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How to Write a Speech Outline in 5 Steps

Shaun Connell
July 3, 2023

Learning how to write a speech outline can allow you to give the most effective speech possible. Beyond that, using outline writing as a part of your preparation can help you feel more confident once you're standing in front of an audience.

Even if you're an experienced writer, speechwriting can be a bit different than crafting an essay or a book. After all, you're writing words that an audience will be hearing rather than reading, which means you'll want to think about how the words sound.

Solution Writing a speech outline can allow you to maintain focus on your primary points and organize your information in a way that is understandable to the audience. From this outline, you can determine the best way to share the information so that it is interesting and engaging to the audience.

In this article, we'll take a look at how to write a speech outline as well as the three types of speech outlines you'll want to write.

How to Write A Speech Outline

Are you going to give a speech at a conference? How about giving a speech at your best friend's wedding? Did you get a job writing speeches for a politician or motivational speaker?

woman giving a speech using an outline

No matter the reason for your speech, writing speech outlines can help ensure that the speech is effective and compelling.

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1. Choose Your Topic

The first thing you'll need to do when you're working on your speech outline is determine what your topic is.

After all, you can't start fleshing out the details of your speech without knowing what you're going to talk about!

In some circumstances, you might be given a topic.

For example:

  • If you're taking a public speaking class, you might be assigned a subject matter for your speech.

When choosing your topic, it's very important to keep your audience in mind.

  • What information would be useful to them?
  • Who are they, and why are they attending your speech?

Of course, keeping your topic highly relevant to your audience is essential for success. On the other hand, you'll also want to make sure it's something that you are interested in and knowledgeable about. The more you know about something and the more you care about it, the easier it will be to give a compelling speech.

2. Write Out Your Key Message

Once you have your topic in hand, you'll want to write out your thesis statement. This is the key message of your speech.

Your thesis statement is the key message of your speech-- i.e., the most important idea that you want to communicate to the audience.

You'll want to ask yourself two crucial questions in order to craft your thesis:

  1. What is the most important thing you want your audience to take away from your speech?
  2. How are you planning on communicating the main message of your speech?

There's a good chance that you'll want to actually state your thesis statement verbatim as a part of your speech. You'll position it at the end of your intro. The rest of your speech will essentially expand on your thesis statement.

Having your thesis statement in hand before you start researching your speech and beginning to outline it can be very useful. As you're working, you can keep turning back to your thesis statement. This way, you can ensure that everything you mention serves the purpose of elaborating your main point.

Examples of Thesis Statements

What does a thesis statement look like?

Here are some general examples for a variety of topics to give you an idea of what to shoot for:

  • "Prioritizing regular, good sleep improves health, mood, and brain performance, and can help employees be more productive."
  • "Having a budget can help provide financial stability, making it easier to save money that can be invested for growth."
  • "A number of small businesses in our community have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic."

As you can see in these examples, you're making a statement that can be expanded upon in your speech. This is the key concept that you will work to prove or validate through your main points and sub-points.

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Deciding How to Communicate Your Key Message

As a part of crafting your thesis, you'll also want to think about how you want to communicate your main message.

For example:

  • You might give a speech that draws largely upon your personal experience and anecdotes from people you know.
  • On the other end of the spectrum, you might focus on citing scientific studies that prove your point.

All of your supporting material and sub-points should ultimately support your main thesis.

3. Craft Your Hook

Once your topic and your thesis statement are under your belt, you can start really working on your outline.

man giving a speech using an outline he wrote

The introduction is the first part of your speech. People's attention is hard to grab these days, so you want to have a compelling hook that brings them in.

Hooks come in all shapes and sizes. You might:

  • Share an anecdote
  • Ask a thought-provoking question
  • Tell a joke
  • Give a surprising statistic
  • Use a visual aid
  • Incorporate a prop

The point is to make your audience sit up and pay attention.

Other than your hook, your intro shouldn't be terribly long. In general, introductions should only be about 10% of the whole speech you deliver.

At the same time, you might also want your intro also to include:

  • An Introduction to who you are
  • An explanation of why you're giving the speech
  • The main points you're going to cover (including your thesis)
  • How long the speech will be
  • What the audience will learn from the speech

4. Outline the Body

Now it's time to get into the meat of your speech.

You will want to write out your main points and then have several subpoints underneath each one.

An example of how the entire outline could look written out is:

I. Intro

II. Body

A. Main Point #1

1. Sub point

2. Sub point

3. Sub point

B. Main Point #2

1. Sub point

2. Sub point

3. Sub point

C. Main Point #3

1. Sub point

2. Sub point

3. Sub point

III. Conclusion

When choosing the subpoints that point to your main point, you'll want to make sure you make them engaging and memorable. There are countless things you could say to support any points you're making-- keep them interesting to the audience!

Subpoints could be:

  • Statistics
  • Visual aids
  • Anecdotes
  • Studies
  • Stories
  • Quotes

A bit later on in the article, we'll talk about the different types of outlines for speeches. Depending on which type of outline you're working on, you might include more or less information in this outline.

5. Outline Your Conclusion

Now it's time to outline how you're going to wrap things up!

  • You'll want to summarize the main point of your speech concisely.

You can use a variety of phrases to transition to the conclusion, such as:

  • Today we learned...
  • To recap...
  • In conclusion...
  • To sum it up...

In general, it's also a good idea to give the audience something to chew on as they're leaving. You might ask them a question that they'll ruminate on later, or you might choose a memorable quote or story that makes a big impression.

Depending on the type of speech, you might choose to conclude things with a CTA (aka a call to action.) If the purpose of your speech is to promote something, you'll want to give the audience an action point they can follow up on. This could be as simple as plugging your social media handles or letting people know where they can find more of your work.

Of course, you'll also want to let the audience know you appreciate that they listened to their speech. Even a quick thank you for attending at some point in the conclusion can be enough.

The Different Types of Speech Outlines

Now that we have a clear sense of how to write a speech outline let's look at three different types of speech outlines. You can use all three of these as your research and preparation progresses:

  • Working outlines
  • Full-sentence outlines
  • Speaking outlines

Working Outline

This is the first draft of your outline. It's really just the skeleton of your speech that you can build off from and flesh out.

You'll need the following in order to create your working outline:

  • Your topic
  • A general idea for your hook
  • Your thesis statement
  • Three to five main points
  • Your conclusion

Once you have a bare-bones sense of your speech, you can easily move things around or scrap things that just aren't necessary. Keeping things simple, to begin with, it makes it easy to make changes.

Full Sentence Outline

Once you have your working outline, it's time to start actually incorporating full sentences into your speech outline. This is when you'll start wanting to do your research and outline the content that will be included.

There are a lot of benefits to creating a full-sentence outline. They can help you:

  • Make sure you include all of the most important information
  • Make sure you're organizing the content in the best possible way
  • Make sure what you want to say will fit in the allotted time

Speaking Outline

Now it's time to create your final outline. You might think that this third stage of the speech outlining process would be the most detailed, but that's actually not the case.

This is the outline that you will actually have in hand when you're giving your speech. Instead of having full sentences, this outline will just have a few words to help jog your memory for each point or maybe some quotes that you want to recite verbatim.

The reason you don't want to use your full sentence outline during your speech is that you'd probably end up just reading it. There's a huge difference between reading a speech and actually giving a speech. Giving a speech in a way that comes out naturally is much more compelling than just reading a piece of paper.

There's a good chance you've seen this firsthand. Think of a speaker you saw that was obviously reading a list of points and compare them to someone you've seen who was speaking from a point of personal knowledge. Wasn't the second speaker much more engaging and interesting?

Working on improving your writing skills? Make sure you check out our guides on outlining a book and outlining essays, articles, and blogs.

Why Bother Writing a Speech Outline?

For some people, the idea of writing a speech outline can sound like a waste of time. If I know the topic and I know what I want to say, why bother?

The truth is, though, that having a clear outline for your speech has a number of benefits. Even if you are a world-class expert on the topic, your speech will likely be more compelling and successful if you create an outline during preparation.

In fact, writing an outline can be even more important when you know a topic well. When you're an expert on a subject, it's easy to forget that the audience doesn't know as much as you do. Having an outline ensures that you are presenting the information in a way that makes sense to the audience and helps them walk away with your intended message.

A speech will follow this basic structure:

  1. Introduction
  2. Body
  3. Conclusion

Maintain Focus

Whether you're speaking to someone one on one or to a large group, you probably know what it's like to go off on a tangent. While this might be perfectly fine in a number of casual settings, the last thing you want to do is wander too far from your main thesis in a speech.

  • When you have an outline, you can make sure that you're never straying too far from the central idea.

You can create a handy list of all of your main points and subpoints and test them to make sure that they fit within the scope of the content.

Organize the Message

Speeches need to be organized into logical patterns in order to be as effective as possible. Even if you present a ton of compelling and convincing information, the message will probably fall flat if it isn't organized in a way the audience can understand.

There's a good chance that the audience won't know as much about the topic as you do-- after all, you're the one giving a speech about it! You'll therefore need to make sure that you include all relevant information-- even if it seems obvious to you-- and explain relationships that might not be clearly understandable to the listener.

Serve as Speaking Notes

Once you've done all of the hard work to write an outline, you don't have to leave it at home. You can use your speaking outline when you're actually up in front of the crowd.

It can be nerve-wracking to talk to a group of people. Even if you've rehearsed a million times, you might find that you all of a sudden don't remember what you were going to say next. Having your speech outline with you can ensure that you stick with the plan and stay on topic.

How Long Should A Speech Outline Be?

How long you intend your speech to be will inform how long your speech outline is.

Maybe you're just planning on giving a quick two-minute talk. On the other hand, maybe you intend to give a 45-minute presentation.

This will have a big impact on the length of your speech outline.

Beyond that, the type of speech outline you're working on will impact the length. A working outline might be very brief, a full sentence outline quite a bit more extensive, and a speaking outline somewhere in between.

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Additional Speech Writing Tips

Before I sign off, let's take a look at some tips for giving the most compelling speech possible. Having a solid outline is a great start, but giving a speech incorporates a number of skills you'll want to keep in mind.

Practice, Practice, Practice

Once you have your speaking outline in hand, it's time to start practicing.

You can practice:

  • In front of a mirror
  • In front of a group of friends, family members, or colleagues
  • In front of a video camera to review later

When practicing, you'll want to focus on more than just the content of your speech. Also, pay attention to your gestures, body language, speaking speed, and eye contact.

If you're going to be incorporating props or visual aids, practice with these too.

Focus on Engagement

You'll want to do everything in your power to keep your audience completely tuned in during your speech. Keep this in mind both when you're writing your speech and practicing.

  • Your body language is a key factor when it comes to maintaining engagement.
  • You'll want to have a relaxed yet straight posture. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart and your shoulders back.
  • Naturally incorporating hand gestures and making eye contact with different audience members can also increase audience engagement.
  • Movement can also be very helpful as a tool, so don't be afraid to move around.
  • Finally, don't forget to smile! Smiling can help the audience relax and show that you're relaxed, too.

Use Visuals

Another useful tool for audience engagement is incorporating visuals. This can help to hammer in the points you're making and help ensure people's attention doesn't drift.

Here are some examples of visuals you might include:

  • Videos
  • Handouts
  • Flip charts
  • Graphs, charts, and diagrams
  • PowerPoint presentations
  • Props
  • Blackboards or whiteboards

A word to the wise, though-- less is more when it comes to visual aids. You want the focus to be your speech, not an endless slew of diagrams, props, and videos.

If you choose to have some visuals as a part of your presentation, add them to your outline. This will help you determine when to direct your audience's attention to each visual aid.

Writing Speech Outlines: Final Thoughts

Writing a working outline, a full sentence outline, and a speaking outline can help you ensure your speech is effective and compelling.

Depending on whether your speech intends to inform, entertain, motivate, or persuade, an outline will help you focus on the most important and compelling points.

Writing is a valuable skill that you can continue to build and improve over your life. At the same time, this is a skill you can monetize as a source of income.

Are you thinking about becoming a speechwriter or otherwise making money with writing? If so, make sure you take a look at our freelance Writing Jobs board for fresh posts every day from high-paying clients.

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Written By:
Shaun Connell
Shaun Connell has spent his entire career either working as a freelance writer or hiring freelance writers for his many successful publications. Shaun has learned the exact tricks of the trade to hire the perfect writer for almost any niche.

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