Topical Organization

Learning Objectives

Explain the topical organizational pattern for speeches and identify when it is best used.

A topical pattern is the most common way to structure speeches, particularly speeches of information, because it is relevant to nearly any topic or type of speech. However, you should make sure to explore all other organizational patterns before selecting it in case your topic fits better elsewhere. A topical structure involves dividing your central idea into topic categories or sub-topics that surround the main topic. You should devote roughly the same amount of time to each category and each category should be distinct from each other.

A set of bins labeled Stickers, Stamps, Stencils

Think of topical organization as a set of boxes, bins, or drawers. Items are organized according to which drawer they go in.

For example, a speech about the benefits of listening to music while exercising could follow a topical structure divided between the categories of how music can (1) increase stamina, (2) decrease boredom, and (3) improve coordination. Each sub-topic or main point is distinct, but ties back to the main speech topic.


The advantage of using a topical speech pattern is that it creates an organizational structure that is specific to the speech topic. Some speech topics don’t fit into any other category. They can’t be organized chronologically because dates are not involved. They can’t be organized spatially because geography or space isn’t involved. They don’t have steps to follow. They aren’t presenting a problem or a solution. It is important to eliminate all the other possible speech patterns before selecting topical. Once topical is selected, then the specific categories must be determined next. Make sure to select categories that are condensed enough for the speech time limit. For example, if you are explaining the five types of hurricanes in a five-minute speech, you may not have time to speak of each one individually and therefore would need to condense some categories together.


The disadvantage of using a topical speech pattern is that you are limited to the categories selected. It will prove difficult to include anything outside of the categories once writing begins, so be sure that the categories selected are the most important ones to focus on and limit it to no more than five categories. Also, transitioning between categories and connecting them to one another becomes more crucial in a topical outline. A transition sentence which ties category 1 to category 2, will be important in creating an organizational, logical flow of ideas. It can be easy to sound disorganized if this connection between topics is unclear or disconnected.

Now that we have examined what a topical pattern is, consider which topics fit best into this pattern. Brainstorm some topics that don’t fit elsewhere and measure them against the other organization options to be sure topical is the best one.

To Watch: Nick Fuhrman, “The One Thing All great teachers do”

In this topically organized speech, professor and environmental educator Nick Fuhrman talks about teaching. Although the title speaks to “one” thing that great teachers do, Fuhrman lists four: celebrate mistakes, appreciate difference, relay feedback, and evaluate themselves. These four topics provide the organizational structure for the speech.

You can view the transcript for “The One Thing All Great Teachers Do | Nick Fuhrman | TEDxUGA” here (opens in new window).

What to watch for:

Elsewhere in this course we advise against using live animals as visual aids. This is true unless A) you are expert in handling the animals in public performance and B) you have explicit permission from the event organizers to share the stage with a snake.