How to Outline a Presentation: A Complete Guide From a Pro
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How to Outline a Presentation: A Complete Guide From a Pro

When you’re writing an important speech, you must start with a clear outline. However, I find that many speakers are uncertain of how to write a good outline for their presentation. This is why I decided to write a guide for you, in hopes that learning to perfect your outlines will help you give better presentations in the future.

How do you outline a presentation? Always start with your introduction and end with your powerful closing. Flesh out the body by listing topics in the order that you want to cover them in. Never skimp on the important details of your speech. Remember that an outline is only a draft.

I know at this point that you still have questions, and that you still be confused at how to write the best outline for your speech. But writing a good outline for your presentation does not have to be stressful! This is my complete guide from a pro for you, in hopes that you can take the stress out of this important step.

How to Outline a Presentation

Outlining a presentation can be done with a regular piece of paper, or on a word processing program on your computer. If you are hosting a PowerPoint presentation, you may prefer to do the entire thing from the comfort of your computer. But if you do decide to write your outline on a piece of paper, make sure you use a pencil and eraser so that you can make changes as you go along.

The very first step in creating an outline is to ask yourself what the purpose of your presentation is.

Write your main message or a one-sentence summary of your thesis at the top of your outline when you get started. This may help you stay on task, and it will keep the purpose of your speech right in your eye’s sight. After all, you don’t want to stray too far off the main topic of your presentation!

Remember, a quality outline is meant to enhance the purpose of your presentation. If you do not write a proper outline, you may risk not properly conveying the right message to your audience.

Or you may even forget to cover essential points that you wanted to talk about. A thorough outline is especially important if you are planning to speak without notes.

You should remember to properly summarize what you want to say with every sentence of your outline. After all, this is not a full script, so a summary is all you really need. Remember to rehearse and practice with your outline, so that you can remember what you have written.

Start With a Strong Beginning

Your introduction is where you start strong by grabbing your audience’s attention from the very beginning. But if that makes you feel stressed out, just remember to stay calm! Creating a great first impression from the beginning of your speech is not as difficult as you might be worrying.

When you create a strong beginning, you should try some of the following:

  • Start with an attention-grabbing statement that captures your audience from the start. If you have a few ideas but are not sure what to use, try running your ideas by a trusted friend or mentor.
  • Give a strong signal that you are beginning your speech. You don’t want your audience unsure of whether you’ve actually begun or not.
  • Give the main thesis statement about the purpose of your presentation.
  • You could start by giving a brief preview of all of the things that you are going to talk about in the body of your speech.
  • Talk about your credentials at the beginning. However, you should make sure to find a way to do it that is entertaining. You don’t want to risk boring your audience from the very beginning of your speech!
  • Thank your audience from the very beginning! This is not only a good way to begin your speech, but a good way to end it, as well.
  • If there are any current events or famous historical events that relate to the purpose of your presentation, you can start by talking about these. However, pick only one so that you do not draw your introduction out too long.
  • Ask your audience a question at the beginning. You could draw out their interest by answering this question at a later point in your speech.
  • Whenever possible, make sure you begin your speech on a positive note. This sets a good tone for the rest of the presentation.
  • Start by telling a story that relates to your presentation. A good reason to start with a story is that it helps you form a strong connection with your audience from the beginning. Write some of the main details of your story in your outline so that you remember them.

Be reminded thought, that sometimes it is wise to write your introduction last as only you know what you’ll be introducing. This way, you’ll also avoid including something in your introduction that you won’t be actually talking about.

Once you have written out your introduction, you have completed the first step in creating an excellent outline for your presentation.

Create a Powerful Ending

In my experience, it can be easier to create ending before you flesh out the body of your presentation. However, it is up to you if you prefer to create your outline in a different order.

If you are a regular reader, you might have realized that I already posted an in-depth article here about how to end a presentation in a powerful way. Right now we are going to talk about the same thing in somewhat less detail.

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Just like with your beginning, make sure that you’ve made it obvious you are ending. After all, few things are more awkward than your audience sitting there long after you’ve finished, feeling confused about whether they should leave or not.

If the point of your speech is to motivate your audience to do something, you might consider ending your speech with a call to action. A call to action is simply an instruction that you give your audience about something you want them to do.

You could also potentially end your presentation with a powerful quote or an entertaining story. And if you have a unique tagline that exists to help promote your personal brand, consider ending with it.

But if you are planning to have a question and answer period at all, make sure you are not directly ending with one. Plan to wrap up your question and answer period before delivering your speech’s closing at the end.

This is because ending with a question and answer period is not only not memorable, but a negative question from an audience member can leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. This is not the last thing you want your audience members to remember as they’re leaving!

And as always, you should thank your audience at the end of your speech. This will make them feel valued, and impressed with your gratefulness.

Flesh Out the Body of Your Presentation

So, you’ve got your beginning and ending all figured out, but now what else do you do with your outline? This is the stage where you work on the body of your speech. That is, you will want to think about what you want to say in between your beginning and end. Here are some speech writing tips I have written about previously.

Write the main points of your outline in order

It may be easier for you to write bullet points or even a numbered list. List your main points in order of what you want to talk about. If at first glance the topics don’t seem to flow, it is okay to re-arrange them.

You can also decide at this point if there is anything you want to add or subtract. If you feel like you’ve made a mistake, don’t worry! It is okay to make any changes along the way.

Add sub-points and transitions to your topics

Add sub-points to your main points in order to further flesh out your outline. Even if you want to keep it simple, sub-points may help you to stay on track and remember what you were going to say.

You can also add to the ideas that your main points present. Make sure that the transitions from one point to another flow smoothly from one thing to the next.

Don’t forget the essential details!

Are there any special details that you need to remember for your presentation? Put these in your outline so that you don’t forget them. This can include important names, dates, and locations that you need to remember.

Write down how long will it take

If your speech is supposed to cover a certain amount of time, try listing times for each of your main points. This may help you not go over or under your time.

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How to Outline a PowerPoint Presentation?

You may be thinking that you don’t need an outline for your PowerPoint presentation. However, don’t rely on your slides alone; you need a proper outline, too. An outline for a PowerPoint presentation should also include images that you intend to use for your slides.

Fortunately, the PowerPoint program itself also allows you to view an outline of your slides. This can help give you a visual of your overall presentation.

Remember, This is Only a Draft!

If your outline isn’t the way you want it to be, remember that it is only your very first rough draft. Your outline doesn’t have to be perfect, because it is not your final product. While you should work hard to make your outline as good as possible, you don’t need to stress about it.

And remember that if you finish your outline, and you are not satisfied with how it looks? It is okay for you to scrap it and start all over again. There is no reason that you should stick with an outline that you don’t feel confident about.

An outline is a great place to start whether you intend to read from a full script, read from cue cards, or speak without notes. If you are an avid reader of Speak and Conquer, you’ll remember that I recommend creating an outline in many of my articles.

Get Feedback From Others About Your Outline

There is no reason that you have to go any of this by yourself. If you have a friend or mentor who is experienced with public speaking, why not ask them to take a look at your outline for you? They may see something that needs to be changed that never even occurred to you.

You could also give a practice round of your speech in front of a friend, family member, or mentor. Give them a chance to make suggestions about whether or not there’s anything that you should change. After all, it’s better for you to realize if something needs to be done differently before the actual day of the presentation.

If you don’t have someone who you can rehearse in front of in person, try recording your presentation in front of a video camera. Show it to someone you trust via email or social media. If they have any suggestions for change, you can alter your outline accordingly.

Why is a Presentation Outline so Important, Anyway?

While reading this article, you may be wondering why you even need an outline for your presentation. This may be especially puzzling to you if you are planning to give a speech without notes. But I find that an outline can be incredibly useful no matter what kind of presentation you are planning to give to your audience.

Like I said before, the main point of an outline is to enhance the main purpose of your speech further. But I’m also going to give you a list of some more reasons why I believe an outline is absolutely essential.

Some other good reasons for creating an outline for your presentation are:

  • You will have an easy visual to look at the order of the topics you are talking about. This way, you can see if anything looks out of place.
  • The proper outline will help to keep your speech organized.
  • You will be able to look at the connections between your ideas. This may even help you realize you need to add or subtract certain things from your speech.
  • A good outline will help you remember to touch on every important point that you need to cover in your presentation.
  • Outlining helps you see whether or not your main points and sub-points flow smoothly. If you create your outline and realize that some of your points do not flow, you can easily re-write key parts.
  • Using an outline instead of a full script will give you more freedom to improvise during your presentation. This is why creating an outline is a great first strategy if you are speaking without notes, or trying to memorize a speech in a short period of time.
  • If you’re not sure where to start preparing for your speech, then writing a loose outline is a good first step to help you out.
  • Practicing with an outline will help enhance your memory about the main points and sub-points of your presentation.

No matter what kind of presentation you are planning to give, a solid outline with help you be prepared and ready to go.

Conclusion: How do you make an outline for a talk?

Today, I have compiled a thorough guide about writing a quality outline. We discussed creating a good beginning, ending, and body of your presentation. We have even talked about why a good outline is important, too. If you have any other tips to share about creating an outline for your presentation, make sure to share them in the comments section.

If you are looking to improve your public speaking and presentation skills, check out the rest of my articles on Speak and Conquer. The purpose of my site is to help you succeed in becoming a better public speaker. For example, I have covered popular topics such as how to memorize a speech in less than an hour, and how to use hand gestures effectively during a presentation.

Related Questions

What software should I use to outline my speech? Preferably, you should have a program that allows you to use bullet points or numbered lists. Bullet points and lists are a good place to start when you are outlining. Microsoft Word, Word Processor, or Notepad are acceptable for basic outlines.

How do I decide what the purpose of my speech is? Decide if you are there to inform, educate, motivate, or entertain your audience. When you have narrowed it down to just one of those, you will be able to decide the main idea of your speech. You should preferably speak about a topic that you are well-educated about. 

How do I write a speech? Start with a purpose, and then create a detailed outline. Flesh out the points and sub-points from your outline. Decide very early on if you want to give your speech with or without notes. Revise your drafts as much as possible until you have created a full speech. If you are going to speak with notes, write some of the information from your outline onto cue cards.

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Who is Janek Tuttar?

My name is Janek Tuttar, and I am the founder and author of Speak and Conquer website.

I have been teaching public speaking at Estonian Entrepreneurship University of Applied Sciences

Here, I am sharing the wisdom of how to cope in different public speaking situations.

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Janek Tuttar

Hi! My name is Janek Tuttar, and I am the founder and author of SpeakAndConquer.com.

I have been teaching and blogging about public speaking since spring 2007. Here, I am sharing the wisdom of how to cope in different public speaking situations.

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