Want Your Audiences to Remember What You Say? The Importance of Clear Structure

Your message, no matter how important, will not be remembered if you don’t recognize the importance of structure. Here are some practical ideas that can immediately make you more effective.

Your Structure 

Can you write the premise or objective of your talk in one sentence? If not, the chances are that your thinking isn’t clear enough for the audience to understand your purpose. And if you don’t organize your material so the audience can remember it easily, they’ll have a hard time grasping your message. They may be dazzled by your pizzazz and laugh at your stories, but little will stay with them afterwards.

Your next structural imperative is to use statements that make your audience ask “How?” or “Why?” For example, during a talk on “Selling Yourself and Your Ideas to Upper Management,” I say, “Everyone in your position can sell themselves and their ideas to upper management.” Immediately, my audience is asking themselves, “HOW can I do that?” Or at another speech, I might say, “Every manager needs to develop employees who can think entrepreneurially.” And the managers are all asking themselves, “WHY on earth do I need to do that?”

Your answers to their mental questions, your How’s or Why’s, become your “Points of Wisdom,” the rationale for your premise or objective. Illustrate each Point with stories, examples, suggestions, practical advice, or recommendations. Allow about ten minutes for each Point of Wisdom, an average of three in a thirty minute presentation.

Finally, frame your premise and your Points of Wisdom with an attention-getting opening and a memorable closing. For example, I helped a scientist neighbor, Mike Powell, with a speech he was delivering to a general audience. I suggested that since most of us don’t know what it is like to be a scientist, he should tell the audience. Mike captured everyone’s attention by saying:

“Being a scientist is like doing a jigsaw puzzle… in a snowstorm…at night…when you don’t have all the pieces…and you don’t have the picture you are trying to create.”

Your last thirty seconds must send people out energized and fulfilled. Ask for questions before you close so you don’t diffuse the effect of your ending. Then finish with something inspirational that supports your theme and creates a “circle” with your opening. My scientist friend Mike closed by saying, “At the beginning of my talk, I told you of the frustration of being a scientist. Many people ask, ‘So why do you do it?'”

Then Mike told them about the final speaker at a medical conference he attended. She walked to the lectern and said, “I am a thirty-two-year-old wife and mother of two. I have AIDS. Please work fast.” Mike received a standing ovation for his speech. Even more important, several years later the audience still remembers what he said and can actually quote him!

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“I wanted a Super Bowl quality coach, and I was lucky to be introduced to Patricia Fripp. Her help in coaching and scripting was world class. With Patricia Fripp on your team, you can go places.”
– Don Yaeger, Long-Time Associate Editor for Sports Illustrated
magazine, Award-Winning Keynote Speaker, New York Times Best-Selling Author

Executive Speech Coach and Hall of Fame Keynote Speaker Patricia Fripp works with individuals and companies who realize that powerful, persuasive presentation skills give them a competitive edge.