14 – Oral Communication

Presentation Structures

David McMurrey; Anonymous; Matt McKinney; Gia Alexander; and Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt

To get your presentation off to a good start, plan on doing the following:

  1. Introduce yourself and say a bit about yourself.
  2. Indicate the topic and purpose of your presentation.
  3. Find some brief way to indicate the importance of your topic—spark some interest.
  4. Provide a brief in-sentence list of what your presentation will cover (i.e., a roadmap).

Take a look at how these elements are handled in the example in Table 14.3.[1]

Table 14.3. Introductory remarks in an oral presentation.

Oral Presentation: Enhancement of the Current Recycling Program
Purpose of section Script Example
Establishes who they are and what they represent. Valerie and I represent the Austin Coalition for Recycling, a group that was founded in the late 1960s, partly in response to rising utility bills and partly out of a concern for the environment and its resources.
Builds interest and identification with the audience. High utility bills not only hurt each of us in our pocketbooks but also hurt the quality of life of our city as a whole. We are all particularly proud of what a fine city we live in and what wonderful citizen involvement there is here in a whole range of civic activities. These things make our city special and ought to be the force that enables us to make a recycling program an integral part of the city’s waste management program.
Identifies the "thesis" or major point of the presentation while still appealing to the audience. Backed by the city, a new powerful recycling program will contribute enormously to keeping Austin the wonderful place it is.
Explains the purpose of the presentation and provides an overview of the topics to be covered in one sentence. Valerie and I want to talk to you about how recycling works currently, how it will work once integrated with the city’s waste management program, how this integration will benefit our city, and what you can do to support this plan.

While your organizational structure will vary from speech to speech, there are nonetheless five main parts of any speech:

  1. Attention statement
  2. Introduction
  3. Body
  4. Conclusion
  5. Residual message.

These are basic elements of the rhetorical process, and you will see, time and time again and regardless of audience or culture, these same elements in some form used to communicate in public. They will serve to guide you and possibly even save you should you get a last minute request to do a speech or presentation.

Think of the five-pointed star in the Texas state seal. Associate each point of that star with these five elements. Each point on the star is independently quite weak, just a dot, but linked together they make a powerful symbol. The top point of the star is its focal point. It’s a lot like your attention statement. If you don’t gain the audience’s attention, the rest of the speech will be ineffective.

Each successive point on the Texas star can represent the remaining four parts of any speech. One day you will be asked to speak with little or no time for preparation. By focusing on this organizational model and thinking about the Texas star, you can quickly and accurately prepare your speech. With the luxury of time for preparation, each step can be even further developed. Remember this model, as summarized in Table 14.4 “Five-Point Model of Public Speaking,” and you will always stand out as a more effective speaker.

Table 14.4. Five-point model of public speaking.

Point Description
Attention Statement The attention statement is the way you focus the audience’s attention on you and your speech.
Introduction Your introduction introduces you and your topic; it should establish a relationship with your audience and state your topic clearly.
Body In the body, or main content area of your speech, you will naturally turn to one of the organizational patterns (see the section “Organizing Principles for Your Speech” later in this chapter).
Conclusion Your conclusion should provide the audience with a sense of closure by summarizing the main points and relating the points to the overall topic.
Residual Message The residual message is an idea or thought that stays with your audience well after the speech.

Sample Speech Outlines

Chances are you have learned the basic principles of outlining in English writing courses. An outline is a framework that organizes main ideas and subordinate ideas in a hierarchical series of Roman numerals and alphabetical letters. The center column of Table 14.5 “Speech outline A” presents a generic outline in a classical style. In the left column, the five main structural elements of a speech are tied to the outline. Your task is to fill in the center column outline with the actual ideas and points you are making in your speech. Feel free to adapt this and tailor it to your needs, depending on the specifics of your speech. Next, fill in the right column with the verbal and visual delivery features of your speech.

Table 14.5. Speech outline A.

Attention Statement Structure Verbal and Visual Delivery
Introduction
  • Main idea
  • Common ground
“These issues have a significant impact on the company, and we need to investigate possible answers.”

(Visual: PowerPoint title slide with key terms from the main idea in large font)

“Even though these issues affect some of us more than others, we all want _____.”

(Visual: Creative commons image of individuals at work site shaking hands or making other agreeable gestures).

Body
  • I. Main idea: Point 1
    • A.1 specific information 1
    • A.2 specific information 2

  • II. Main idea: Point 2
    • B.1 specific information 1
    • B.2 specific information 2

  • III. Main idea: Point 3
    • C.1 specific information 1
    • C.2 specific information 2

I. “First and foremost, these issues have reduced ____ over time.”

(Visual: Line graph showing a negative trend)

“Our competitors report similarly that…”

II. “In addition, research shows that this change decreases _____.”

“One study by Smith et al. examined…”

(Visual: Slide that shows the Results table from a peer-reviewed study)

III. “Finally, we need to examine these issues because the majority of our employees are concerned about them.”

“According to our employee survey...”

(Visual: A bar graph that shows the results of an employee survey).

Conclusion Summary, main points 1–3 “To recap, there are several indicators that these issues are serious and need to be addressed. They are____, ____, and ____.”

(Visual: A slide that lists 3 points in key terms)

Residual Message Main idea “Ultimately, taking these issues seriously and investigating them will benefit everyone in the company. Please share your feedback if you have any, and thank you for your time.”

(Visual: A slide with your contact information)

There is no law that says a speech outline has to follow a classical outline format, however. Table 14.6 “Speech outline B” is an alternate outline form you may want to use to develop your speech. As you can see, this outline is similar to the one above in that it begins with the five basic structural elements of a speech. In this case, those elements are tied to the speech’s device, thesis, main points, summary, and recap of the thesis. In the right column, this outline allows you to fill in the cognate strategies you will use to get your points across to your audience. You may use this format as a model or modify it as needed.

Table 14.6. Speech outline B.

Attention Statement Structure Verbal and Visual Delivery
Introduction
  • General purpose statement or thesis statement
  • Common ground
“In order to address these issues in our company, I propose that _____.”

(Visual: PowerPoint title slide of your thesis)

“As I review my proposed solution in detail, keep in mind that we all want _____.”

Body
  • Point 1
  • Point 2
  • Point 3
Point 1: “First and foremost, companies that have adopted this solution show an increase in ______.”

(Visual: Line graph showing a positive trend)

Point 2: “In addition, research shows that this change increases _____.”

(Visual: Slide that shows the Results table from a peer-reviewed study)

Point 3: “Finally, the majority of our employees feel strongly that we should adopt this solution.”

(Visual: A bar graph that shows the results of an employee survey)

Conclusion Summarize main points and reinforce common ground “To conclude, my findings reflect that (Points 1-3). These points illustrate that this solution is not only a viable approach to the problem, but fulfills everyone’s expectation that _____.”

(Visual: A slide that lists 3 points in key terms)

Residual Message Reiterate thesis “As we decide whether or not to adopt this solution, it’s important that we do ____ and remember ____.”

(Visual: PowerPoint slide with a bulleted list of actionable items)

Organizing Principles for Your Presentation

There are many different ways to organize a presentation, and none is “better” or “more correct” than the others. The choice of an organizing principle, or a core assumption around which everything else is arranged, depends on the subject matter, the rhetorical situation, and many other factors, including your preference as speaker.

The left column of Table 14.7 “Sample organizing principles for a speech” presents seventeen different organizing principles to consider. The center column explains how the principle works, and the right column provides an applied example based on a sample speech about the rise of Netflix and its global market share among streaming service providers. For example, using a chronological organizing principle, you might start with Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings’s founding of Netflix in 1997, its introduction of streaming media in 2007, its expansion into international markets in 2010, and the debut of its original content with House of Cards in 2013. As another example, using a problem-solution organizing principle, you might start with the challenges Netflix faces with an increasing number of competitors and then go into potential responses to those challenges.

As you read each organizational structure, consider how the main points and subheadings might change or be adapted to meet each pattern.

Table 14.7. Organizing Principles
Organizing Principle Explanation Applied Example
1. Time (Chronological) Structuring your speech by time shows a series of events or steps in a process, which typically has a beginning, middle, and end. “Once upon a time stories” follow a chronological pattern. Before Netflix, people primarily consumed media at home through VHS and DVD players, and rented titles from corporations like Blockbuster and Hollywood Video. Netflix initially started as a rent-by-mail company in 1997, then switched to its subscription model shortly after. Blockbuster had the chance to purchase Netflix for $50 million in 2000, but declined.
2. Comparison Structuring your speech by comparison focuses on the similarities and/or differences between points or concepts. A comparison of Netflix and its competitors such as Hulu and Amazon Prime, focusing on available original content and platform design.
3. Contrast Structuring your speech by using contrasting points highlights the differences between items and concepts. A contrast between Netflix’s share of the streaming services market 5 and 10 years ago versus today.
4. Cause and Effect Structuring your speech by cause and effect establishes a relationship between two events or situations, making the connection clear. Netflix changed the way people consume and purchase media. Rather than renting or purchasing individual titles, people now purchase a monthly subscription to a library of content that changes regularly. Advertising shifted from commercials to product placement and viral marketing. Netflix also gave rise to “binge-watching” habits of media consumption.
5. Problem and Solution Structuring your speech by problem and solution means that you state the problem and detail how it was solved. This approach is effective for persuasive speeches. Netflix enjoyed a head-start in the streaming service market, but major companies like Amazon, Disney, and Apple have started to offer increasing competition. Netflix can stay ahead of the competition by rebooting franchises popular with its primarily millennial and Gen Z audience, continuing to produce creative original content, etc.
6. Classification (Categorical) Structuring your speech by classification establishes categories. Netflix features competitive original content in several categories: television shows, film, stand-up comedy specials, and documentaries. A focus on these categories allows us to see which type of content has the most potential for increasing market share.
7. Biographical Structuring your speech by biography means examining specific people as they relate to the central topic. Marc Randolph and Reed Hastings founded the company in 1997. Randolph served on the board of the company until his retirement in 2004.

In 2019, Netflix negotiated a massive content deal with Benioff and Weiss, the showrunners for Game of Thrones.

8. Space (Spatial) Structuring your speech by space involves the parts of something and how they fit to form the whole. A description of the layout of Netflix’s website and platform.
9. Ascending and Descending Structuring your speech by ascending or descending order involves focusing on quantity and quality. One good story (quality) leads to the larger picture, or the reverse. The browsing habits of a streaming service consumer. Major technological advancements and shifts in marketing strategy over time expressed through visuals such as graphs and charts.
10. Psychological Also called “Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.”[2] Structuring your speech on the psychological aspects of the audience involves focusing on their inherent needs and wants.[3] The speaker calls attention to a need, then focuses on the satisfaction of the need, visualizes the solution, and ends with a proposed or historical action. This is useful for a persuasive speech. The millennial and Gen Z generations craved media that reflected their own experiences and circumstances, which cable television was not providing. These experiences and circumstances include an increasing emphasis on intersectionality and diversity, exploring topics previously too controversial for television, etc.
11. Elimination Structuring your speech using the process of elimination involves outlining all the possibilities. Netflix pioneered the streaming service model that now dictates how content is created and purchased. Tracing the company’s evolution from DVDs-by-mail to streaming content, as well as the progression of its competitors from Blockbuster to Amazon, reveals the outsized influence this corporation has had.

By reviewing this progression, we can come to see which factors are most important to consider in implementing fresh changes to our business model.

12. Ceremonial: Events, Ceremonies, or Celebrations Structure your speech by focusing on the following:
  1. Thank dignitaries and representatives.
  2. Mention the importance of the event.
  3. Mention the relationship of the event to the audience.
  4. Thank the audience for their participation in the event, ceremony, or celebration.
Many thanks to all of the marketing strategists, content creators, and software engineers for maintaining the quality and integrity of Netflix as a platform. Without your contributions, this company would not be as successful as it is today.
13. Awards Structure your speech by focusing on the following:
  1. Thank everyone for coming together.
  2. Discuss the history and importance of the award.
  3. Give a brief biography of the person who will receive the award (often nonspecific to keep people guessing and to build suspense).
  4. Announce the name of the award recipient.
  5. Present the award (present award with left hand, shake with right).
  6. Award recipient may give a speech.
  7. Transition to the next item or thank everyone for participating.
Thank you all for gathering here today. The Emmys are the most prestigious award in television, and Netflix has secured an unprecedented number of wins this year. The content creators and specialists who earned them need no introduction, and we are excited to hear some of them say a few words on this historic occasion.
14. Toast: Weddings or Similar Gatherings Structure your speech by focusing on the following:
  1. Thank everyone for coming together.
  2. Discuss the importance of the event (wedding).
  3. Mention the relationship of the couple to the audience or the speaker to the person being celebrated.
  4. Add one short sentence.
  5. Optional: Conclude, thanking the audience for participation in the event, ceremony, or celebration.
Thank you everyone who came here today. I’ve known Reed for over two decades, since we were mailing DVDs to ourselves to see if our new venture could work. In all that time, and even with the success of our company, I’ve never seen him happier than with (X).
15. Speaker Introductions Structure your speech by focusing on the following:
  1. Thank everyone for coming together.
  2. Provide a brief biography of the person who will speak or establish their credibility.
  3. Discuss the speaker and their topic.
  4. Announce the name of the speaker; once their speech has concluded, possibly mention it again.
  5. Transition to the next item or thank everyone for participating.
Thank you, everyone, for coming here today. Our first speaker is one of the two founders of the world’s most successful streaming service: Netflix. Today, he will address the lessons he learned from his successes and failures, and what new entrepreneurs should know as they explore their ideas. Please help me welcome Reed Hastings.

(Optional after speech: Thank you, everyone. Next we have…)

16. After-Dinner Speech Structure your speech by focusing on the following:
  1. Thank everyone for coming together.
  2. Provide a fun or humorous attention statement.
  3. Discuss the topic in a light-hearted manner with connected stories, anecdotes, or even a joke or two.
  4. Connect the humor to the topic of importance.
  5. Thank everyone for participating.
Thank you for coming together to celebrate the international debut of Netflix. There have been many challenging moments along the way that I would like to share tonight (stories, anecdotes, or even a joke). While it’s been a long journey, we’ve made it. Thank you for coming tonight.
17. Oral Interpretation Structure your speech by focusing on the following:
  1. Draw attention to the piece of literature.
  2. Explain its significance, context, and background.
  3. Interpret the manuscript for the audience.
  4. Conclude with key points from the reading.
  5. Reiterate the main point of the piece of literature.
Today I would like to share with you the letter Blockbuster sent us when they rejected our offer to buy Netflix decades ago. (Interpret the letter, using your voice to bring the written word alive.) Had Blockbuster known then what we know now, things would have turned out very differently.

This text was derived from

McMurrey, David. Online Technical Writing. n.d. https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

University of Minnesota. Business Communication for Success. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing, 2015. https://open.lib.umn.edu/businesscommunication/. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


  1. David McMurrey, “Example of Spoken Headings in an Oral Presentation,” Oral Presentations: Stand Up and Tell 'Em How It Is!,” accessed July 15, 2020, https://www.prismnet.com/~hcexres/textbook/oral.html. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
  2. Tracy Micciche, Burt Pryor, and Jeff Butler, “A Test of Monroe’s Motivated Sequence for Its Effects on Ratings of Message Organization and Attitude Change,” Psychological Reports 86, no. 3 part 2 (June 2000): 1135-1138, https://doi.org/10.1177/003329410008600311.2.
  3. For more information on interpersonal psychology, and human needs and wants, see Abraham Maslow, Motivation and Personality, 2nd ed. (New York, NY: Harper & Row, 1970); and William Shutz, The Interpersonal Underworld (Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books, 1966).

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Howdy or Hello? Technical and Professional Communication by David McMurrey; Anonymous; Matt McKinney; Gia Alexander; and Nicole Hagstrom-Schmidt is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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