Five Tips for Organizing a Speech

We have covered five tips each on handling stage fright and delivery. This “five tip” article is on organization.

Alexander Pope said that “order is heaven’s first law.” When God created earth, his first concern was giving order by separating creation in six units and then declaring on the sixth day that this was good. If God thought it was good to be organized, then we should be concerned to organize our speeches.

Give your audience a roadmap early in your presentation. Think how important the GPS or MapQuest is in getting to unknown destinations. The same is true with an audience. Each person listening wants to know where we are going and how are we going to get there with our presentation content. A good lead-in that takes very little time is a simple, “What I want to talk about today is…” 

Develop few and specific points. When you say, “I have six points I want to make today,” that is information overload and the audience will tune you out. I think three points are sufficient. Specificity of a point is saying “To be successful, one must give attention to detail” instead of “To be successful, one must work hard.”

Use transitions when moving from point to point. You can simply use numbers: “My first point is…,” My second point is…” Be sure you remember what the number is of your next point!

Internal summary is another effective transition such as “Now that we have covered the importance of specificity in speaking, let us move to the use of transitions.” If you want to wake up an audience, consider an interjection. “You may forget everything else I say today but remember this next point!”  Clear transitions will help you avoid meaningless phrases such as “You know” and some version of “and uh.” 

The use of repetition is an important organizational tool. An audience cannot review your material unless you do it for them.  In a book, we can go back and reread a chapter or page. The listener cannot do that, so when you begin a statement with “Let me say that again” or “Thus far we have covered…” the audience is very appreciative. Certainly review your main points at the end of your presentation.

Finally, show your organization through your delivery. When you move from one point to another, take a step away from the lectern. Move back to the lectern when you finish the point or story. Change your tone of voice when you are changing direction in your speech. Pause before you mention the next point. Hold up the number of your point with your fingers if you are using that approach to transitions.

To sit and listen through a thirty-minute presentation is difficult for any audience. You are more likely to hold their attention when you are well organized. In the words of Oliver Wendell Holmes, “Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.” Organization helps you do that.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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