How to Structure a Speech or Presentation

May 21, 2013

in Presentation Structure, Writing your presentation

speechwriting2Whether they’re Shakespeare or Andrew Lloyd Webber, anyone who has a story to tell follows the same natural structure to tell it:

  • Introduction/Prologue – to silence the crowd and get permission to tell your story:  grabs the audience’s attention, and gives them a reason to keep reading, listening or watching. You introduce the one sentence message or call to action which your speech is based around, and attach it to a hook which makes everybody want to know more.
  • Act 1: Context, characters & challenges –  sets the scene and defines the questions that the story will answer. Makes the audience care about the characters in the story. In fiction, this is where you get to know the characters we’ll be following throughout the story, but in business this might be a brief look at the state of the industry, recent financial figures, or achievements to date. Your purpose here is to set the scene for you to explain the actions you’re taking or justify your suggestions. Focus tends to be on the past.
  • Act 2: Choices, twists and detail –  introduces a dilemma, danger or mystery. The audience is led to consider the possible repercussions of this upon the characters who they’re by now deeply invested in. This is the set up – we know where we are, so what’s going on? Focus shifts to the present and we introduce problems, questions or dilemmas.
  • Act 3: The answer and action – the climax of the story – the problem is resolved or mystery unraveled  its effects are explored and all loose ends tied up. You won’t always be able to finish with a fairy-tale solution – but think of the third act as shifting our perspective from the past and present, to the future. It’s time to discuss possible outcomes, repercussions and opportunities stemming from whatever you’ve been examining so far. Act 3 must end by bringing together everything you’ve said so far into a simple and coherent message, question or call to action.
  • Conclusion/Epilogue: to send the audience away with the message ringing in their ears – the story is summarized, its lessons considered, and the audience is sent away to reflect on the well-told story, moral message, or emotional finale they have just witnessed.

Whether a story is being told as a play, film, novel, article, speech or song, this simple structure is the writer’s framework for telling a clear, concise and gripping tale. As a presenter or speaker, whether you stand up once a year or every day, the more you embrace your role as a storyteller, the better you will be at communicating memorably. That’s why we’ve taken the structure above, and applied it to the six most common speeches which are made in business. This series of posts will help you to develop a clear idea of how to apply this simple story structure to any presentation you make. If you get it right, you will develop presentations which demand attention, and have a clear and unmissable message. Because although the three act structure forms the basis of most well told stories, the way you use it will depend on the type of story you’re telling. We’ve broken down the six most common speech structures, to explain how we apply Shakespeare’s story framework to them.

6 Speech Structures

To read more:

Click here for: Speech Structure – The Progress Report

Click here for: Speech Structure – The Strategy Recommendation

Click here for: Speech Structure – The Product Sales Presentation

Click here for: Speech Structure – The Justification of a Decision

Click here for: Speech Structure – The Training or Teaching Presentation

Click here for: Speech Structure – The Bad News Presentation

Or download:

Our handy free publication ‘Six Speech Structures – the most common business presentations made easy’ gives you a breakdown of how to structure the six most common speeches in business.

Download here

Lesley Barringer
Lesley designs presentations at The Message Business. She has years of experience and loves Prezi when it's used well. She has set up a number of online businesses, is a published author and Mum of three boys.
Lesley Barringer

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