Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The Shape of Things - How to Structure your Speech

All about structure
The way you arrange your material is one of your most important tools for making an impact. Obviously, speeches need a beginning, a middle and an end. But how exactly should you put those pieces together? What goes where?
A ‘pattern of arrangement’ is a way of ordering the contents of your speech. It provides the listener with a sense of shape and direction, and in this way it assists people to pay attention and stay engaged. Choosing the right pattern is a strategic decision. Your strategy will be influenced by what you want to achieve, the audience’s expectations, the occasion, how much time you have, and your own personal preferences.
Believe it or not, you already know many of these patterns without even realising it.

Patterns of arrangement

Screenwriters talk about ‘the story arc’. It’s the plot architecture, and it’s why you know that the chase scene means the end of the movie is near, or that if the hero is in a cave with his enemy, the rescue party is just about to turn up. If a car salesperson has taken you for a test drive and you’re back in the showroom you know you’ll be asked to buy. If it’s the end of the lesson and you’re a school student you can be sure that ‘Homework’ will be the last thing your teacher mentions. A candidate for election may have knocked your door and had a chat but you know that ‘Vote for Me’ is part of the script. And It doesn’t surprise us that a 30 second TV ad can move us through a cycle of excitement, engagement and interest, to the point where we might actually spend money.

In all these cases there’s a familiar framework underlying the presentation. We sense the tension building and releasing, driving toward a climax or conclusion which we unconsciously know to be there. We recognise the pattern of arrangement.

A speech must do the same thing. A logical, coherent structure , linked by transitional phrases and signposts takes the listener easily from one section the next, maintaining sense and interest as it does so.
There are lots of different patterns available. Always choose what suits your material and the audience best.
Some options include:
• Chronological (past/present/future)
• Cause /effect (or the reverse, - effect/cause)
• Problem/solution
• ‘On the one hand…on the other hand…. My view is….
• “Lessons learned “ Often using a narrative or story followed by a personal reflection or parable.
4 parts = whole

Regardless of the overall pattern of arrangement, there are some basic essentials which any speech must have. Like my grandmothers ‘foundation garments’, these four elements are hidden from view, but they give a speech the shape and support it needs.
1. Introduction: this makes the audience listen, establishes a connection, announces your topic. It gives them an idea of your approach and tone, and foreshadows what you’ll be covering.
You must develop an arresting opening. The audience’s attention is highest at the start so get it then, it and keep it. Here is where you can use surprising facts, rhetorical questions, unexpected information (‘Hey Ma – wait’ll you hear THIS!’) an anecdote, joke, or story. Because it is so important, the opening may well be one of the last things you decide on and polish up.
2. Background: this gives them any information they need to understand the issue, explains why it’s important and for whom, and it states your position. You can use reflection, observation or discussion. What’s the significance? Why does this matter? What does it tell us? What should we do?
3. Development; here is where you can let rip. Explore the issue as much as you need to, and illustrate it using examples and evidence. This is where you prove your case. An audience visibly sits up and pays attention when they here the words ‘for example…’ so make sure you use plenty of them. People LOVE stories. If you are persuading the audience or arguing for or against something you should include some pre-emptive rebuttal of what your opposition might say.
4. Conclusion: this draws everything together in a summary and finalises it in a simple, memorable way. It’s the ‘call to action’ point, where you can state what you want them to do.

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