Chapter 12: Organization and Outlines

Speech is power; speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel.
–Ralph Waldo Emerson

Getting Started

Introductory Exercises

  1. Please read the following paragraph and rearrange the sentences in logical order:

    A. I saw “The Day After Tomorrow” recently. B. The Northern Seas got very cold, very quickly. C. People in the United States fled to Mexico. D. Have you ever seen a movie you just couldn’t forget? E. Soon it was hailing, snowing, and raining all around the world. F. In the movie there was a scientist who forecast a sudden change in the climate. G. They were declared illegal aliens and not allowed in the country. H. The film made me think about global warming and global politics. I. The U.S. president forgave their debts, and the Mexican president allowed U.S. citizens to cross the border.

  2. Consider the following words and find at least two ways to organize the words into groups.

    • Knife
    • Fork
    • Spoon
    • Corkscrew


  1. D, A, F, B, E, C, G, I, H
  2. Table service (knife, fork, spoon), sharp implements (knife, fork, corkscrew), Tools (all). Can you think of any other organizational principles by which to group these items?

In earlier stages of preparation for a speech, you have gained a good idea of who your audience is and what information you want to focus on. This chapter will help you consider how to organize the information to cover your topic. You may be tempted to think that you know enough about your topic that you can just “wing it” or go “freestyling.” Your organization might be something like this: “First, I’ll talk about this, then I’ll give this example, and I’ll wrap it up with this.” While knowledge on your topic is key to an effective speech, do not underestimate the importance of organization. You may start to give your speech thinking you’ll follow the “outline” in your mind, and then suddenly your mind will go blank. If it doesn’t go blank, you may finish what was planned as a five-minute speech with three minutes remaining, sit down, and then start to remember all the things you intended to say but didn’t. To your listeners, your presentation may have sounded like the first of the Note 12.1 “Introductory Exercises” for this chapter—a bunch of related ideas that were scattered and unorganized.

Organization in your speech is helpful both to you and to your audience. Your audience will appreciate hearing the information presented in an organized way, and being well organized will make the speaking situation much less stressful for you. You might forget a point and be able to glance at your outline and get back on track. Your listeners will see that you took your responsibility as a speaker seriously and will be able to listen more attentively. They’ll be able to link your key points in their minds, and the result will be a more effective speech.

An extemporaneous speech involves flexibility and organization. You know your material. You are prepared and follow an outline. You do not read a script or PowerPoint presentation, you do not memorize every single word in order (though some parts may be memorized), but you also do not make it up as you go along. Your presentation is scripted in the sense that it is completely planned from start to finish, yet every word is not explicitly planned, allowing for some spontaneity and adaptation to the audience’s needs in the moment. This extemporaneous approach is the most common form used in business and industry today.

Your organization plan will serve you and your audience as a guide, and help you present a more effective speech. If you are concerned with grades, it will no doubt help you improve your score as well. If you work in a career where your “grades” are sales, and a sales increase means getting an “A,” then your ability to organize will help you make the grade. Just as there is no substitute for practice and preparation, there is no substitute for organization and an outline when you need it the most: on stage. Do yourself and the audience a favor and create an outline with an organization pattern that best meets your needs.

In the 1991 film What about Bob? a psychiatrist presents the simple idea to the patient, played by actor Bill Murray. If the patient takes whatever he needs to do step by step, the process he once perceived as complex becomes simple. In this same way, your understanding of giving business presentations will develop step by step, as the process and its important elements unfold. Read and reflect on how each area might influence your speech, how it might involve or impact your audience, and how your purpose guides your strategies as you plan your speech.

If you take it step by step, presenting a speech can be an exhilarating experience not unlike winning a marathon or climbing a high peak. Every journey begins with a first step, and in terms of communication, you’ve already taken countless steps in your lifetime. Now we’ll take the next step and begin to analyze the process of public speaking.


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