62 Outlining

Learning Objectives

After studying this chapter, the student will be able to:

  1. Explain why organization is necessary and valuable to public speaking.
  2. Differentiate the different types of organizational patterns.
  3. Choose an organizational pattern that is most logical to the speech’s specific purpose.
  4. Construct an outline for an extemporaneous speech.
  5. Create connective statements that will help the audience understand the logic and structure of a speech.


For the purposes of this class, there are two primary types of outlines that we will discuss: preparation outlines and speaking outlines.

Preparation Outlines

Preparation outlines are comprehensive outlines that include all of the information in your speech. This is also most likely the outline that you will be required to turn in to your instructor on the days you give your speeches or in some cases, several days before you give the speech in class. Each instructor of public speaking has a slightly different method for approaching outlining. The examples given here are variations, so please attend to the exact specifications that your instructor may require.

Some instructors require students to label parts of the introduction, for example with “Attention getter” and “Credibility,” and some like the introduction to have Roman numeral points. Some may want the central idea statement underlined. Some versions of outlines consider the introduction Main Point I, and the conclusion the last main point. Some will expect all units to be full sentences, and some will require full sentences in the main points only. However, there are some parts of an extemporaneous speech outline that are always present: the specific purpose, the introduction, the central idea statement and preview, the speech body with clearly labeled units, the connectives, and the conclusion.

You may wonder, “What’s the deal with outlines in speech class? Why can’t I just write out my speech in essay form?” There are good reasons for your instructor’s insistence on an outline, and your instructor may respond negatively if you hand in an essay instead of an outline.

In Chapter 11, which is on delivery, we look at the concept of extemporaneous speaking versus impromptu, manuscript, and memorized speeches. Most public speaking instructors in the United States focus their classes on extemporaneous speaking. Extemporaneous speaking requires a well-prepared outline. The outline requires you to clearly designated each part of the speech and use a system where the BIG IDEAS are distinct from the supporting or “smaller ideas.” Usually this is down with indentation to the left and certain symbols for each unit. If you have to edit the speech for time or for a particular audience, it’s much easier to subtract or add when you know the relative importance of the idea.

You should think of the outline as the blueprint for your speech. It is not the speech—that is what comes out of your mouth in front of the audience. The outline helps you prepare it just as the blueprint guides the building of the house. You do not live on a blueprint, but in a house built by a blueprint.

Speaking Outlines

It should be clear by now that the preparation outline is something you are moving away from as you practice your speech and get ready for the delivery. As mentioned before and will be mentioned later, you must give yourself adequate time to practice the delivery of your speech—which is why procrastination is one of a public speaker’s biggest enemies. As you practice, you will be able to summarize the full preparation outline down to more usable notes. You should create a set of abbreviated notes for the actual delivery. The more materials you take up with you to the lectern, the more you will be tempted to look at them rather than have eye contact with the audience, and that will affect your grade as well as your connection with the audience.

Your speaking notes should be in far fewer words than the preparation, in key phrases, and in larger letters than the preparation outline Your speaking outline should provide cues to yourself to “slow down,” “pause,” or “change slide.” You may want to use 4X6 or 5X7 cards (3X5 might be too small) but again, keep them to a minimum. Your authors have seen many students get their multiple cards out of order and confuse themselves and the audience. Except for any quotations that you want to say exactly as the original, you will avoid long chunks of text. An example of speaking notes on 5X7 cards is found in Figure 6.2. These three note cards would be relevant to the informative speech outline on haunted places in Gettysburg found at the end of Chapter 12.


The organization of your speech may not be the most interesting part to think about, but without it, great ideas will seem jumbled and confusing to your audience. Even more, good connectives will ensure your audience can follow you and understand the logical connections you are making with your main ideas.

Something to Think About

Listen to a speech by a professional speaker, such as a TED Talk, and see if you can detect their structure and use of transitions. Then talk about how they help (or don’t) your understanding and retention of what they say.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Exploring Communication in the Real World Copyright © 2020 by Chris Miller is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book