The Best Speech Guide (Part 4) Structuring The Presentation

Structuring The Presentation

Now we come onto the crucial phase of preparation, getting the right structure for your talk. If you haven’t read The Best Speech Guide Part 1,2 & 3 we will recommend you to read them first before proceeding. Let’s assume that you already have a list of headings and ideas.

Expert speech makers and advisers on presentations disagree over the importance of structure. There is the school, represented by David Bernstein, author of Put it together, Put it across, which says that the structure is everything. Bernstein says, ‘Before I put it across I need to put it together’. Other experts say that it’s not what you say, it’s the way that you say it’. Michael Gelb, author of Present Yourself, says that the audience will tend to focus more on the body language and rhythm of the voice than on the content.

Whichever point of view you adopt, for the inexperienced speaker, structure is crucial because it gives you the security of a plan.

Lets go through the steps you now need to take, to turn your disconnected ideas into an organized structure.

Step one: identifvinq the core statement

Identify your main proposition.

  • What single thing are you trying to get across?
  • What is your conclusion going to be?

Try phrasing something in quantifiable objectives. For instance, ‘At the end of my presentation I hope you will know exactly how a school leaver can embark upon journalism training, what is involved and what the opportunities are. I also hope to inspire each of you a little.’

Step Two: Setting Objectives

Identify your main objectives/elements and sub elements. You should have 3 to 6 main objectives in total, preferably no more. Your talk should cover the following:

A) Qualifications

  • Entry for graduates
  • Entry for school leavers
  • Other ways in

B) Different Kinds Of Journalism

  • Newspapers
  • General magazines
  • Trade press
  • Radio and TV etc

At this stage don’t worry too much whether the points are in the right order.

Step Three: The Framework

You need a route map or framework. Are you going to start at the beginning and go through historically? Would it be better to start with a proposition, then discuss pros and cans before coming to a conclusion? Or might it
be better to start with a problem, then discuss research
methodology before evaluating findings and summing up?

Which framework you choose depends very much upon the nature of the subject matter and the purpose of your communication. Here are the main structures you could choose from:

  • for and against (pros and cons)
  • persuasive form (problem and solution)
  • The classical form (stages and recapitulations)
  • The scientific form
  • The historical form
  • Geographical form
  • Categories
  • Dramatic narrative.

Lets explore each one in turn

Pros and Cons

  • Outline of issue
  • Arguments for (or against)
  • Summary of arguments
  • Arguments against (or for)
  • Summary of arguments
  • Recap of issues
  • Conclusion – food for thought or hard hitting persuasive point.

This is the classic debating society format and probably the one with which you are most familiar with. It is also the format used in the legal system. First you get the case for the prosecution, then the case for the defense. The idea basically is to present the arguments and let the audience make their own mind up, or Come to some conclusion with the purpose of persuading them to a certain point of view.

This format is normally used for seminars in which you are asked to present arguments for and against a proposition and invite the audience to up their own mind. It is also used for talks about objective subjects like
careers talks to school pupils and situations which require the presentation of a balanced argument. For example, you are presenting to a tutorial group at university the arguments for and against some political/academic/legal issue such as whether the A-level examination system should be reformed.

Persuasive form (problem and sojution)

  • Outline purpose or problem/point a scenario
  • Problems/reasons against
  • Demolish reasons against – the ‘product is the solution
  • Outline benefits/reasons for
  • Summarize benefits
  • Conclusion – action or selling point

This is similar to the for and against structure, except the purpose is not to expostulate and present a balanced picture but to change attitudes or influence. The structure is subtly different and the language will be much more emotive. Analyse the structure of a television commercial:

  • ‘Picture of harassed woman doing the washing’ (scenario)
  • ‘Can’t get all those nasty stains out?’ (problem)
  • ‘Powders XYZ just won’t shift them’ (demolish opposition)
  • ‘Try BLOB – the powder with a difference’ (benefits)
  • ‘Remember that BLOB removes all the deep-rooted stains that other powders leave behind’ (summary)
  • ‘Buy BLOB’ (action)

This structure is the classic one used by sales professionals.

The persuasive format works for any situation in which you are essentially persuading people to a course of action – to change the way they do things, to introduce a new subject to the curriculum, to buy a product, to Tun an event.

The classical form (like sonata form in classical music)

Outline introduction (Can take the form of questions)

  • Stage 1 Or opening theme
  • Recapitulation of 1
  • Stage 2 or second theme
  • Recap of 1 and 2
  • Stage 3 or development section
  • Recap of 1, 2 and 3
  • Conclusion.

Basically this is ‘Tell them what you’re going to say. Then say it. Then tell them you’ve said it’

This fits well in situations where you want to convey information or instructions. For example. you may be teaching people the principles of sailing before you let them loose on a boat; it is important that they remember each step in turn before they hoist the sail and set off.

You don’t. of course, have to stick to three points, but research has shown that people remember best in threes, and after that in fives and sevens and tens – but not twos, fours and sixes, for some totally mysterious reason.

The scientific form

  • Purpose of study, question to be investigated
  • Method of investigation
  • Data used
  • Findings
  • Conclusions QED

This structure is most commonly used in the academic world, especially the sciences and social sciences.

Historical/chronological structure

Stage 1 – the infant (0-1)
Stage 2 – the toddler (1-5)
Stage 3 – early school days (5-7)
Stage 4 – juniors (7-11)
Stage 5 – teenagers (12-19) etc.

This structure works best for historical talks or for subjects which fit into developmental phases. It is probably the easiest structure to master as it follows an obviously logical sequence. Other subjects which fit neatly into this structure are talks about the history of a building and talks relating to problems occurring over time.

Geographical and spatial

  • Europe or EU
  • Eastern Europe
  • The Middle East
  • The Pacific Rim.

This is the obvious one to use when talking about cultural topics or about any geographical or travel subjects_ If you are talking about a building, then starting with one room and talking your audience through room by room is one approach.


  • English
  • Spanish
  • Arabic
  • Chinese
  • Latin

These are all ways of grouping languages according to their root. Other subjects that fit easily into the categories or list format are occupational groups, social and lifestyle groups. Advertising and marketing people seem to love categories! Here are some examples:

  • ‘Consumer durables’ – fridges, cars, etc.
  • ‘YUPPIES’ – young upwardly-mobile professionals.
  • ‘DINKIES’ – double income, no kids.

The idea is to divide up your main points and go through each one step by step as in American-style management seminars.

Example: ‘The ten golden

Dramatic Narrative

  • Set the scene/arouse interest
  • Introduce the characters or theme of the plot
  • Develop the plot
  • Climax
  • And the moral of the tale is…

This is the oldest form of communication. Newspaper journalists still call news reports ‘stories’ although news story has a slightly different format, beginning with hard hitting point and tailing off towards the end.

It is difficult to give a structure here. It’s best to tell something as it happened, let the story unfold and keep the audience on their toes by building suspense and leaving the ‘punch line’ until the end.

The story-telling structure can be incorporated into other formats. You can have a short story as part of a general talk.

There are other Structures but the ones we have discussed should offer an answer to most public speaking needs.

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