The anatomy of writing a speech or presentation

If you have to write a speech or presentation, breaking it down into the five stages or the five component parts of the typical speech or presentation will help you organize your thoughts and write a focused, effective speech.

Here are the five stages:

Stage 1: Opening
Stage 2:Tell them what you are going to tell them
Stage 3:Tell them what you said you’d tell them
Stage 4:Remind them of what you told them
Stage 5:Closing and/or call to action

With the five stages in mind, let’s take a look at a typical 15 minute speech. I’ve tossed in a few words just to show you how one might transition from section to section. Consider them as placeholders, in other words, they are not intended to reflect the actual words you would use.

Stage 1: Opening: Your goal is to capture the attention of your audience. You introduce yourself and the purpose of your speech (why you are giving it). Even if everybody in the room knows who you are and why you are there, it’s your job to remind them. This can be done with a bit of humor or a personal or business anecdote. Any humor or anecdote should relate to you, your audience and your purpose – the purpose of your speech.
Timing: you have 2 minutes for this.

Stage 2: Tell them what you are going to tell them: Your goal is to get them interested in what your speech or presentation is focused on. “Well there is much I can talk about today, I want to emphasize the following three points that are of particular importance to our organization and that will give you a sense of my priorities: #1… #2… #3… Of course there are other issues such as #a. … #b. …#c. But I will focus on what I feel are our top 3 priorities.”
Timing: 3 minutes. (NOTE: I am not putting words in your mouth! I am just showing you that you want to let your audience know what you will be taking about and why. This sets the stage for what follows.)

Stage 3: Tell them what you said you’d tell them: Your goal is two fold: to hold their interest by delivering on what you promised your audience you’d be talking about and to influence their attitude, to get them onside – especially if you need them to take action. “One of our most important priorities is #1. As you know . In addition, we must remain focused on #2 so that . Finally, there is no denying that our membership wants us to address #3 as it is….”
Timing: 7 minutes. (As you can see, we are now up to 12 minutes)

Stage 4: Remind them of what you told them: Your goal is to sum up and reinforce what you’ve been talking about. “If we are to keep our organization , then addressing #1, #2 and #3 are critical. At the same time we must stay open to new and emerging trends and issues …”
Timing: 2 minute

Stage 5: Closing and/or call to action: In conclusion, I’d like to thank you for your time today and… If you want your audience to do something, make sure you tell them. If not, simply conclude.
Timing: 1 minute.

My words above aside, your speech should reflect you, your personality, your attitude, your manner of speaking. And it should connect you to your audience, while ensuring your purpose is clearly understood. In short, it is your job to capture the attention of your audience while conveying your purpose and priorities; hold their attention by connecting your priorities to their issues; influence their attitude (“My, the speaker knows the major issues we are dealing with, is focused on what’s important and the solutions/opportunities”); and end with your call to action.

Can you take more time, or less time, for any of the above sections? Absolutely. But be aware that if you have a firm 15 minutes, and if you add time to one section, you then have to cut it from another.

A couple of final points: Once you’ve written a solid first draft, read it out loud several times and time it. You don’t want to race through to hit your 15 minute deadline. In other words, as you read it out loud, build in a few seconds for smiling, nodding and breathing! You might even want to tape it so you can hear it. Speeches are meant to be written for the ear, not the eye, so listening to your speech will help you eliminate any long or awkward sentences. Edit it for content, flow, and timing. And you have a speech.

But if you still need help writing your speech or presentation, or if you want someone to edit or comment on what you have written, feel free to visit and contact me.

[Paul Lima is a freelance writer, business-writing trainer and the author of a dozen books on business and promotional writing, self-publishing and the business of freelance writing. Learn more about Paul, or read about his books, at]


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