Speech Outlining… Just fill in the blanks with good stuff Part 1

When I first started teaching public speaking, I didn’t require outlines.

BIG mistake! Big, big, big mistake.

What I had learned about outlining a weathercast, live shot or classroom lecture was branded into my brain.  Not the case for rookie speakers.

800px-Ducks-in-orderOutlining helps you get all your ducks in an order.  It helps you place those ducks in such an order that your information builds up to a point rather than dashing here or there through a topic.

I still get out a pencil and paper and sketch out what I want to say when I’m giving a class lecture about an important concept.  A lesson I learned from television is… I generally only get one shot at getting information across to my students.  Better make it a good one.

Where to start

A good place to start is to download the Informative Speech Outline template from Canvas.  Then, all you have to do is fill in the blanks with your good information.  Since you’ve got it up on your computer screen, let me walk you through it.

The Introduction
Screen Shot 2016-07-13 at 5.16.05 PM
Screen shot of Introduction section of Information Speech Outline Template

There’s a communication theory called Primacy/Recency.  It’s complicated, but what it boils down to is; people remember most vividly the first thing and the last thing you say.

That’s why how you start your speech is important.  Very important.

In order to get your speech off on the right foot you need to include these five elements in your speech Introduction. I’m going to use my outline about transmedia as an example. (You’ll find the outline in Canvas>Files>Informative Speech>Informative Speech Resources>Terri’s Transmedia Outline)

Attention catcher

Your attention catcher doesn’t have to have people jumping in the aisles.  That, actually, would be distracting.  But your attention catcher does need to catch your audience’s attention.

Let’s say I was going to give a speech about my television career.  Which one of these opening lines catches your attention and makes you possibly want to stick around to hear what I have to say?

  1. Today I want to tell you about my career in television.
  2. Today I want to tell you about a career that pays you for riding in a hot air balloon, standing next to a heart surgeon while peering into a woman’s chest during surgery, meeting celebrities and talking to killers.  That career is television news.

Geez, I hope you picked #2.  I’m telling my audience what my speech is going to be about in the first one, but the second version is much more interesting.  (Or, at least I think so!)

You can catch your audience’s attention with statistics, anecdotes, lists, even stories.  I used a story to catch my audience’s attention in the transmedia speech.

Two summers ago I spent a lot of time digitizing years of family photos.  One day, while sitting in front of my computer, I happened upon The Lizzy Bennett Diaries. Fourteen hours later, I finished the 100 vlog series and discovered other vlogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts each providing a different viewpoint or additional information to support Lizzie Bennett’s story.

My story about discovering The Lizzy Bennett Diaries helps set up the speech topic.  Now I have to prove what I have to say has relevance to my audience.

WIIFM? Listener relevance. (Pay attention.  WIIFM is critical to a good speech)

I once had a student running for Miss Washington in a class.  In order for her to make the pageant she had to get so many on-line votes.  She asked my class to please go to the web page and vote for her.  After she finished her plea, the first thing a student in the class asked was “What’s in it for me?”

It’s a fact.  We are a selfish lot.  If it’s not going to help me, then I don’t need to spend the time trying to understand what it is you’re trying to tell me.

Give people a reason to listen and they are more than likely going to listen. It doesn’t have to be a “You’ll be a billionaire if you listen to me,” but it does have to offer some benefit to the listener.

Sidebar story to illustrate the importance of WIIFM

When I worked at KIFI-TV one of the benefits I received included getting my hair done for free.  My stylist always asked me about the stories I was working on.  This time I told him I was working on a 3-part series about medical malpractice insurance for my weekly health series.  Seems the insurance companies had doubled and even tripled malpractice insurance costs for doctors.  The doctors were up in arms about it.  Some were even thinking of retiring or moving to a place where the insurance wasn’t so expensive.

My stylist listened to me go on and on about how this malpractice insurance increase impacted how the doctors worked.  Suddenly, he spun my chair around, put his hands on the chair’s arm rests, got down low to look me straight into my eyes and said,

“Terri, I could give a damn that some doctor has to pay an extra $10 grand for insurance.  Oh…boohoo… they’ll have to settle for one new snowmobile this winter instead of two. Why should I care about some doctor’s insurance rates?”

Well, that was an eye-opener for me.  Instead of focusing on how the insurance impacted doctors I started looking at how it would impact my viewers.  For example:

  • General practitioners in Salmon, Idaho stopped delivering babies because they couldn’t afford the insurance.  That meant a pregnant woman in the Salmon area would have to travel nearly 3 hours to Missoula, Montana to get pre-natal care and deliver her baby.
  • Rural area doctors might have to close their clinic doors forcing parents pack up their kids and head 20, 30, or 60 miles into town to get annual sports physicals.
  • It meant that your OBGYN bill for a baby born 9 months from now would be 175% more than the bill you’d get for a baby born today.  In Eastern Idaho, where they have a lot of babies, that’s important information.

The series was a success.  When I started looking at why this information was important to my audience, I had a much better series.  I always said, if I won an award for that series I’d have to thank my stylist.

BTW- I did win Idaho Medical Association Reporter of the Year.  They mentioned my series about medical malpractice as an example of how reporters have more impact when they explain the story through the patient’s eyes.  And I did thank my stylist!

Back to WIIFM

You should think about WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) every time you start a speech.  In fact, I think you should think WIIFM when asking your boss for a raise, asking a parent for help, asking a friend to join you at a party.  What’s in it for them?  When they know how they will benefit, they are more likely to follow your plan.

So, let’s take a look at my WIIFM from the transmedia speech.

This type of storytelling is the newest way to creatively tell a story.  A type of storytelling your generation is quickly adapting.

Here we find an implied WIIFM.  Basically I am saying “I’m going to bring up up-to-date on a new thing that will give you a head start over your peers.”  It would have been a stronger WIIFM if I could say, “Transmedia storytelling will soon be a requirement for all students submitting projects in introductory communication courses.”  If that were true, I’d have a stronger WIIFM.  But it’s not, so I give my audience a different way they will benefit from listening to my speech.

I can’t emphasize how important figuring out your WIIFM is in a speech.  In fact, it’s so important that speeches without a strong WIIFM will probably get a grade of B at best.

YOU: What?  I’ll only get a B if I don’t have a strong WIIFM?
TERRI:  Ahhh… see what I did there?  I gave you a WIIFM for writing a strong WIIFM!

Speaker credibility

Like I said in my Do we really have to give a speech?  Really? blog, you, more than likely, have more expertise about whatever you plan to talk about than anyone in the room.

Just let people know how and why you know what you know.  It could be a class you took.  It could be something your grandad taught you when you were 8.  It could be your own experience.  Whatever it is, share it with the audience to increase your credibility.

In my transmedia speech, I indicated that I did some studying…

Since my 14-hour stint Watching the Lizzy Bennett Diaries I’ve done a lot of research into transmedia.  And, in fact, lectured on it this morning in my COM 201 course. 

Now you know that I know a little more than the average person about this topic.  It’s just that simple.

For you, it could be something like, “I’ve been driving motocross professionally for four years,” or “I just returned from a trip to Thailand…” or “I work in a pizza restaurant now” or “Spring quarter I wrote my senior thesis on the economic feasibility of building a parking garage to alleviate parking problems on Central’s campus.”  Simple.


Everyone gets hung up on this.  Basically, it’s just the message you want the audience to remember when your speech is over.  Let’s take a look at my transmedia thesis statement:

I want to share with you some of the ways this new type of storytelling is becoming more and more prevalent to your generation.

So, when you finish listening to my speech you’ll understand why transmedia storytelling may be something you need to understand.  Sounds like it’s going to be around for a while.

That’s it.  That’s the thesis statement.


If I tell you “Go over there” how likely are you to go over there?

If I tell you “I’m going to tell you how to get to the other side of the river so you can be first in line to register for next quarter” how likely are you to listen?  Letting your listeners know what your goal is and how you plan to get them there is like a speech road map.  It let’s your audience know what to expect and what to listen for. That’s all a preview is.

Yet, I see and hear rookie speakers skip this step over and over and over again.  I guess they just get so excited about jumping into the speech they blank out the preview.  Saying the preview is important.  So important I’ve assigned points for your saying and writing your preview.  Say or write your preview and you get points.  Don’t say or write your preview and you get zero points.  It’s as simple as that.

The crazy thing is, your preview is the simplest part of your introduction.  All you have to do is let you know what the main points of your speech are going to be. If you look at my transmedia outline you’ll see my first main point is to define transmedia.  My second main point is to share an example of transmedia.  My third main point is to show other ways transmedia is used.   If I tell you what the main points of my speech are going to be, then I’ve given my audience a preview.   Here’s my transmedia preview:

Today I’d like to try to define transmedia and use the Lizzie Bennett Diaries to demonstrate how multiple media platforms are used to tell the story. And we’ll briefly look at other ways transmedia is being used to communicate messages.

So now, before you’ve even heard my speech you know the following:

  • I will attempt to define transmedia
  • I will use the Lizzie Bennett Diaries to demonstrate how transmedia works
  • And I’ll show you other ways transmedia is being used to tell stories.

Isn’t that going to make listening to this speech and hearing the main points easier?  Say “Yes” and then head over to Speech Outlining… Just fill in the blanks with good stuff Part 2 to learn about the body of the outline and your conclusion.