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Using an Outline vs. Manuscript for your talk or speech

Author: Terry Jetmore

Why do I need an Outline instead of a Manuscript?
An outline is preferable for a few reasons. You will soon develop your own natural rhythm of speaking if you are not tied to your notes. Your audience contact improves and your ability to reach others with your message is enhanced.

Why is this important?
Preparing an outline helps you to organize your thoughts. Using it for delivery makes it easier for you to be conversational and to speak from the heart.  Now that makes all the difference in the world for your listeners.

Speaking from an outline may scare the living day lights out of most people. A speaker may think “What if I forget what I’m supposed to say?”  They may feel more secure if everything they are going to say is down on paper or memorized.

Think about this….ever notice that in every day life we all speak without a manuscript and that never makes us nervous. We do it in conversation with family and friends and even people we have just met for the first time.

When you deliver a talk, training or presentation, does it make a difference whether you use a manuscript or an outline?

Absolutely!  If you read from a prepared script it can definitely help to ensure accuracy and the use of a particular choice wording. But, if you are tied to your notes, after reading a few sentences you will notice that you will usually adopt a pace and a pattern of inflection that is completely different from your spontaneous conversational style. People notice if your attention is focused more on your notes than on them. Human nature being what it is, we want it to be about ourselves! Ever seen an audience just tuned out because a speaker is ranting on about themselves or has not connected with the listener? Don’t let that happen to you.

For a truly motivating talk, extemporaneous delivery is always the best.

With preparation, you will find that an outline, either mental or written, is usually just enough to remind you of the main thoughts that you want to discuss. But how can you develop the confidence needed to work from one?

Organize Your Thoughts
In order to use an outline when speaking, you need to organize your thoughts. This does not mean selecting the words that you plan to use. It simply means thinking before you speak.  Mind mapping is a very helpful tool.  If you haven’t tried it before, give it a try.

You’ve heard the old adage “Think before you speak”. We’ve all experienced a time when we blurted out things that we later wished we had not said. Another pattnern of speech may be to speak aimlessly, wandering from one idea to another. Both of these tendencies can be dealt with simply by pausing to formulate a simple mental outline before beginning to speak. First get your objective in mind, next select the steps that you need to take in order to achieve it, and then start to talk.

Keep Your Talk Outline Simple
Is your outline meant for use when giving a discourse? How much should it include?

Remember that an outline is meant to help you recall ideas. You may feel that it would be great to write out a few sentences for use as an introduction. But after that, focus on ideas, not words. If you put those ideas down in the form of sentences, keep it short. The few main points that you plan to develop should stand out clearly in your outline. Try writing them in different colors or capital letter. Make note of illustrations or stories that you want to use. You may also have some significant secular quotation that is appropriate. Make your notes extensive enough to have specific facts to present. The outline will be easier to use if it is neat.

Some use outlines that are very basic. An outline may consist of a few key words, maybe a thought that conveys a story or experience you will relate or a pictures that help him recall ideas. With these simple notes, a speaker is able to present his material in a logical order and a conversational manner.

How to Use the Outline
The first step in using your outline is preparation for delivery. Look at the theme, read each of the main points, and either in your head or out loud, state the connection that each points has to the theme. Pay attention to how much time you have to develop each point. Review the arguments, illustrations, and examples that you plan to use to develop that point. Then practice repeatedly until you have the points clear in mind. 

Think about what you can omit in order to keep within your allotted time.  Remember to focus on the ideas and not the words.  You don’t want to memorize the talk.

Using an outline will allow you to maintain good visual contact with your audience. Speak from the heart, and you will reach the hearts of those who listen to you.

How will you know you have mastered the art of public speaking? When you can speak extemporaneously from your outline.

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About the Author

Terry is co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of She has had over 25 years experience in public speaking. She has also been the managing director of a Consulting Business that specializes in Regulatory Training for the medical industry for over ten years. Her goal is to provide insight and value for improving your public speaking ability and to help promote speakers, trainers and consultants professionally through

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