your speech that works on paper, doesn't do so when spoken aloud. That's absolutely fine.

Without further ado, let's move on.


Don't Underestimate the Delivery

A great speech on paper is not a great speech unless it is delivered effectively. The number one thing that you can do to improve your delivery is to practice. Know your content. Know your transitions. Know your timing. Stand up and deliver your speech in the bathroom before you deliver it in the boardroom. Here are a few things to keep in mind for an effective delivery:

Eye Contact

Use it.  The audience connects with you through your eyes.  Avoiding eye contact can also be a red flag to the audience that you are not confident in what you are saying or that you are hiding something. Don’t focus your attention on one person, but instead spread your eye contact around to members of the audience. One technique you can try is: One Person, One Thought. The means that for each though in your speech make eye contact with one person. On the next thought, go to the next person.

Hand Gestures

Hand Gestures Can Be Effective

Using them can definitely be good, especially to emphasize a point, but you also don’t want to overdo it and distract the audience. If you are like most people and not sure what to do with your hands, the best rule of thumb is to limit your hand movement and don’t put them in your pockets.


Movement can represent confidence to the audience. Too much movement, however, is a sign of nervousness. Try to avoid pacing or rocking back and forth. If you are speaking behind a podium, one tip you might try is, at an appropriate time in your speech move to the side of the podium.  This shows the audience you are not “hiding” behind the podium. Finally, remember not to slouch. Standing straight projects confidence.

Facial Expressions

Don’t be afraid to use facial expressions.  If you know you are saying something funny, then smile.  If you are talking about something serious, show a look of empathy.  A stony face will make you seem aloof, while an expressive face can help you connect with the audience.

Vary Your Voice

How you say something can be just as important as what you are saying.  Pay attention to your tone and your speed. Don't talk to fast. No Yelling. And avoid the soft voice that can't be heard. Use your pace and tone to emphasize important ideas. And always remember to vary both. Monotone and monospeed are two common pitfalls you want to avoid.

Dress the Part

Certain speaking situations will call for more professional dress than others. Dressing well will often make you feel and look more confident, and may even add some credibility. The just-rolled-out-of-bed look is unlikely to impress your audience.

Get Plenty of Rest and Arrive on Time

Arrive on time and ready to go. Being tired can weaken your memory and lower your energy level. Try to get a good night's sleep before your speech. It will help you keep the energy level high when you are talking.

Take Your Time

Take your time and allow everyone to absorb what you are saying. A speech is not a race. Start slow and if you see that your audience wants you to speak a little faster, then, and only then, start to pick up the pace.

Pause for Important Ideas

Pauses are good. They let your audience think about your words. Try to pause after the most important points in your speech.

Find a Friendly Face

When you deliver your speech, look for a friendly face. This will give you encouragement throughout your speech. Don't stare at the person, but periodically look over for a little boost in confidence.




  • Hesitant delivery.

  • Reads entire speech with minimal expression.

  • May be difficult to hear


  • Weak structure – may lack a clear introduction and/or conclusion.

  • Short with no development of ideas.

  • Topic not suited or inappropriately handled.

 Speech is read with limited expression.

  • Poor use of body language and gesture.

  • Voice is not well controlled in terms of volume, pace and pitch.


 Shows some organization of ideas into a basic structure-introduction/conclusion may be weak.

 Ideas are straightforward and are not well developed.

 Speech is delivered with some confidence and use of eye contact.

 Uses some appropriate body language and gesture.


 Speech is structured appropriately with a relevant introduction and conclusion.

 Ideas are developed in some detail.

 Topic/content of interest to audience

 Relaxed and confident delivery with sustained eye contact.

Uses a clear, expressive voice that is well paced.

 Uses appropriate body language and gesture effectively.



 Speech is well structured with an effective introduction and conclusion.

 Some effective use of appropriate language techniques.

 Ideas are thoughtful and very well developed.

 Shows some imagination/ originality in approach to topic.

 Delivery projects confidence and enjoyment.

 Maintains excellent eye contact.

 Uses a range of effective delivery techniques, including voice and body language, with flair.

 Captures audience interest throughout and responds to them.



 Speech is very well structured with an effective introduction and conclusion.

 Ideas are thoughtful and fully developed.

 Uses appropriate language techniques with discrimination and flair.

 Shows originality/imagination in approach to topic.

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