01April 2024

Public Speaking Tips for Structure

Structure is the key to competence.
If your presentation has a sense of structure then you will come across as credible and professional.
The problem with most PowerPoint presentations is that many of the slides feel like they have been thrown together haphazardly – because often they have!
If you master speech structure, particularly if you intend to speak without a heavy reliance on notes, then you will be forced to organise your material into a simple clear format, because anything more complicated will probably confuse you and confuse your audience at the same time.
Following the rules of rhetoric most presentations are going to take the form of
a ‘definition’, (e.g. the power of music, to the specific cultural significance of types of music, to the significance of Urban contemporary music in the 1980s)
a ‘comparison’ (e.g. running a country versus running  a fundraising event)
a ‘relationship’ (how too much social media connects to a rise in mental health issues).
Often you can find that your argument fits neatly into a chronological framework:
(first this, then this, then this – conclusion)
or a general to specific framework:
(this is how it works in principle, this is how it works in our society, this is how it works for you).

Structure should never be a straight jacket; it should be the organising framework around your ideas.
Sometimes the structure will be obvious to you, sometimes you will need to write down your ideas to see how they fit together and sometimes like a new pair of shoes, you will need to walk around until they feel comfortable and then never be afraid of trying another pair to see if they are more comfortable.
My personal experience has led me to realise that I can find myself in a slight fog with a vague idea of where I am going and if I keep walking eventually the mist clears and the best structure reveals itself.
And from then on the rest of the preparation is easy.

10 tips for structure

  1. Don’t force it

Like baking a cake, it takes its own time.  You cannot turn the oven on to double temperature and bake for half the time and get the same result.  Preparing a speech is the same.  A last-minute rush is probably not going to get the best results. (Needless to say in the ‘real world’ there will be occasions when you do indeed have to put something together at short notice because someone is ill or a client is coming to the office in half an hour and will want to be briefed on the progress of the project – and I will cover a solution to that below).
If you can, it is always worth starting early. 
Take time to find out what you want to say and in what order you want to say it.  You can then put the speech away for a few days and look at it again.
If I have plenty of time I will deliberately not write anything down for a while, because I find when I come back either some simple structure has revealed itself as a good way of organising the material or else I find that I am struggling to work my way through the material, which is a hint that I have not yet found the right route.  What I might also find is that some idea that I originally thought was significant no longer fits, or maybe is blocking the flow of the presentation and would fit better later on.  And then I am also assuming if I keep forgetting what I thought was an important idea – it might not be that important after all.

  1. Goldilocks, Blind mice, Billy goats gruff

There is a reason that ‘three’ is the magic number.  Ask anyone to name three makes of toothpaste, three makes of German car, three premier league football teams and even if they have no particular interest in those areas, they will probably come up with three fairly quickly. 
Two can be very ‘black or white’ and is fine for any speech which says you can be ‘right or wrong’, ‘with us or against us’, but by definition two is not set up to look at subtleties or shades of grey.
Three suggests extra perspective. By introducing grey it says that there can be shades of difference between the black and white.
Three is a comfortable number, easy to organise and easy to retain.
And always remember your audience is listening to you in real-time.  An essay or a novel may be more complex, because the reader can slow down to properly grasp an idea or re-read a section, whereas the content of a speech will go past you at the speed at which the speaker delivers it.
Therefore even if the speaker, has prepared a very intricate structure, it may be too involved for a live audience to follow.

  1. What is your point?

Before you even think about arranging your ideas, it is essential to know the final message.
Once you decide what the takeaway message from your talk on social media is you can start to plan a route to get there. 
Will you map the ‘relationship’ between mental health and social media?
Do you want to ‘define’ the problem?
Do you want to ‘compare’ social media to other social dangers or forms of interaction?

If your message is that:
‘social media causes mental health problems’, you might want to stress the relationship of ‘cause and effect’ between social media and mental health.
If the message is that:
‘many young people end up taking their own lives as a result of what they have seen online’ you may want to highlight the types of websites and areas of social media that are most dangerous and then ‘define’ those dangers and how to counter them.
And if the message is that:
‘malign influences have always been part of every society’, you may want to compare the effects of social media to cults or subversive literature that have been around for generations.

  1. What is your last line?

Your last line may of course be your ‘point’, but it might be a more specific rallying cry.
Yes – you want to establish the ‘cause and effect’ that shows ‘social media causes mental health problems’, but your actual last line may be:
‘We need to act now!’

The last line is the moment of greatest impact.
It is what you want your audience to walk away with uppermost in their minds and a clear final message is probably the greatest contribution you can make to an arresting structure.
Delivering a well-set-out presentation and ending with:
‘That is all I have to say’. or ‘Any questions?’ or ‘Thank you for listening’
will never be as effective as a powerful last line that encourages your audience to think, reflect or do.

  1. What is your opening line?

Many presentations drift or ramble into being as the speaker stumbles and throws out a few platitudes to settle themselves down.  A presentation that starts with a clear purpose will instantly engage.  This can be by stating the aim or purpose of the presentation or by crafting an opening line that is calculated to engage the audience.
If the opening seems vague and rambling, my fear as a listener is that the whole presentation is going to be vague and rambling.
Hence the fundamental building blocks of a good speech structure are a clear and engaging opening and a clear and impactful ending.

By now I hope you have worked out:
- the key message of your presentation and
- you have a memorable last line and
- an engaging opening line.

Some organising principles for the content

  1. Open Questions

Possibly my favourite organising principle revolves around Open Questions.
Remember Rudyard Kipling's little verse:
                Six honest serving men
                (They taught me all I knew);
                Their names are What and Why and When
                And How and Where and Who 
Take any three of those and that becomes the organising principle for your content:
- What is social media?
- Why it is so dangerous?
- How it is affecting our youth?
One great benefit of Open Questions for structure is that you can actually ask the questions as you go through. 
This engages the audience, as they are required to respond – even if only silently,
it clearly sign-posts the presentation and
the presenter can help themselves by asking the questions to keep on track:
‘So have begun to define ‘what’ social media is…but ‘why’ is it so dangerous?...so… How do we counter that?...well for one thing….’

And by the way…this is an ideal structure for those quick off-the-cuff presentations you may have to deliver, as mentioned above. 
Take the back of an envelope and take three of those questions and that is your structure for any last-minute business briefing:
- This is what we are doing
- This is why we are doing it
- This is when we expect to achieve it

  1. Past Present Future

We can talk about a world before social media or maybe consider the innocent utopian vision of mass-connectivity when we first developed social media platforms.
We can then talk about the influence of social media now
And depending on whether we want to be optimistic or apocalyptic, we can go on to look at the steps to a better future or a bleak vision based on the current direction of travel.

  1. General to Specific

What was the concept behind social media – how should it function?
How it seems to be working now, today.
How it could you affect your son, your daughter.

  1. Theoretical to Practical

Similar to General to Specific and probably not so well suited to our talk on social media.

What was the vision behind the birth of social media?
Describe all the wonderful things we can do with our phones and tablets.
And more specifically some tips on how you can interact safely.

  1. One hand, the other hand, together

On the one hand social media is an incredible tool and all the wonderful things we can do,
on the other hand, it has many dangers and can become addictive and have negative fall-out.
However, putting them together we need to work out a strategy that takes advantage of the benefits without being drawn in to the dangers.

Structure is there to support you and most presentations can be organised into one or other of the schemes outlined above.  All subject matter will have its own innate scheme of structure. 
We just need to take the time to allow it to reveal itself.

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Michael's superb training style is underpinned by an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. Like all true experts, he delivers what he knows with ease and simplicity, exampling the skills he is teaching as he does so.

Very informative and great anecdotes which illustrated points and provided visual markers.

The most interesting training that I have ever taken part in! Experience + Wisdom + Perfect teaching approach.

The training was spot on. He really listened to us and customised his responses throughout.

Loved the creation of visual examples through the use of body and how relating the experience really helps demonstrate the message.

Very approachable and motivational. So much information, brilliantly delivered.

Loads of great analogies and stories - very friendly and helpful.

Very approachable and knowledgeable and good use of examples to simplify the material.

In just one day Michael was able to teach a class of children how to craft their own personal stories and experiences into powerful and engaging speeches that resonate with an adult audience as well as with a younger audience. It is a marvellous way to help them increase self-confidence and in the process - almost without them even realising it - become natural speakers and excellent communicators.

Michael has a style of speaking which draws the audience into his world, captivates them and leaves them with lasting memories of some of the descriptive phrases he has used and the information he has included. He also has the ability to pass the skills he uses in his own speaking on to those he trains.

Very good rapport, attention to detail, individual support, positive atmosphere and encouragement - a great place for learning.

• Very great example; how to express yourself, how to be engaging and how to match body language with what is said.