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‹ View all articles29th January 2013

The balanced way to structure a speech, talk or presentation

Writing your Content

Balance is one of the six qualities of an Inspiring Speaker Ginger founder Sarah Lloyd-Hughes writes about in her book "How to be Brilliant at Public Speaking". But how does balance help you to structure a speech?

Without a strong and balanced structure, your speech structure will be like a gingerbread house with no icing to hold it together: just a collection of pieces that nobody can make sense of. Let's investigate...

Writing a speech is easy.

We can all write something down on paper that might be spoken out as a speech, can't we? It just might not be very good... But if you're trying to be influential, or even inspiring with your speaking it's getting the speech structure right that's the tricky part.

One of the biggest speech writing mistakes speakers make is to try to pack in too much information into their structure. Like a gingerbread house that's designed to be part castle, part luxury hotel, part mountain refuge, we will become confused about what your speech is built for.

Other speakers stay focused on one tiny area of their speech structure for too long and then rush the rest of the speech, like making a really beautiful door for your gingerbread house, but having nothing to attach it to.

To develop a powerful speech structure, think about the following four things -

1. Choose speech content that contains just the right amount of just the right type of information

  • Relate everything you include in your speech structure to one single purpose. That may mean you have to edit out some of the material you like the most, but if it doesn't relate to your purpose it doesn't belong in the speech structure.
  • Make your speech structure clear to the audience. Don't insert unrelated anecdotes about your childhood and skip from point A to point Q.
  • Use your speech structure to stress your most important points. If you focus on a minor point too long then the audience will get the wrong idea of what's important. Don't be afraid to repeat your key points.
  • A classic way to structure a speech is that the introduction is 10% of your speech, content 80%, and conclusion 10%. This allows for your audience to remember the meat of your speech versus an over-long introduction or conclusion.

2. Create a powerful flow of information

  • Seek a structure that turns up the intensity as you progress through your speech.
  • Keep the audience's attention throughout your speech by building to a climax, rather than peaking too soon. Your structure should always show them a reason why they should keep listening, but don't quite satisfy that reason until just before the end of your speech.
  • Use your structure to build that intensity over time to a crescendo then end quickly. This allows the audience to remember your peak and not a 10 minute droning ending that never ends. (Think "out with a whimper")

3. Find your narrative

Think of a familiar or archetypical plot or storyline that you can structure your speech. This will help your speech to be more memorable to your audience. Here are 4 of the most common speech narratives:

Melodrama Structure:

A story personal to the speaker with a similar structure to many movies. We meet the character and see their circumstances. Then a tragedy occurs. And finally tell how your character overcomes and triumphs over the tragedy. This speech structure creates a journey that will emotionally engage your audience and build credibility.

The Tower Structure:

This structure is all about using different layers of information that garners the audience's attention by supporting your key message. When you (and your audience) finish building the structure together you can look at the power of the structure you've created.

Mystery Structure:

Structure your speech around asking a question or presenting a problem to the audience that they are desperate to know. Keep them on the edge of their seats by their desire to hear your crucial message.

Ping Pong Structure:

Another fun way to structure a speech is to present both sides of the argument in such a way that the audience wants to find out "Who wins?".

4. Look for a speech structure that compels your audience to act on your words.

  • Organise your thoughts so that you don't have to make snap decisions while presenting.
  • Structure your speech so that you send your audience home remembering your key messages rather than wondering "what was that all about"?
  • Don't be afraid to edit your speech down to the simplest possible structure. If your structure is simple (without being over simplistic) you will keep everyone on board.
  • As you establish your structure and feel confident about it, you are more able to improvise and then come back to the plan. This helps you to be more fresh and empathetic with your audience.

Any time invested in working on the structure of a speech will help you to be more powerful and engaging as a speaker. So, good luck in building a well structured gingerbread house for your audience to gratefully nibble on!


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