10 Sure-Fire Steps to Writing a Speech Outline

Your boss has asked you to give a speech at the annual meeting. Now you wonder why you accepted. Panic is setting in; what should you do? To get started, prepare an outline. Your confidence will increase the more you think through your message before getting behind the podium. Here are ten simple steps for writing an effective speech outline.

1. Use a two-to-five-word phrase to describe the topic of your speech. Make sure the phrase is broad enough to cover the topic and narrow enough to stay focused.

2. Turn the theme into a full sentence. For example, 'the courage of dissent,' while a great theme, is not a sentence because it lacks a verb. You could write, 'In a world stressing community responsibility, leaders must remember the value of dissent.' When you turn the theme into a sentence, it becomes your thesis statement.

3. Ask a question about the thesis. Usually several questions come to mind. Take for example the question, 'Why?' Why is dissent so important? That question may lead to a message about individual freedom and ethics. The question, 'what?' would lead to a definition of the concept of dissent. For our example, we'll use the question, 'How?'

4. Answer the question with a key word. What are some single-word answers that come to mind? I think of 'ways,' 'means,' 'forms,' 'manners,' and so on. The word you use to answer the question is your classification key word. It will always be plural because it represents a group of things. For our example, let's take the key word 'forms.'

5. Turn your key word into a transitional sentence. This sentence will describe the main points of your speech. Here is a possible transitional sentence formulated from our key word 'forms': 'The need for dissent may appear in various forms throughout your leadership career.'

6. Prepare from two to six main points (three will often make a balanced message). Each of your main points fits into the classification described by your key word. In our example, each point will be a 'form' of dissent.
(1) Leaders oppose immorality.
(2) Leaders defend the weak.
(3) Leaders resist corruption.
(4) Leaders struggle against their own inner demons.

7. Under each of your main points, add supporting points. Avoid adding material that has nothing to do with the main point. Take the second point above: 'Leaders defend the weak.' Your supporting points might be expressed as follows:
A. The crowd does not defend the weak.
B. Government does not defend the weak.
C. Business does not defend the weak.
D. The weak cannot defend themselves.

8. Write your conclusion. The conclusion is the place where you bring everything to a center and where you appeal to your audience to do something.

9. Write your introduction. This may sound counter-intuitive but you can't tell people where you are going until you know yourself. Most of your introduction is already written because it includes the thesis statement and transitional sentence. Add a gripping story and your introduction is ready.

10. Finally, rehearse your delivery. Go through your outline several times, aloud, until you become familiar with your own voice. When you give your speech, don't read your outline. Relax. Look people in the eyes. The message you have outlined will flow like a conversation.