F is for Format Your Speech

Dale Carnegie Quote about Public Speaking

A talk is a voyage with a purpose, and it must be charted. The man who starts out going nowhere, generally gets there. – Dale Carnegie


Where are you taking your audience?

A speech format is like a map. When you deliver a speech you are the driver and the audience members are your passengers. They want to know where you are taking them, how long it will take to get there, and what they can expect to see along the way.

The Redundancy Format

One of the best “road maps” is what I call the redundancy format:

  • Tell ’em what you’re going to tell ’em.
  • Tell ’em.
  • Tell ’em what you told ’em.

This simple yet effective structure looks like:

-Opening: Announce your subject in the first sentence or paragraph. Speaker Jack Bernard calls it a mini commercial of what is to come.

-Body: Substantiate your topic

-Close: Repeat main points of your topic                    

How much time do you have?

Knowing how much time you have and figuring how many words that equals will go a LONG way in helping you format your talk. 

A fifteen-twenty minute speech is approximately 2,000 words. Below is a sample format for a typical 10-15 minute speech or presentation:

  • Initial greeting & opening (approximately 2 minutes): Grab the audience’s attention.
  • Overview (approximately 2 minutes): Tell them about the three main points you are going to cover.
  • Body (approximately 9 minutes – 3 minutes each point): cover the points and reinforce each one with examples, stories, illustrations, facts, statistics, handouts, exercises, etc.
  • Close (approximately 2 minutes): Summary of main points and call to action or inspiration.

Expand or streamline material according to time elements:

  • 5-9 minutes: 1 or 2 points
  • Less than 5 minutes: 1 point (obviously your most important point.)

Now, knowing how much material you can cover in your talk within the parameters of timing does not preclude you from following this excellent advice from Business Presentations and Public Speaking (First Books for Business)

Prepare more content than you can use, and keep this extra material thoroughly organized and ready for backup duty. Then, if you’re asked to fill more time or your audience asks tough questions, you’re better prepared to answer without that sudden ‘uh-oh” feeling in the pit of your stomach.

The Rule of Three

Tom Ogden master magician and entertainer says: “The Rule of Three applies everywhere. To name some examples: the Trinity; the Three Bears; the Three Little Pigs; the Andrews Sisters; the Three Stooges; The Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria…”

He goes on to say, “Series of three produce a rhythm that causes a positive and pleasing sense of completion and fulfillment. So many examples can be found in fact and fiction, in life and in storytelling, that it is valuable to relate the Rule of Three whenever possible.”

What this means is don’t try to cover more than 3 points in a presentation. If you have more than 3 points, then cluster them into groups of no more than 2-3 points within each group. Besides the tips offered by Tom above, most people can’t remember more than 3 points. I once took a memory course that used the “Rule of Three” grouping to aid in memory retention. So, the rule not only assists the audience in terms of listening pleasure and retention of your message, it assists YOU, the presenter, in remembering your speech content and organization.

Additional Formats


Good structure for historical, financial, scientific, environmental, technological, political and educational programs.

1. Begin with brief history of topic

2. Describe what is happening now

3. Finish with predictions or long-term projections


1. Arouse attention: Grab the audience by the senses

2. Stimulate interest: Stir their interest with an outrageous remark that makes the audience want more

3. Create desire: Appeal to key emotions such as virtue, power, image, greed or vanity.

4. Ask for Action or Agreement: Call to action. Let the audience know exactly what you want them to do

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