Either intuitively, or because you read my blog faithfully (ha!), you know the various parts and pieces that go into preparing for a talk. Whether it’s to make one simple point to one person, or to deliver a keynote speech to hundreds, you know to think about your audience, your message(s), and your desired outcome.

But then what? How do those pieces come together, and where do they fit? What’s the ideal structure? Here are three checklist items that will give you a super simple guideline for preparation:

1. Focal Point

If you have a specific desired outcome ­– e.g. to ask your audience to act on something, or to leave your audience with one thought – you will want to spell it out. And you’ll want to do that in the opening and then reinforce it again in the closing. I call this the “focal point” … it is, after all, the focal point of your talk and what you want your audience to remember. Your focal point can be woven into your opening and closing remarks, or it can stand alone as its own opening and closing.

2. Message Points

These are the key thematic statements that are the backbone of the body of your talk. They are bigger picture statements that accomplish your “job” – or your communications task – which might be persuading, informing, or motivating, just to name a few. If your “job” is to persuade, then your message points should be persuasive statements. You can have one message point, which is ideal for audience retention, or you can have more, but be aware that audience retention is a huge challenge. Please, no more than 3 message points to a talk!

3. Information

Information backs up a message point. It is the data, statistics, examples, anecdotes, and background that support each message point. How you determine which information and how much to share will depend on your audience … their level of knowledge and understanding of your topic, whether they’re in the room by choice or not, what their biases and expectations are. Be careful to choose and prioritize your information based on what will jazz your audience, not on what jazzes you, about your topic!

Very simply, when you put the engine back together, this is what you have:

  • Opening, including a Focal Point
  • Message 1, with supporting Information
  • Message 2, with supporting Information
  • Message 3, with supporting Information
  • Closing, reinforcing the Focal Point

You’re ready to go … !

Beth Levine