7.4 Outlining Your Speech

Most speakers and audience members would agree that an organized speech is both easier to present as well as more persuasive. Public speaking teachers especially believe in the power of organizing your speech, which is why they encourage (and often require) that you create an outline for your speech. Outlines, or textual arrangements of all the various elements of a speech, are a very common way of organizing a speech before it is delivered. Most extemporaneous speakers keep their outlines with them during the speech as a way to ensure that they do not leave out any important elements and to keep them on track. Writing an outline is also important to the speechwriting process since doing so forces the speakers to think about the main ideas, known as main points, and subpoints, the examples they wish to include, and the ways in which these elements correspond to one another. In short, the outline functions both as an organization tool and as a reference for delivering a speech.

Outline Types

There are two types of outlines, the preparation outline and the speaking outline.

Preparation Outline

The first outline you will write is called the . Also called a skeletal, working, practice, or rough outline, the preparation outline is used to work through the various components of your speech in an organized format. Stephen E. Lucas (2004) put it simply: “The preparation outline is just what its name implies—an outline that helps you prepare the speech.” When writing the preparation outline, you should focus on  finalizing the specific purpose and thesis statement, logically ordering your main points, deciding where supporting material should be included, and refining the overall organizational pattern of your speech. As you write the preparation outline, you may find it necessary to rearrange your points or to add or subtract supporting material. You may also realize that some of your main points are sufficiently supported while others are lacking. The final draft of your preparation outline should include full sentences. In most cases, however, the preparation outline is reserved for planning purposes only and is translated into a speaking outline before you deliver the speech. Keep in mind though, even a full sentence outline is not an essay.

Speaking Outline

A is the outline you will prepare for use when delivering the speech. The speaking outline is much more succinct than the preparation outline and includes brief phrases or words that remind the speakers of the points they need to make, plus supporting material and signposts (Beebe & Beebe, 2003). The words or phrases used on the speaking outline should briefly encapsulate all of the information needed to prompt the speaker to accurately deliver the speech. Although some cases call for reading a speech verbatim from the full-sentence outline, in most cases speakers will simply refer to their speaking outline for quick reminders and to ensure that they do not omit any important information. Because it uses just words or short phrases, and not full sentences, the speaking outline can easily be transferred to index cards that can be referenced during a speech. However, check with your instructor regarding what you will be allowed to use for your speech.

Components of Outlines

The main components of the outlines are the main points, subordination and coordination, parallelism, division, and the connection of main points.

Main Points

are the main ideas in the speech. In other words, the main points are what your audience should remember from your talk, and they are phrased as single, declarative sentences. These are never phrased as a question, nor can they be a quote or form of citation. Any supporting material you have will be put in your outline as a subpoint. Since this is a public speaking class, your instructor will decide how long your speeches will be, but in general, you can assume that no speech will be longer than 10 minutes in length. Given that alone, we can make one assumption. All speeches will fall between 2 to 5 main points based simply on length. If you are working on an outline and you have ten main points, something is wrong, and you need to revisit your ideas to see how you need to reorganize your points.

All main points are preceded by Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.). Subpoints are preceded by capital letters (A, B, C, etc.), then Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.), lowercase letters (a, b, c, etc.). You can subordinate further than this. Speak with your instructor regarding his or her specific instructions. Each level of subordination is also differentiated from its predecessor by indenting a few spaces. Indenting makes it easy to find your main points, subpoints, and the supporting points and examples below them.

Let’s work on understanding how to take main points and break them into smaller ideas by subordinating them further and further as we go by using the following outline example:

Topic: Dog

Specific Purpose: To inform my audience about characteristics of dogs

Thesis: There are many types of dogs that individuals can select from before deciding which
would make the best family pet.

Preview: First, I will describe the characteristics of large breed dogs, and then I will discuss
characteristics of small breed dogs.

I.    First, let’s look at the characteristics of large breed dogs
    A.    Some large breed dogs need daily activity.
    B.    Some large breed dogs are dog friendly.
    C.    Some large breed dogs drool.
         1.    If you are particularly neat, you may not want one of these.
             a.    Bloodhounds drool the most.
                 1)    After eating is one of the times drooling is bad.
                 2)    The drooling is horrible after they drink, so beware!
             b.   English bloodhounds drool a lot as well.
         2.    If you live in an apartment, these breeds could pose a problem.
II.   Next, let’s look at the characteristics of small breed dogs.
    A.    Some small breed dogs need daily activity.
    B.    Some small breed dogs are dog friendly.
    C.    Some small breed dogs are friendly to strangers.
         1.   Welsh Terriers love strangers.
             a.    They will jump on people.
             b.    They will wag their tails and nuzzle.
         2.   Beagles love strangers.
         3.   Cockapoos also love strangers.

Subordination and Coordination

You should have noticed that as ideas were broken down, or subordinated, there was a hierarchy to the order. To check your outline for coherence, think of the outline as a staircase. All of the points that are beneath and on a diagonal to the points above them are subordinate points. So using the above example, points A, B, and C dealt with characteristics of large breed dogs, and those points are all subordinate to main point I. Similarly, points 1 and 2 under point C both dealt with drool, so those are subordinate. This is the of points. If we had discussed food under point C, you would know that something didn’t make sense. You will also see that there is of points. As part of the hierarchy, coordination simply means that all of the numbers or letters should represent the same idea. In this example, A, B, and C were all characteristics, so those are all coordinate to each other. Had C been “German Shepherd,” then the outline would have been incorrect because that is a type of dog, not a characteristic.


Another important rule in outlining is known as . This means that when possible, you begin your sentences in a similar way, using a similar grammatical structure. For example, in the previous example on dogs, some of the sentences began “some large breed dogs.” This type of structure adds clarity to your speaking. Students often worry that parallelism will sound boring. It’s actually the opposite! It adds clarity. However, if you had ten sentences in a row, we would never recommend you begin them all the same way. That is where transitions come into the picture and break up any monotony that could occur.


The principle of is an important part of outlining. When you have a main point, you will be explaining it. You should have enough meaningful information that you can divide it into two subpoints A and B. If subpoint A has enough information that you can explain it, then it, too, should be able to be divided into two subpoints. So, division means this: If you have an A, then you need a B; if you have a 1, then you need a 2, and so on. What if you cannot divided the point? In a case like that you would simply incorporate the information in the point above.

Connecting Your Main Points

One way to connect points is to include . Transitional statements are phrases or sentences that lead from one distinct- but-connected idea to another. They are used to alert the audience to the fact that you are getting ready to discuss something else. When moving from one point to another, your transition may just be a word or short phrase, known as a sign post. For instance, you might say “next,” “also,” or “moreover.” You can also enumerate your speech points and signal transitions by starting each point with “First,” “Second,” “Third,” et cetera. You might also incorporate non-verbal transitions, such as brief pauses or a movement across the stage. Pausing to look at your audience, stepping out from behind a podium, or even raising or lowering the rate of your voice can signal to audience members that you are transitioning.

Another way to incorporate transitions into your speech is by offering internal summaries and internal previews within your speech. Summaries provide a recap of what has already been said, making it more likely that audiences will remember the points that they hear again. For example, an internal summary may sound like this:

So far, we have seen that the pencil has a long and interesting history. We also looked at the many uses the pencil has that you may not have known about previously.

Like the name implies, internal previews lay out what will occur next in your speech. They are longer than transitional words or .

Next, let us explore what types of pencils there are to pick from that will be best for your specific project.

Additionally, summaries can be combined with internal previews to alert audience members that the next point builds on those that they have already heard.

Now that I have told you about the history of the pencil, as well as its many uses, let’s look at what types of pencils you can pick from that might be best for your project.

It is important to understand that if you use an internal summary and internal preview between main points, you need to state a clear main point following the internal preview. Here’s an example integrating all of the points on the pencil:

I. First, let me tell you about the history of the pencil.

So far we have seen that the pencil has a long and interesting history. Now, we can look at how the pencil can be used (internal summary, signpost, and internal preview).

II. The pencil has many different uses, ranging from writing to many types of drawing.

Now that I have told you about the history of the pencil, as well as its many uses, let’s look at what types of pencils you can pick from that might be best for your project (Signpost, internal summary and preview).

III. There are over fifteen different types of pencils to choose from ranging in hardness and color.


Had Meg, the student mentioned in the opening anecdote, taken some time to work through the organizational process, it is likely her speech would have gone much more smoothly when she finished her introduction. It is very common for beginning speakers to spend a great deal of their time preparing catchy introductions, fancy PowerPoint presentations, and nice conclusions, which are all very important. However, the body of any speech is where the speaker must make effective arguments, provide helpful information, entertain, and the like, so it makes sense that speakers should devote a proportionate amount of time to these areas as well. By following this chapter, as well as studying the other chapters in this text, you should be prepared to craft interesting, compelling, and organized speeches.


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