The fear of public speaking, also called glossophobia, outranks the fear of death! Perhaps, a bit of exaggeration in an attempt at humour, but the point is home. I have found that my interaction with this phobia occurs when I cannot seem to get my thoughts aligned around a particular subject. This discussion will, therefore, be a reflection on the tools I have used towards better thought organization.

A man is seen speaking to a listening audience

Whenever I get into the arduous process of speech delivery, I have learnt that preparation requires more time and effort than presentation- if I were to relate the two, I would present the relationship as a 60:40 preparation to presentation ratio. Yet, for most of us, our attention is focused more on the presentation with little mention of the preparation that goes into it. It is of little surprise for me to receive coaching assignments on the presentation part of a speech delivery; only to end up also working on their preparation.

Before I figured out that communication is much a science, as it is an art, I struggled with scrambled thoughts. You can imagine the deep sense of relief I experienced when I found a tool that could sieve through my thought process towards enhanced agility, and efficacy while providing a metric upon which I could measure the success, or lack thereof, of my efforts. I have since gravitated towards this five-part approach whenever I need to align my thoughts around a particular discussion point, and thus far, it has worked.

Here goes:

General Purpose: A general-purpose captures the broad intent of your speech. Most of your speeches will serve one of the following purposes: To inform, to persuade, to entertain, or to inspire. I have found it is important to group my speeches into these categories because the general-purpose influences aspects of my outline and structure. A general structure can be expressed as follows: “I want to deliver an informative speech about the importance of female representation at the board level”. This remains a very broad purpose, therefore it is important to narrow it down into a more clearly defined specific purpose.

Specific Purpose: The specific purpose seeks to capture, measurably, the action you want to achieve, or response you seek from your audience after hearing your speech. To ensure you cut out redundancies, we use this tool. It is usually a one-sentence statement about what you hope to accomplish in your speech. It may start as follows: “After hearing my presentation…” Later, we shall look at how to write SMART specific purpose statements. Once you have established the specific purpose of your speech, the next step will be to decide the kind of outline your speech should follow towards achieving the success you have defined from your specific purpose.

Outline to use: We can define outlines as routes taken towards meeting a specific speech purpose, but that also consider the speech’s general purpose (I will expound on this in subsequent articles). Just as there are different routes to your destination, there is always more than one route to a particular speech objective. Available routes/outlines include Chronological, Spatial, Problem-Solution, Comparative, Causal, Proposition-to-proof, Motivated sequence outlines among others. After you have figured out your outline, we can now think of the next step, which is how to structure your content.

Opening, Body, Conclusion: I am almost certain that you are aware of this part of speech preparation. This is one of the areas where I would miss the mark. The error was in trying to organize my scrambled thoughts into an opening/body/conclusion structure, without figuring out the sections discussed above. Don’t fall into the same pit. Later we shall look at how each part of the structure takes on different styles based on the speech purpose, and outline. Then finally…

Delivery: In my books, this forms, and as mentioned earlier, 40% of any speech process, and is the visible part of your speech. Your audience misses out on the drama surrounding discarded notes, monologue in circles, the head-scratching, purpose-figuring part, that is speech preparation. I call this part the performance part of communication because it involves incorporating different styles, tools and techniques to support the logic in your message. It contains but is not limited to: The visual aids you will use, intentional vocal variation, the props, words, gestures, movements and many more.

The above, essentially, are the areas you need to checkbox as you think about getting your thoughts organized around your speech delivery. However, this represents the skeletal framework; there is more to be said about each of the parts. The articles to follow will be an attempt to patch some flesh on each of the discussed parts of this thought organizing tool.

Gathua Muigai is a member of the Nairobi Toastmasters Club and serves as the Public Relations Manager of D114