The Speaking Outline

Learning Objectives

Identify characteristics of a speaking outline for a speech.

Once you’ve completed a detailed preparation outline, you are ready to adapt it to a speaking outline.

Most public speaking is presented extemporaneously where speakers have diligently planned and practiced their speech (practicing early on with their preparation outline), but the actual delivery is done using limited notes in the form or a speaking outline. This means the speakers are well-prepared, but the actual wording of their speech will be determined during delivery. This allows you to be “present” in delivery rather than tied to reading a manuscript or detailed outline. Using a speaking outline will enhance your delivery with greater eye contact, vocal variety, gestures, and expressiveness.

The speaking outline includes only high-level key phrases in the outline order. A specific quote or statistic might be included in totality. Transitions can also be written in full. Any other materials should be limited to keywords or phrases. Your speaking outline should also include personal notes, such as “smile,” “pause,” “repeat more slowly,” or even “you’ve got this!” You might highlight or underline or bold certain keywords to remind you to emphasize or slow them down. You do not include the title, central idea, or bibliography in the speaking outline.

A few recommendations for the layout and printing of a successful preparation outline are:

  1. Only use a device (tablet, laptop, etc.) for your speaking outline if your instructor permits it. It is generally not advisable to rely on a device for your speaking outline.
  2. Print your speaking outline well in advance of your speech on 8.5″x11″ inch paper. Double-check that every page is printed and in order. You do not want last-minute printer issues to add stress!
  3. Use a 14- or 16-point font so your outline is easily readable when held at chest level.
  4. Double or triple space your outline so it’s easy to keep track of where you are.
  5. Number your pages. We’ve seen too many speakers drop their notes or skip a page and lose their spot.
  6. Do not print front and back—make it as easy as possible to move from one page to the next.
  7. Do not staple your pages. Turning a stapled page is cumbersome and distracting. Keep your audience’s attention on YOU while you subtly shift from one page to the next.

Here is an example of a preparation outline about reusable water bottles that has been adapted to a speaking outline:

Try It