Outlining



Reasons to Outline

Outlining is an important first step in speech-making; it allows you to ensure your speech flows smoothly and covers all your main points.

Learning Objectives

Justify out the reasons to outline prior to writing a speech or presentation

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • An outline helps you group ideas into main points and see their logical connections.
  • It is important to create an outline before you deliver your speech, as it will act as your guide to effectively sequence your information and ensure you touch on all your main points.
  • Outlining allows you to ensure your speech flows smoothly.
  • Use an outline as a tool for delivery of extemporaneous speaking.

Key Terms

  • outline: A list used to present the main points or topics of a given subject, often used as a rough draft or summary of the content of a document.

Reasons to Outline

There are many reasons to create an outline; but in general, it may be helpful to create an outline when you want to show the hierarchical relationship or logical ordering of information. Many people find that organizing a speech or presentation in outline form helps them speak more effectively in front of a crowd.

Below are the primary reasons for creating an outline.

A picture of an outline made out of Post-it notes. The notes are stuck on a wall.

Why Make an Outline?: Creating an outline can help you organize your ideas.

Purpose

An outline helps guide you as you prepare your speech as follows:

  • Helps you organize your ideas;
  • Presents your material in a logical form;
  • Shows the relationships among ideas in your writing;
  • Constructs an ordered overview of your speech;
  • Groups ideas into main points.

When you clearly outline exactly what points you would like to convey in each section of your speech, it will be much easier to envision. You can ensure you do not skip anything crucial and that your speech follows a logical sequence and order of information.

Organization

Your outline should consist of the three main parts of your speech: the introduction, the body, and the conclusion. Within each of these sections, you’ll need to plan more specifically what you would like to say. You can list your hook in the introduction, identify three or so main points to touch on in the body of your speech, and clearly lay out how you will end your speech and what thoughts you will leave your audience with in your conclusion.

It is important to keep in mind that your outline is only a guide. The purpose of it is to aid you in delivering a clear speech that flows smoothly and effectively, communicating all your ideas. An outline is not a script of your speech with the exact text you want to say, nor is it a rigid structure that you must follow exactly when giving your speech.

Think of your outline as a skeleton — a tool for delivery of extemporaneous speaking. It will serve as the backbone of your speech, providing you with a solid structure on which to build. However, it is your job to then to it flesh out and enrich it. Use your creative flare to make the bare bones more appealing and accessible to your audience.

The Preparation Outline

As its name suggests, a preparation outline helps you lay out the main topics and sub-points of your speech.

Learning Objectives

Describe the purpose of a preparation outline, and the different preparation outline styles used by speech writers

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The types of preparation outlines for speeches vary, however, it is up to the presenter to choose the format that best fits the content and personal style of the presentation.
  • Common outline styles include sentence outlines, topics outlines, chronological outlines, and alphanumeric outlines.
  • Similar to any traditional outlines, preparation outlines include a speech title, introduction, body, conclusion, and supporting references or sources.

Key Terms

  • prepare: to make ready for a specific future purpose; to set up; to assemble.

The Preparation Outline

A preparation outline is a precursor to your speech outline. As its name suggests, a preparation outline helps you prepare your speech. Presentations that require significant research, visual aids, or other type of content outside of speech rehearsal usually require organization and preparation in the form of an outline.

An outline is a list of items organized according to a consistent principle. Each item may be divided into additional sub-items or sub-points. A preparation outline consists of three main sections, which includes the introduction, body, and conclusion. It also includes the title of the speech.

A photo of a woman's hands on a computer keyboard.

Preparation Outline: Some word processing programs have pre-made outline templates that will make outlining your speech even easier.

Outline Approach

The types of preparation outlines for speeches vary. However, it is up to you to evaluate the style most appropriate for the speech, as well as the best form to assist you.

Common outline styles include sentence outlines, topics outlines, chronological outlines, and alphanumeric outlines. While sentence outlines follow a hierarchical structure composed of sentences and headings around the subject of the speech, topics outlines are comprised of topics and subtopics. Alphanumeric outlines include a prefix in the form of a roman numeral at the top level, upper-case letters for the next level, arabic numerals for the third level, and lowercase letter for the final level.

Outline Structure

If, for example, you have separate visual aids for the introduction, main points in the body of your speech, and your conclusion, than using a sentence style for your preparation outline may be more appropriate. Your preparation outline will start with the introduction, along with a list of the points you would like to cover before launching into the body of your speech. This may include a preview of the main topic, an attention-grabbing quote or statistic to support the main argument of your presentation.

The body of your speech will contain the details and descriptors to support the main point, topic, or argument of the speech. Here you will state each of the main points or topics you covered in your introduction, followed by supporting facts and details. Sub-topics should be added underneath each main topic covered in the body of the preparation outline

No matter what type of speech you are giving, every preparation outline should have a conclusion. The conclusion allows you to re-state and emphasize your main topic or argument (mentioned in the introduction) in a summary or list of key points. Moreover, you should identify how you will end your speech for the audience. Additional items you can add to the preparation outline include references or a “works cited” list including sources you have used to prepare your speech.

Remember, an outline is simply your guide. While there are traditional and non-traditional ways of outlining, do not get caught up worrying about “right and wrong” ways to outline. However, a standard preparation outline can serve as a helpful aid for a well-prepared and organized presentation.

The Speaking Outline

Speaking outlines help presenters with the timing, pacing, and overall delivery of the speech.

Learning Objectives

Construct a speaking outline that includes an introduction, body, and conclusion

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The speaking outline covers the main points and aids the speaker’s memory on certain topics.
  • Speaking outlines generally include an introduction, body, conclusion, and transitions.
  • To successfully deliver an outlined speech, it helps for presenters to be subject matter experts, or at least sufficiently knowledgeable about the topic.

Key Terms

  • transition: The process of change from one form, state, style, or place to another.

The Speaking Outline

After putting together a rough draft outline (i.e., the “skeleton” of the speech), writers can then progress to the speaking outline. Speaking outlines fill out additional details about the speech, as well as where the speaker plans to mention short phrases, pause, and transition to other topics. This outline may also include where the speaker would like to ask questions or use visual aids such as flip charts and handouts. The speaking outline acts a guide for the speaker on how to time and pace the delivery of the speech.

A man holds a microphone and looks at a piece of paper while giving a speech.

Using a Speaking Outline: Even experienced speakers use speaking outlines to aid them during presentations.

The Role of the Speaking Outline

Unlike the rough draft outline, which includes short notes on structure, the speaking outline covers both the main points and aids the speaker’s memory on certain topics. It offers the speaker more flexibility on tailoring the speech to the audience ‘s needs and reactions. Speaking outlines can be used to prepare and rehearse speeches, as well as serve as memory aids during the presentation.

Parts of a Speaking Outline

While speaking outlines include an introduction, body, and conclusion, they also note where transitions take place and when vital key points or statistics should be mentioned during the presentation. The structure of the speaking outline will likely vary slightly depending on the subject, timing, and audience. For example, notes may be added on when to introduce visual aids during the presentation. Nevertheless, a basic speaking outline generally includes:

  • An introduction – This includes notes on whether the speaker starts with a quote, statistics, personal story, or humorous joke. It leads into the overview of the speech, previews the main topics, and captures the attention of the audience.
  • A first transition – The first transition should be as smooth as possible, and be placed after the introduction and before the body of the speech.
  • A body – The body lists the main points, sub-points, and supporting evidence. Each sub-point in the outline should have a supporting bullet.
  • Second transition – The second transition comes after the body and before the conclusion.
  • Conclusion – This includes a bullet on signaling the end of the speech, a bullet on restating the objectives or main argument, and a bullet that reviews the main topics discussed in the body. The speaker may also add a note to say a memorable statement or call-to-action (e.g., thank the audience, etc.).

To successfully deliver an outlined speech, presenters are usually subject matter experts, or at least sufficiently knowledgeable about the topic. But even for experienced speakers and speech writers, a speaking outline organizes thoughts, uncovers transitions, and reminds speakers to elaborate on key ideas.

The Rough Draft Outline

Rough draft outlines serve as a precursor to the speech’s rough draft and help organize the speakers’ ideas into a cohesive topic.

Learning Objectives

Describe the role and different components of a rough draft outline

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Rough draft outlines help form the skeleton of the speaker’s speech and provide a pattern from which the speaker writes his or her main statement, argument, and supporting points.
  • Prior to starting the rough draft outline, some research should be completed.
  • Similar to traditional outlines, rough draft outlines should include notes on the introduction, body, and conclusion.
  • Rough draft outlines ultimately change as the speechwriter conducts additional research and continues to shape his or her speech topic.

Key Terms

  • outline: A list used to present the main points or topics of a given subject, often used as a rough draft or summary of the content of a document.
  • draft: A preliminary sketch; rough outline.
  • writer’s block: The inability to begin or continue work on a piece of writing; normally temporary.

The Rough Draft Outline

Rough drafts outlines are part of the development process of speeches, crafting the flow and style of speakers’ presentations into a substantive and complete product. Creating rough draft outlines—i.e., an outline that serves as a precursor to the speech’s rough draft—often helps organize and structure speakers’ ideas into a cohesive and definitive topic. Rough draft outlines are not always necessary and may even be viewed as redundant. However, they can help speech writers prepare and organize their ideas during the pre-writing stage.

A picture of a typed page from a speech.

Rough Draft Outline: Preparing a rough draft outline is just one step to creating an informative and well-prepared speech.

Benefits of Rough Draft Outlines

Outlines help form the skeleton of the speaker’s speech. They provide a pattern from which the speaker writes his or her main statement, argument, and supporting points. The rough draft outline is particularly valuable at the pre-writing stage and provides the writer flexibility for revisions to the structure of the speech. Ultimately, rough outlines help organize the speech writer’s initial thoughts into a comprehensive process that flows into a rough draft and eventually a final speech.

Starting the Rough Draft Outline

One of the most useful techniques for starting a rough draft outline is brainstorming. Similar to freewriting, brainstorming jumpstarts the creative process by letting the speechwriter’s ideas flow and connect together around a specific topic. It also serves as a tool for overcoming writer’s block.

Prior to starting the rough draft outline, some research should be completed. Ideally, the writer has also finalized the main topics he or she will be discussing during the speech.

The Components of a Rough Draft Outline

The parts that comprise a rough draft outline are similar to other types of writing outlines. They include:

  1. An Introduction: This part of the draft outline should include an intro topic sentence, as well as notes on the argument or point of view of the speech.
  2. A Body: The body of the speech’s argument should include one or more main points. Each main point is supported by sub-points, which highlight factual evidence relating back to the main argument, or dismiss opposing arguments.
  3. A Conclusion: The speaker should note how they will restate his or her point of view and summarize the argument.

Your rough draft outline is essentially a technique for organizing and jotting down ideas into a traditional outline format. Because this is the rough draft outline, the outline too will ultimately change as the speechwriter conducts additional research and continues to shape his or her speech topic.