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How to Structure a Speech

5 Steps to Impact – Speech Writing Made Quick and Eas(ier)

Copyright Craig Senior, Used with Permission

Speech writing might be painful for you. Perhaps you struggle through endless hours of speech preparation and still wind up with a speech that is unfocused, unclear with a meandering train of muddled thoughts.

Using the process 5 Steps to Impact can dramatically reduce your level of effort and make your presentations more clear and memorable:

  1. Identify the Thesis (Premise)
  2. Identify the Headings (Points)
  3. Write the details, if necessary
  4. Write the Opening and Conclusion
  5. Give it a Title

This video is an off-the-cuff version we recorded at our training group to fill in a vacant speaking slot.

2011-05-31 Craig - 5 steps to impact from Message Masters (TI Club 7809) on Vimeo.


1. Thesis

Avoid the urge to start drafting your speech. Thrashing at a keyboard or scribbling endless thoughts with pen or pencil might be great exercise for your hands and creativity, but might distract you from the objective of writing a good speech quickly.

Some say write the conclusion first because that is what the audience remembers. The conclusion might be what the audience remembers best, but I disagree with writing it first. What they really mean is write the one idea you want the audience to hear, remember, and act on, which happens to appear in the conclusion. That one idea sounds a lot like the thesis, doesn’t it? The thesis is the proposition, the premise, the treatise of your speech. Instead of starting with the end in mind, start with the thesis defined.

Write one sentence that articulates the thesis of your speech. The thesis is NOT the theme, or the subject. From this day forward, you know longer talk about things; you make a point. If the audience tuned out and ignored everything else, what one idea do you want them to remember? Express this idea in one clear, concise sentence. If this is difficult for you, remember that if you cannot figure it out, the audience never will. The thesis for this article is, “Write clear, memorable speeches with minimal effort using the 5-steps to Impact process.”

The thesis is driven in part by your idea and by your audience’s interest in that idea. For example, a speech on how to resolve problems with our educational system would have a different thesis for a group of students than for the school board and different again for a group of parents. Always tailor your thesis to audience interests.

Here are some samples:

  • Snow is beautiful
  • Snow is ugly
  • Humans do not cause global warming and climate change
  • Humans cause global warming and climate change
  • Our taxes are too high
  • Our taxes are too low

Contrast those statements with these:

  • I will talk about snow
  • The subject of my speech is global warming and climate change
  • I will share some information about taxation

See the difference now?

2. Headings

With the thesis clearly identified, build a structure for its delivery. Start by identifying the points, stories, examples, or headings that support the thesis and make it come alive. These ideas must add to the thesis, not conflict with it. They should relate to the thesis and not meander in different directions. At this point, just identify them with as few words as you need to remember what the story is about. Do not yet write the stories. You will find it far easier to think about, and sort the few words in headings than many words in the speech details. Any time lost at this point if you do not use a heading is miniscule vs the time lost drafting a story and not using it for this speech.

The idea is to “chunk” information into pieces that you can focus on. For more information, read “Mapping Hypertext”, Robert E. Horn or visit

Feel free to brainstorm headings for a couple of minutes. Use whatever technique works best for you:

  • scrap paper and pencil/pen
  • self-adhesive notes
  • mind mapping
  • outlining

Then select the few that you feel are the most powerful. A 5-7 minute speech will allow fewer points than a 45-minute keynote. Save the other ideas in a computer or paper file. I call my computer file Stories.doc.

Some people say that in speeches, you must apply the rule of threes ( While I understand and use the principle, particularly for phrases, do it mindfully. You can achieve success with speeches in two parts, which will allow more time for more details. There are too many dependencies to detail in this article.

Organize the headings you chose into a logical sequence, perhaps one of the following:

  • Chronological (Past, present, future)
  • Sequential (First, second, third)
  • Proposal (Problem, cause, solution or Problem, solution)
  • Options (Plan A, Plan B, Plan C)
  • Priority (Critical, Important, Optional)
  • Categorical (Sales, Delivery, Finance)
  • Increasing Detail (General to Specific)
  • Building Requisite Knowledge (Know “A” before “B”)
  • Hierarchical (Top, middle, bottom)
  • Compare and Contrast
  • Expanding Radius (Branch, Country, World)
  • Geographical (Asia, Canada, USA)

3. Details

With your headings identified and sequenced, next write the details that go under each heading. With a clear thesis and headings, writing the details is relatively straight forward, almost like filling in the blanks. Within a body section below each heading, you can use different structures. A basic structure works well for most speeches:

  • Give the premise of the section
  • Substantiate or support the premise with examples, stories, statistics, etc.
  • Tie-in the section premise to the speech thesis
  • Transition to the next heading.

Draw on your experiences, research, or collection of stories to support the thesis. If you already know the story, don’t bother writing it. That will save a lot of time! Use stories that you already know, that you could tell to a colleague at a café, or to your family at the dinner table. Feel free to write out the story, but recognize that you are not obliged to, that you can tell the same unwritten story hundreds of times, every time differently, and every time perfectly. The benefit of writing it out is you can publish the story in articles, books, your web site, or use it as a basis to hone the storytelling.

Transition between each heading to provide continuity. For example the words, “With your headings identified and sequenced, ” transitioned us into “writing body details”, above.

5 Steps to Impact doesn’t cover all the wordsmith techniques that go into world-class speech writing. You must learn and apply that separately. 5 Steps to Impact is about quickly preparing a speech that is good enough.

If your presentation is just telling one long story, then these structures don't apply, because you are not actually delivering a speech. In storytelling, the main idea, or moral, might remain unclear until the end. Here is the generic (standard?) storytelling structure:

a. exposition
b. development, or rising action
c. climax
d. resolution, or falling action
e. denoument

4. Opening and Conclusion

After you write the body details, package the material, like a gift for your audience, between the Opening and Conclusion. If you write the opening and conclusion after you write the body details, it is very easy to ensure they support the thesis. The Conclusion must present no new information.

Opening Conclusion
Arouse audience interest in the speaker and the subject; credibility; curiosity; provocation; break preoccupation Map: Summarize the headings to confirm what you covered while avoiding triteness
Clearly present the thesis Clearly present the thesis in different words
Map: Summarize the headings that you will cover while avoiding triteness Arouse audience interest in their application of the thesis; encourage, inspire, motivate, call to action


5. Title

Selecting a title isn’t really the fifth sequential step. It might come to you anytime before, during or after writing your speech and it might change several times before you settle on one. Make it short and catchy, creating audience curiosity. Make it point to the thesis without giving it away. Consider a subtitle like I did for this article: “Powerful Speech Writing Made Quick and Easy”. Maybe sprinkle the title throughout your speech for emphasis and maybe humor.


Writing speeches that are good-enough is simple, quick and easy (okay, easier) if you use a repeatable method: 5 Steps to Impact. On a couple of occasions, I was called upon to deliver a 5-7 minute speech with 15 minutes notice. I wrote a thesis statement and the headings then ad-libbed the opening and conclusion from those notes. Obviously, we prefer more preparation, but we are often called upon to “say a few words” on short notice at work or at social events. This technique will help you do that more successfully.

With enough practice, the model will stick in your mind as a shape. As you formulate your thoughts, you will fill in the blanks, with words and maybe even sounds and images. As you deliver the speech, it will magically flow, like watching a movie.

If you identify the Thesis, the Headings, fill in the Details, write the Opening and Conclusion, and give the speech a Title, you will have mastered a simple technique for quickly preparing speeches that are good enough.

This diagram might help you to visualize how the logical model gets converted into the linear presentation of the speech:



Look on our Resources page for a Speech Worksheet and a Speech template.

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Reader Comments (2)

Hi. Thanks for this excellent article. I sometimes struggle with speechwriting. I thought I would mention that in the third paragraph under "Thesis" it says "... you know longer talk about things ..." Just thought you would want to know.
Apr 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterLee Z
I'll stick to <a href="">follow these steps</a>, I have an exam on the nose, very frankly scary! You can advise some other articles on the topic!
Feb 1, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterJames

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