Thursday, March 03, 2005

How to Say it - Structure your speaking

Let's look at why and how you should structure your speech to best achieve your goals.

When you are speaking, just as when you are writing, you need to drop your thoughts, advice, ideas and observations into a structure - an order - that allows your listener to understand what you are saying and aids remembering what you said.

When you write, the structure starts as an outline. You take your main point and all of the bits and pieces that support it, order them, organize them and reorganize them - until you have fashioned a skeleton off of which you'll hang the rich fullness of your ideas and words. Ideally, your reader will use this skeleton to remember your words and ideas.

With speaking - particularly extemporaneously - you need a structure even more. The structure is a map to your thoughts and a filing system for the listener.

Important points about structuring your speaking:

The structure of spoken communication is different than written communication. Even if you aren't working from a prepared speech, you need to have a structure, for the benefit of your listeners. With the written word, you can use a list and won't need to repeat it, since readers can just look back at it. In a speech or conversation, there usually isn't a replay button, so you'd need to present and repeat the list as you go, to keep the listener up to date.

You also need a structure to help yourself as a speaker. When you are writing, you can review your words to make sure you have achieved your goal by the end. If you stray off your path, you can edit to fix this. No such luck with the spoken word. If you forget your goal and stray off the beaten path, you lose both yourself and your listeners. Your structure helps you to remember where you are and where you are going as a speaker

These differences between the written and spoken word means the structure of a great speech will make sure that the listeners won't need a replay button, and you won't walk away having missed your goal.

So much for why to structure your speech. How to do it is straightforward. I have learned a simple structure for speaking, which allows avoiding the pitfalls discussed a moment ago.

Here's the structure:

  1. Tell them what you are going to tell them.
  2. Tell them.
  3. Tell them what you told them.

Start your comments by telling your listeners what you are going to be talking about. Summarize the goal you're headed for. Tell them what you are going to tell them.

Once you have warned your listeners where you are all going, take them on the ride, tell them what you have to say. This is the meat of your remarks. Tell them.

To finish review the goal and summarize how you reached it. Tell them what you told them.

This structure is simple, easy to remember and applicable to entire speeches, sections within speeches, short remarks - just about anything, including written words like these.

This organization allows you to repeat yourself, without repeating yourself. You take the outline or list of important points along with you through the whole speech, so that the listener can remember it without reviewing it. You give the listener advance warning of what is coming so that they can better understand what you are saying while you are saying it.

And you as a speaker have a much better idea of where you are and where you are heading as you speak.

I think that I have used many of these points in this very article. I tried to tell you up front that this is about how to structure your speech and why. Then I told you, using some repetition so that you wouldn't need to go backwards. And now I'm summarizing - telling you that the simple: Tell 'em what you're going to tell them; Tell 'em; Tell 'em what you've told them structure - is a key tool for effective speaking.

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