Speak for Yourself

Claire Duffy's blog about public speaking and communication (in real life). Speak well, do well!

Six steps to a great script. Step 3: The structure

The way you arrange your material is one of your most important tools for making an impact. Speeches need a beginning, a middle and an end.  You know what it is you want to include and why, but how exactly should you put the pieces together? What goes where?

A ‘pattern of arrangement’ is a way of ordering the contents of your speech.  It provides the listener with a sense of shape and direction, and  that helps  people to pay attention and stay engaged.

Choosing the right pattern is a strategic decision. What do you want to achieve?  What does the audience expect? what’s the  occasion? how much time you have? What are your options?

Believe it or not, you already know many of these patterns without even realising it.

Patterns of arrangement

Screenwriters talk about  ‘the story arc’. It’s the plot architecture, and it’s why you know that the chase scene means the end of the movie is near, or that if the hero is in a cave with his enemy, the rescue party is just about to turn up. If a car salesperson has taken you for a test drive and you’re back in the showroom you know you’ll be asked to buy.  If it’s the end of the lesson and you’re a school student you can be sure that ‘Homework’ will be the last thing your teacher mentions.   It doesn’t surprise us that a 30 second TV ad can move us through a cycle of excitement, engagement and interest, to the point where we might actually spend money.

In all these cases there’s a familiar framework underlying the presentation.  We sense the tension building and releasing, driving toward a climax or conclusion  which we unconsciously know to be there.  We recognise the pattern of arrangement.

A speech must do the same thing.  A logical, coherent structure, linked by transitional phrases and signposts takes the listener easily from one section the next, maintaining sense and interest as it does so.

There are lots of different patterns available. Always choose what suits your material and the audience best.

Some options are explained in this table.

Pattern How to use it Outline example
Topical Divides the topic  into different categories of information Sydney is a great place for families to live. There are three reasons: the economy, the landscape, the recreational  opportunities.
Spatial Creates a ‘tour’ of a place, idea or object. Central Australia is a good holiday destination.  Let’s look at Uluru, Kata Juta, The MacDonnell ranges.
Cause-Effect Explains how and why  something has occurred The origins of World War 1 lay in the alignment of power blocs in late 19th century Europe (then step it through in an orderly sequence)
Problem/Solution Describes a current problem or harm, and provides a way to overcome it. Drug use, alcohol consumption, and street violence have made Kings Cross unsafe.  It’s costing lives. We need better street lighting, more police on the beat, and late night public transport to protect  people and restore safety to the area.
Chronological Good for describing things in sequence as they occurred Daceyville was founded in 1912, as a ‘garden suburb’ for the working class. From 1916 an influx of returned soldiers moved in. By 1924  six shops, a baby health clinic, a large community hall, a police station and one public school were built. The suburb was to be bulldozed in the 1970s but resident action and Green Bans saved it. It remains protected by a development control plan.
Circular One idea leads to another, to another, and eventually back to the original thesis.
Compare and contrast Proves the merits of one idea or proposal over another. “On the one hand…on the other hand…” We need a new car. If we choose a Ford we’ll get …..If we choose a Holden, for the same money  we’ll get …..
The persuasive sequence See  Persuasion Five steps to success

When you’ve decided what arrangement suits you best,  assess its effectiveness:

  • Does your pattern give the speech momentum?
  • Does it carry  listeners along logically, and naturally, leading to a strong conclusion?
  • Does the arrangement help listeners to understand and grasp your meaning and purpose?
  • Consider where the climax of your presentation will be.  What is the key element that you will build to?  Where do you want your  audience to be  most engaged and attentive?

You are now on the way to having a well thought out and structured speech.

Pick up the series here:  Step 1Step 2Step 3Step 4 and Step 5  and Step 6.


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This entry was posted on 13/09/2012 by in Audience connection, Preparing a speech, Public speaking.

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