18.3: Organizing

Learning Objectives

  1. Explain the process of organizing a speech.
  2. Identify common organizational patterns.
  3. Incorporate supporting materials into a speech.
  4. Employ verbal citations for various types of supporting material.
  5. List key organizing signposts.
  6. Identify the objectives of a speech introduction.
  7. Identify the objectives of a speech conclusion.

When organizing your presentation/ speech, you might find it easier to start with the body. Even though most students want to start with the introduction, it can be difficult to introduce and preview something that you haven’t yet developed. A well-structured presentation/ speech includes an introduction, a body, and a conclusion.

In your case, as you prepare your Presentation for COMM 6019, you might find it easy to organize your presentation if you wrote a strong report — you would just follow the organization of your report (or of a portion of it) as you set up your PowerPoint and sections. The following information covers the way you would organize your content if you didn’t already have a full report to draw from, and it is meant to teach you the process to follow for any short speeches/ presentations delivered at work.

Organizing the Body of Your Speech

Writing the body of your speech takes the most time in the speech-writing/ presentation preparation process. Your specific purpose and thesis statements should guide the initial development of the body, which will then be more informed by your research process. You will determine main points that help achieve your purpose and match your thesis. You will then fill information into your main points by incorporating the various types of supporting material discussed previously. Before you move on to your introduction and conclusion, you will connect the main points together with transitions and other signposts.

Determining Your Main Points

Think of each main point as a miniature speech within your larger speech. Each main point will have a central idea, meet some part of your specific purpose, and include supporting material from your research that relates to your thesis. Reviewing the draft of your thesis and specific purpose statements can lead you to research materials. As you review your research, take notes on and/or highlight key ideas that stick out to you as useful, effective, relevant, and interesting. It is likely that these key ideas will become the central ideas of your main points, or at least subpoints. Once you’ve researched your topic enough to achieve your specific purpose, support your thesis, and meet the research guidelines set forth by your instructor or boss, you can distill the research down to a series of central ideas. As you draft these central ideas, use parallel wording, which is similar wording among key organizing signposts and main points that helps structure a speech. Using parallel wording in your central idea statement for each main point will also help you write parallel key signposts like the preview statement in the introduction, transitions between main points, and the review statement in the conclusion. The following example shows parallel wording in the central ideas of each main point in a speech about the green movement and Fanshawe College:

  1. Fanshawe’s green initiatives positively affect campus buildings and facilities.
  2. Fanshawe’s green initiatives positively affect students.
  3. Fanshawe’s green initiatives positively affect faculty and staff.

While writing each central idea using parallel wording is useful for organizing information at this stage, you should feel free to vary the wording a little more in your actual delivery. You should still keep some parallel key words that are woven throughout the speech/presentation, but sticking too close to parallel wording can make your content sound forced or artificial.

After evaluating and synthesizing your research materials, you may have several central idea statements. You will likely have two to five main points, depending on what your instructor prefers, time constraints, or the organizational pattern you choose. All the central ideas may not get converted into main points; some may end up becoming subpoints and some may be discarded. Once you get your series of central ideas drafted,  consider how you might organize them, which will help you narrow your list down to what may actually become the body of your speech.

Organizing Your Main Points

There are several ways you can organize your main points, and some patterns correspond well to a particular subject area or speech/ presentation type. Determining which pattern you will use helps filter through your list of central ideas generated from your research and allows you to move on to the next step of inserting supporting material into your speech. Here are some common organizational patterns.

Topical Pattern

When you use the topical pattern, you are breaking a large idea or category into smaller ideas or subcategories. In short, you are dividing a whole into logical units. While you may break something down into smaller topics that will make two, three, or more main points, people tend to like groups of three. In an informative presentation/ speech about the Woodstock Music and Art Fair, for example, you could break the main points down to (1) the musicians who performed, (2) the musicians who declined to perform, and (3) the audience. You could also break it down into three specific performances—(1) Santana, (2) The Grateful Dead, and (3) Creedence Clearwater Revival—or three genres of music—(1) folk, (2) funk, and (3) rock.

The topical pattern breaks a topic down into logical divisions but doesn’t necessarily offer any guidance in ordering them. To help determine the order of topical main points, you may consider the primacy or recency effect. You prime an engine before you attempt to start it and prime a surface before you paint it. The primacy effect is similar in that you present your best information first in order to make a positive impression and engage your audience early in your speech. The recency effect is based on the idea that an audience will best remember the information they heard most recently—therefore you would include your best information last in your speech to leave a strong final impression. Both primacy and recency can be effective. Consider your topic and your audience to help determine which would work best for your speech/ presentation.

Chronological Pattern

A chronological pattern helps structure your speech based on time or sequence. If you order a speech/ presentation based on time, you may trace the development of an idea, product, or event. A speech on Woodstock could cover the following: (1) preparing for the event, (2) what happened during the event, and (3) the aftermath of the event. Ordering a speech based on sequence is also chronological and can be useful when providing directions on how to do something or how a process works. This could work well for a topic such as baking bread at home, refinishing furniture, or harvesting corn. The chronological pattern is often a good choice for topics related to history or that demonstrate a process.

Spatial Pattern

The spatial pattern arranges main points based on their layout or proximity to each other. An informative speech/ presentation on Woodstock could focus on the layout of the venue, including (1) the camping area, (2) the stage area, and (3) the musician/crew area.

Problem-Solution Pattern

The problem-solution pattern entails presenting a problem and offering a solution. This pattern can be useful for persuasive speeches/ presentations—especially if focused on a current societal/ business issue. This can also be coupled with a call to action asking an audience to take specific steps to implement a solution offered. This organizational pattern can be applied to a wide range of topics and can be easily organized into two or three main points. You can offer evidence to support your claim that a problem exists in one main point and then offer a specific solution in the second main point. To be more comprehensive, you could set up the problem, review multiple solutions that have been proposed, and then add a third main point that argues for a specific solution out of the ones reviewed in the second main point. Using this pattern, you could offer solutions to the problem of rising textbook costs or offer your audience guidance on how to solve conflicts with roommates or coworkers.

Cause-Effect Pattern

The cause-effect pattern sets up a relationship between ideas that shows a progression from origin to result. You could also start with the current situation and trace back to the root causes. This pattern can be used for informative or persuasive speeches/presentations. For informative purposes, the speaker would explain an established relationship and cite evidence to support the claim—for example, accessing unsecured, untrusted websites or e-mails leads to computer viruses. For purposes of persuasion, the speaker would argue for a link that is not as well established and/or is controversial—for example, violent video games lead to violent thoughts and actions (or not). In a persuasive speech, a cause-effect argument is often paired with a proposed solution or call to action, such as advocating for stricter age restrictions on who can play violent video games. When organizing an informative speech using the cause-effect pattern, be careful not to advocate for a particular course of action.

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence

Monroe’s Motivated Sequence is a five-step organization pattern that attempts to persuade an audience by making a topic relevant, using positive and/or negative motivation, and including a call to action. The five steps are (1) attention, (2) need, (3) satisfaction, (4) visualization, and (5) action (Monroe & Ehninger, 1964).

The attention step is accomplished in the introduction. Whether your entire speech/ presentation is organized using this pattern or not, any good speaker begins by getting the attention of the audience. We will discuss several related strategies in the section “Getting Your Audience’s Attention”. The next two steps set up a problem and solution.

After getting the audience’s attention, establish that there is a need for your topic to be addressed. Cite credible research showing the seriousness or prevalence of an issue. In the attention and need steps, it is helpful to use supporting material that is relevant and proxemic to the audience.

Once you have set up the need for the problem to be addressed, you move on to the satisfaction step, where you present a solution to the problem. You may propose your own solution if it is informed by your research and reasonable. You may also propose a solution that you found in your research.

The visualization step is next and incorporates positive and/or negative motivation as a way to support the relationship you have set up between the need and your proposal to satisfy the need. You may ask your audience to visualize a world where things are better because they took your advice and addressed this problem. This capitalizes on positive motivation. You may also ask your audience to visualize a world where things are worse because they did not address the issue, which is a use of negative motivation.

Next, you can move to the action step, which includes a call to action: “Now that you see the seriousness of this problem, here’s what we can do about it.” The call to action should include concrete and specific steps to take. Your goal should be to facilitate the call to action, making it easy for the audience to complete. Instead of asking them to contact their elected officials, you could start an online petition and make the link available to everyone. You could also bring the contact information for officials that represent that region so the audience doesn’t have to look them up on their own. Although this organizing pattern is more complicated than the others, it offers a proven structure that can help you organize your supporting materials and achieve your goals.

Incorporating Supporting Material

So far, you have learned several key steps in the speech/ presentation creation process, which are reviewed in Figure 18.3.1 “From Research to Main Points”. Now you will begin to incorporate more specific information from your supporting materials into the body of your speech/ presentation. You can place the central ideas that fit your organizational pattern at the beginning of each main point and then plug supporting material in as subpoints.

Figure 18.3.1 From Research to Main Points


This information will also make up the content of your formal and speaking outlines, which we will discuss more in Section 18.4 “Outlining”. Remember that you want to include a variety of supporting material (examples, analogies, statistics, explanations, etc.) within your speech/ presentation. The information that you include as subpoints helps back up the central idea that started the main point. Depending on the length of your speech and the depth of your research, you may also have sub-subpoints that back up the claim you are making in the subpoint. Each piece of supporting material you include eventually links back to the specific purpose and thesis statement. This approach to supporting your speech/ presentation is systematic and organized and helps ensure that your content fits together logically and that your main points are clearly supported and balanced.

One of the key elements of academic and professional public speaking is verbally citing your supporting materials so your audience can evaluate your credibility and the credibility of your sources. You should include citation information in three places: verbally in your speech, on any paper or electronic information (outline, PowerPoint), and on a separate reference sheet. Since much of the supporting material you incorporate into your speech comes directly from your research, it’s important that you include relevant citation information as you plug this information into your main points. Don’t wait to include citation information once you’ve drafted the body of your speech/ presentation. At that point, it may be difficult to retrace your steps to locate the source of a specific sentence or statistic. As you paraphrase or quote your supporting material, work the citation information into the sentences; do not clump the information together at the end of a sentence, or try to cite more than one source at the end of a paragraph or main point. It’s important that the audience hear the citations as you use the respective information so it’s clear which supporting material matches up with which source.

What source information should you mention out loud during a speech/ presentation? At least the author, his/her credentials, and the date — but in some cases more information should be emphasized. When citing a magazine, newspaper, or journal article, it is important to include the name of the publication (more important than mentioning the title of the article), since that name—for example, The Globe and Mail—is what the audience needs to evaluate the credibility of the material. For a book, make sure to cite the title and indicate that the source is a book. When verbally citing information retrieved from a website, do not recite the long and cumbersome URL; mention, instead, the sponsor/author of the site and the title of the web page, or section of the website, where you obtained their information. Use “official” organization websites or government websites rather than random websites or blogs. When you get information from an official site, make sure you state that in your citation to add to your credibility. For an interview, state the interviewee’s name, credentials, and the date when the interview took place. Here are some examples of phrasing you could use in verbally citing sources and examples from specific types of sources:

  1. Magazine article

    • “According to an article by Niall Ferguson in the January 23, 2012, issue of Newsweek, we can expect much discussion about ‘class warfare’ in the upcoming presidential and national election cycle. Ferguson reports that…”
    • “As reported by Niall Ferguson, in the January 23, 2012, issue of Newsweek, many candidates’ talking points revolve around economic inequality…”
  2. Newspaper article

    • “On November 26, 2011, Eithne Farry of The Daily Telegraph of London reported that…”
    • “An article about the renewed popularity of selling products in people’s own homes appeared in The Daily Telegraph on November 26, 2011. Eithne Farry explored a few of these ‘blast-from-the-past’ styled parties…”
  3. Website

    • “According to information I found at ready.gov, the website of the US Department of Homeland Security, US businesses and citizens…”
    • “According to information posted on the US Department of Homeland Security’s official website,…”
    • “Helpful information about business continuity planning can be found on the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s official website, located at ready.gov…”
  4. Journal article

    • “An article written by Dr. Nakamura and Dr. Kikuchi from the Meiji University in Tokyo found that the Fukushima disaster was complicated by Japan’s high nuclear consciousness. Their 2011 article published in the journal Public Administration Today reported that…”
    • “In a 2012 article published in Public Administration Review, Professors Nakamura and Kikuchi reported that the Fukushima disaster was embarrassing for a country with a long nuclear history…”
    • “Nakamura and Kikuchi, scholars in crisis management and public policy, authored a 2011 article about the failed crisis preparation at the now infamous Fukushima nuclear plant. Their Public Administration Review article reports that…”
    • Bad example (doesn’t specify the names of the authors or the name of the journal). “A 2011 study by Meiji University scholars found the crisis preparations at a Japanese nuclear plant to be inadequate…”
  5. Book

    • “In their 2008 book At War with Metaphor, Steuter and Wills describe how we use metaphor to justify military conflict. They report…”
    • “Erin Steuter and Deborah Wills, experts in sociology and media studies, describe the connections between metaphor and warfare in their 2008 book At War with Metaphor. They contend that…”
    • “In their 2008 book At War with Metaphor, Steuter and Wills reveal…”
  6. Interview

    • “On February 20 I conducted a personal interview with Dr. Linda Scholz, a communication studies professor at the University of Toronto, to learn more about Latina/o Heritage Month. Dr. Scholz told me that…”
    • “I conducted an interview with Dr. Linda Scholz, a communication studies professor here at the University of Toronto, and learned that there are more than a dozen events planned for Latina/o Heritage Month.”
    • “In a telephone interview I conducted with Dr. Linda Scholz, a communication studies professor at the University of Toronto, I learned…”

Key Concept SpotlightSpotlight: “Getting Critical”


During the process of locating and incorporating supporting material into your speech/ presentation, it is important to practice good research skills to avoid intentional or unintentional plagiarism. Plagiarism, as we have already learned, is the uncredited use of someone else’s words or ideas. All the academic integrity rules discussed so far apply to speeches/ presentations, too.

As you might have heard, there have been several high-profile plagiarism scandals related to speeches recently, with serious consequences for the guilty parties. Here are a few examples:

If you search “plagiarized public speeches,” you’ll be able to find many more examples. In all these cases, the speakers plagiarized other speeches — a form of plagiarism supposedly more difficult to “catch” than plagiarized written text — and they were still caught. Please be careful to document your use of sources as instructed in this textbook for presentations/ speeches as for any written text.

As you locate sources, always record all the key bibliographic information. to avoid wasting time trying to find the source again later. Printing the source, downloading the PDF, or copying and pasting the URL as soon as you locate the source can help you retrace your steps if needed. (For library resources: copying the URL might not help, because that might be specific to your login session during which you initially locate the source. Save a copy of the text or save the full APA reference to be on the safe side.)

Self-reflection and critical thinking questions:

  1. Why do you think instances of academic dishonesty have been steadily increasing over the past few years?
  2. What is your school’s policy in academic honesty? What is your instructor’s policy? What are the potential consequences for violating this policy at the school and classroom levels?
  3. Based on what you learned here, what are some strategies you can employ to make your research process more organized?

Using Signposts

Signposts on highways help drivers and passengers navigate unfamiliar places and give us reminders and warnings about what to expect down the road. Signposts in speeches/ presentations are statements that help audience members navigate content, keeping in mind that they cannot “rewind” to check details they might have missed. The key signposts you should include are the preview statement; transitions between the intro and the body, between the main points, and between the body and the conclusion; and the review statement. While the preview and review statements are in the introduction and conclusion, respectively, the other signposts are all transitions that help move between sections.


Table 18.3.1 Organizing Signposts

Signpost Example
Preview statement “Today, I’d like to inform you about the history of Habitat for Humanity, the work they have done in our area, and my experiences as a volunteer.”
Transition from introduction to body “Let’s begin with the history of Habitat for Humanity.”
Transition from main point one to main point two “Now that you know more about the history of Habitat for Humanity, let’s look at the work they have done in our area.”
Transition from main point two to main point three “Habitat for Humanity has done a lot of good work in our area, and I was fortunate to be able to experience this as a volunteer.”
Transition from body to conclusion “In closing, I hope you now have a better idea of the impact this well-known group has had.”
Review statement “Habitat for Humanity is an organization with an inspiring history that has done much for our area while also providing an opportunity for volunteers, like myself, to learn and grow.”

There are also signposts that can be useful within sections of your speech/ presentation. Words and phrases like Aside from and While are good ways to transition between thoughts within a main point or subpoint. Organizing signposts like First, Second, and Third can be used within a main point to help speaker and audience move through information. The preview in the introduction and review in the conclusion need not be the only such signposts in your speech/ presentation. You can also include internal previews and internal reviews in your main points to help make the content more digestible or memorable.

Signposts in your speech guide the way for your audience members like signposts on the highway guide drivers. Doug Kerr – Minnesota State Highway 5 – CC BY-SA 2.0.

Try to remove unnecessary words from key signposts to make them more effective and easier to remember and deliver. Speech signposts should also be parallel. All stop signs are octagonal with a red background and white lettering, which makes them easily recognizable to drivers. If the wording in your preview statement matches with key wording in your main points, transitions between main points, and review statement, then your audience will be better able to follow your speech.

Being too vague or getting too creative with your speech signposts can make them disappear into the background of your speech/ presentation. Students sometimes worry that using parallel and obvious wording in signposts would make their speech boring or insult the intelligence of their audience. This is not the case. Most people struggle to be active listeners, so making a speech/presentation more listenable is usually appreciated. In addition, these transitions would amount to just a few sentences, so they would be spaced out enough to not sound repetitive, and they can serve as anchor points to secure the attention of the audience.

Your well-written signposts should also be well delivered. Nonverbal signposts include pauses and changes in rate, pitch, or volume that help emphasize transitions within your delivery. Here are some ways you can use nonverbal signposting: pause before and after your preview and review statements so they stand out, pause before and after your transitions between main points so they stand out, and slow your rate and lower your pitch on the closing line of your speech to provide closure.


Because of the power of first impressions, a speaker who seems unprepared in the introduction will likely be negatively evaluated even if the speech improves. Nadine Dereza – ’Insider Secrets of Public Speaking’. – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

First impressions matter. For instance, according to Laws et al. (2010), students’ impressions of instructors on the first day of class persist throughout the semester (Laws et al., 2010). First impressions are quickly formed, sometimes spontaneous, and involve little to no cognitive effort — yet they form the basis of inferences and judgments about someone’s personality (Lass-Hennemann, et al., 2011). For example, a student who comes to the front of the class wearing sweatpants and a t-shirt, looks around blankly, and lets out a sigh before starting would not made a very good first impression. Even if the student is prepared for the speech/ presentation and delivers it well, the audience has likely already associated what they observed with negative personality traits (laziness, indifference), and those associations now have staying power in the face of contrary evidence that comes later.

Short as it is, the introduction is an essential segment because that is when audiences decide whether or not they are interested in listening to the rest. A good introduction gets your audience’s attention, introduce your topic, establish credibility and relevance, and preview your main points.

Getting Your Audience’s Attention

A speaker can get an audience’s attention negatively, so think carefully about your choice. If you start a presentation on Habitat for Humanity by banging on the table with a hammer, you’ll definitely get your audience’s attention but lose your credibility in that moment, because many in the audience will probably stop seeing you as a serious speaker. Choose an attention getter that is appropriate, meaning that it is unusual enough to get people interested, but not over the top, and relevant to your speech topic.

Use Humour?

In a famous episode of the television show The Office, titled “Dwight’s Speech,” the boss, Michael Scott, takes the stage at a regional sales meeting for a very nervous Dwight, who has been called up to accept an award. In typical Michael Scott style, he attempts to win the crowd over with humor and fails miserably. Erring on the side of caution when it comes to humor tends to be the best option, especially for inexperienced speakers. An appropriate and well-executed joke can lighten the mood and reduce the speaker’s anxiety, but even successful comedians can make mistakes, and many recount stories of excruciating instances in which they failed to connect with an audience. So the danger lies in the poorly executed joke, which has the reverse effect, heightening the speaker’s anxiety and leading the audience to question the speaker’s competence and credibility. In general, when a speech/presentation is supposed to be professional or formal, as many in-class speeches are, humor is more likely to be seen as incongruous with the occasion. But there are other situations where a humorous opening might fit perfectly. For example, a farewell speech to a longtime colleague could start with an inside joke. When considering humor, perhaps get feedback on your idea from a trusted colleague.

Cite a Startling Fact or Statistic

As you research your topic, take note of any information that defies your expectations or surprises you. If you have a strong reaction to something you learn, your audience may, too. For instance, you could share more than one fact or statistic that builds up the audience’s interest. When using numbers, it’s also good to repeat and/or repackage the statistics so they stick in the audience’s mind. Here is an example:

In 1994, sixteen states reported that 15–19 percent of their population was considered obese. Every other state reported lower obesity rates. In 2010, no states reported obesity rates in that same category of 15–19 percent, because every single state had at least a 20 percent obesity rate. In just six years, we went from no states with an obesity rate higher than 19 percent, to fifty. Currently, the national obesity rate for adults is nearly 34 percent. This dramatic rise in obesity is charted on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website, and these rates are expected to continue to rise.

The speaker could have just started by stating that nearly 34 percent of the US adult population was obese in 2011. But statistics are not meaningful without context. So sharing how that number rose dramatically over six years helps the audience members see the trend and understand what the current number means. The fourth sentence repackages and summarizes the statistics mentioned in the first three sentences, which again sets up an interesting and informative contrast. Last, the speaker provides a verbal citation for the source of the statistic.

Use a Quotation

Some quotations are attention getting and some are boring. Some quotations are relevant and moving and some are abstract and stale. If you choose to open your speech with a quotation, choose one that is attention getting, relevant, and moving. The following example illustrates some tips for using a quote to start a speech: “‘The most important question in the world is ‘Why is the child crying?’’ This quote from author Alice Walker is at the heart of my speech today. Too often, people see children suffering at the hands of bullies and do nothing about it until it’s too late. That’s why I believe that all public schools should adopt a zero-tolerance policy on bullying.”

Notice that the quote is delivered first in the speech, then the source of the quote is cited. Since the quote, like a starting fact or statistic just discussed, is the attention-getting part, it’s better to start with that rather than the citation. Next, the speaker explains why the quote is relevant to the speech. A quote that seems relevant to you might not automatically seem so to the audience, so it’s best to make that explicit right after you use and cite the quote. Also evaluate the credibility of the source. Many websites that make quotations available care more about selling pop-up ads than the accuracy of their information. Students who do not double-check the accuracy of the quote may end up attributing the quote to the wrong person or citing a made-up quote.

Ask a Question

Starting a speech with a question is a common attention getter, but in reality many speakers choose mundane and boring questions.

First, consider whether you want to use a rhetorical question (designed to elicit a mental response from the audience, not a verbal or nonverbal one) or a direct question (that actually requires a direct response form the audience).  Asking a direct question of your audience is warranted only if you plan to do something with the information you get from the audience — and if you are not prepared for the response you get, your presentation might not start well. Let’s say a student starts the speech with the direct question, “By a show of hands, how many people have taken public transportation in the past week?” — and sixteen out of twenty students raise their hands. If the speaker is arguing that more students should use public transportation and she expected fewer students to raise their hands, is she going to change her speech angle on the spot? Speaker who move on from their direct question without addressing the response they get from the audience have not made their attention getter relevant to their topic. So, if you use a direct question, make sure you have a point to it and some way to incorporate the responses into the speech.

A good rhetorical question primes the audience to think about the content of the speech. When asked as a series of question combined with startling statistics or facts, audience members can be hooked. The following is a series of rhetorical questions used in a speech against the testing of cosmetics on animals: “Was the toxicity of the shampoo you used this morning tested on the eyes of rabbits? Would you let someone put a cosmetic in your dog’s eye to test its toxicity level? Have you ever thought about how many products that you use every day are tested on animals?” Make sure you pause after your rhetorical question to give the audience time to think. Don’t pause for too long, though, or some audience members may get restless, think that you are waiting for an actual response, and say something that might take you by surprise and break your concentration.

Tell a Story

When you tell a story, whether in the introduction to your speech or not, you should aim to paint word pictures in the minds of your audience members. You might tell a story from your own life or recount a story you found in your research. You may also use a hypothetical story, which has the advantage of allowing you to use your creativity and help place your audience in unusual situations that neither you nor they have actually experienced. When using a hypothetical story, you should let your audience know it’s not real, and you should present a story that the audience can relate to. Speakers often let the audience know a story is not real by starting with the word imagine. However, the circumstances you choose should not be so unusual that the audience can’t relate to them –like this: “Imagine being held as a prisoner of war for seven years.” If you want to speak about really unusual circumstances, make them relatable: “Think of someone you really care about. Now, imagine that weeks, months, and then years go by and you haven’t heard from that person. You have no idea if that person is alive or dead.” The speaker could go on to compare that scenario to the experiences of friends and family of prisoners of war. While we may not be able to imagine being held captive for years, we all know what it’s like to experience uncertainty regarding the safety of a loved one.

Introducing the Topic

Introducing the topic of your speech is the most obvious objective of an introduction, but speakers sometimes forget to do this or do not do it clearly. As the author of your speech, you may think that your topic is obvious. However, that is not always so — and if your audience can’t clearly see your topic in the first minute, they might lose interest and stop listening. Introduce your topic before the preview of your main points. You can try something like this: “Childhood obesity is a serious problem facing our country,” or, “Today I’ll persuade you that childhood obesity is a problem that can no longer be ignored.”

Establishing Credibility and Relevance

Imagine that your audience members will all ask, “Why should I care about your topic?” and work to proactively address relevance throughout your speech. U.S. Department of Agriculture – CC BY 2.0.

Take a moment in your introduction to explicitly set up your credibility in relation to your speech topic. If you have training, expertise, or credentials (e.g., a degree, certificate, etc.) relevant to your topic, you can share that with your audience. It may also be appropriate to mention firsthand experience, previous classes you have taken, or even a personal interest related to your topic.

In terms of relevance, consider preemptively answering the “so what?” question — why should your audience care about what you said? What makes it important? For best results, try to make the topic relevant to your specific audience rather than to humanity in general.

Previewing Your Main Points

The preview of main points is usually the last sentence of your introduction and serves as a map of what’s to come in the speech. The preview narrows your introduction of the topic down to the main ideas you will focus on in the speech. Your preview should include wording that is parallel to the key wording of your main points in the body of your speech/ presentation and should preview your main points in the same order you discuss them in the body. Make sure your wording is concise. The following example previews the main points for a speech on childhood obesity: “Today I’ll convey the seriousness of the obesity epidemic among children by reviewing some of the causes of obesity, common health problems associated with it, and steps we can take to help ensure our children maintain a healthy weight.”


How you conclude a speech leaves an impression on your audience. There are three important objectives to accomplish in your conclusion. They include summarizing the importance of your topic, reviewing your main points, and closing your speech.

Summarizing the Importance of Your Topic

After you transition from the body of your speech to the conclusion, you will summarize the importance of your topic. This is the “take-away” message, or another place where you can answer the “so what?” question. This can often be a rewording of your thesis statement. The speech about childhood obesity could be summarized by saying, “Whether you have children or not, childhood obesity is a national problem that needs to be addressed.”

Reviewing Your Main Points

Once you have summarized the overall importance of your speech, you review the main points. The review statement in the conclusion is very similar to the preview statement in your introduction. You don’t have to use the exact same wording, but you still want to have recognizable parallelism that connects the key idea of each main point to the preview, review, and transitions. The review statement for the childhood obesity speech could be “In an effort to convince you of this, I cited statistics showing the rise of obesity, explained common health problems associated with obesity, and proposed steps that parents should take to ensure their children maintain a healthy weight.”

Closing Your Speech

Like the attention getter, your closing statement is an opportunity for you to exercise your creativity as a speaker. Many students have difficulty wrapping up the speech with a sense of closure and completeness. In terms of closure, a well-written and well-delivered closing line signals to your audience that your speech/presentation is over, which cues their applause. You should not have to put an artificial end to your speech by saying “thank you” or “that’s it” or “that’s all I have.” In terms of completeness, the closing line should relate to the overall speech and should provide some “take-away” message that may leave an audience thinking or propel them to action. A sample closing line could be “For your health, for our children’s health, and for our country’s health, we must take steps to address childhood obesity today.” You can also create a “ribbon and bow” for your speech/presentation by referring back to the introduction in the closing of your speech. For example, you may finish an illustration or answer a rhetorical question you started in the introduction.

Even a well-written conclusion can be ineffective if the delivery is not good. If you practice your speech only by starting from the beginning, you may not get to your conclusion very often because you stop to fix something in one of the main points, get interrupted, or run out of time. Once you’ve started your speech, anxiety may increase as you near the end, so even a well-practiced conclusion can fall short. Practicing your conclusion by itself several times can prevent this.

Key Takeaways

  • Key IconA short speech/ presentation consists of an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. When organizing your content, it may be easier to start with the body.
  • Determine the main points based on your research and supporting materials. The main points should support the thesis statement and help achieve the general and specific purposes.
  • Some organizational patterns that can help arrange the main points of a speech/ presentation are topical, chronological, spatial, problem-solution, cause-effect, and Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.
  • Incorporating supporting material helps fill in the main points by creating subpoints. As supporting material is added to the speech, citation information should be included so you will have the information necessary to verbally cite your sources.
  • Organizing signposts connect the introduction, body, and conclusion. Organizing signposts should be written using parallel wording to the central idea of each main point.
  • A speaker should do the following in the introduction of a speech: get the audience’s attention, introduce the topic, establish credibility and relevance, and preview the main points.
  • A speaker should do the following in the conclusion of a speech: summarize the importance of the topic, review the main points, and provide closure.


  1. ExerciseIdentifying the main points of reference material you plan to use in your speech/ presentation can help you determine your main points/subpoints. Take one of your sources and list the main points and any subpoints from the article. Are any of them suitable main points for your speech/ presentation? Why/ why not?
  2. Which organizational pattern listed do you think you will use for your speech/ presentation, and why?
  3. Write out verbal citations for some of the sources you plan to use in your speech, using the examples cited in the chapter as a guide.
  4. Draft the opening and closing lines of your speech. Remember to tap into your creativity to try to engage the audience. Is there any way you can tie the introduction and conclusion together to create a “ribbon and bow” for your speech?


Lass-Hennemann, J., Kuehl, L.K., Schulz, A.,Oitzl, M.S., & Schachinger, H. (2011). Stress strengthens memory of first impressions of others’ positive personality traits,” PLoS ONE 6(1), 1-8. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0016389

Laws, E. L., Apperson, J. M., Buchert, S. & Bregman, N.J. (2010). Student evaluations of instruction: When are enduring first impressions formed? North American Journal of Psychology 12(1), 81-92.

Monroe, A. H., & Ehninger, D. (1964). Principles of speech (5th brief ed.). Scott, Foresman.


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Advanced Professional Communication Copyright © 2021 by Melissa Ashman; Arley Cruthers; eCampusOntario; Ontario Business Faculty; and University of Minnesota is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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