Speaking Effectively Chapter 2



Clear organization is vital to effective speaking. The most prevalent weakness among speakers at all levels is the failure to organize material for the audience. Speakers have the responsibility to lead listeners mentally from where they are at the beginning of a talk to where they are supposed to be at the end. The message must be organized with the audience in mind; the organization should conform to the thinking processes and expectations of the listeners.

Each speech, lecture, and briefing needs an introduction, a body, and a conclusion. In most instances the introduction and conclusion should be prepared after the body of the talk, since the material in the body is a guide for preparing the introduction and conclusion.

The first consideration in planning the body is how to organize the main points, but organization of subpoints is also important. Arrangement of the main points and subpoints will help both the speaker and the audience remember the material—the speaker while speaking, and the audience while listening.

Most oral presentations, regardless of their length, can be divided into two to five main points. Five is about the maximum number of points from one talk that listeners can be expected to remember.

The most typical ways of organizing main points or subpoints of a talk are by the patterns: time, space, cause/effect, problem/solution, pro/con, or topic. Furthermore, as illustrated throughout this chapter, certain strategies can be used with each pattern. How does a speaker decide which patterns and strategies to use? The material will often organize more easily with one pattern and strategy than with another. Consider how various patterns and strategies can be used to organize the main points.


Our vocabularies are filled with words that refer to time: now, tomorrow, yesterday, today, sooner, later, earlier, next (last) week (month, year, time). We work, play, sleep, and eat at certain times. Major events in our lives are organized by time: births, engagements, marriages, deaths. The time, or chronological pattern of organization, then, is a natural way of arranging events in the sequence or order in which they happened or in giving directions on the order to be followed in carrying out those events. This kind of organization is sometimes called sequential organization. Certain processes, procedures, or historical movements and developments can often be explained best with a time-sequence organizational pattern.

The medical technician discussing the mouth-to-mouth system of artificial respiration would probably use a time order for the main points: (1) preliminary steps in preparing the body—proper position, mouth open, tongue and jaw forward, (2) the mouth-to-
mouth process, (3) caring for the patient once breathing resumes. Time order is also a logical approach for talks dealing with such subjects as "How to Pack a Parachute," ''Development of the B-1 Bomber," or "How to Prepare a Speech.'' Furthermore, any talk on a subject with several phases lends itself well to the time pattern. For example, a talk with an objective for the audience to know that the common market was originally planned to develop in three phases might have as main points: (1) phase one, a customs union where nations agreed to reduce duties, (2) phase two, an economic union allowing laborers and goods to move freely across national borders, and (3) phase three, a political union with national representatives as members of a common parliament and using a common currency.

Of course, rather than looking forward in time from a given moment, the strategy might be to look backward from a point in time. In other words, the strategy might be to move from recent to earlier time rather than from early to late. Regardless of which strategy is used, the flow of the talk and the transitions from one point to the next should make the chronological relationship between main points clear to audience members.


A spatial or geographical pattern is very effective in describing relationships. When using this pattern, the talk is developed according to some directional strategy such as east to west or north to south. For instance, if the speaker were describing the domino theory of Communist infiltration, the strategy would probably be to arrange the main points according to the geographical locations of various nations and how they would be affected by Communist infiltration within their geographical region.

With talks on certain objects, the strategy might be to arrange the main points from top to bottom or bottom to top. A fire extinguisher might be described from top to bottom, an organizational chart from the highest ranking individuals to the lowest ones in the organization, a library according to the services found on the first floor, then the second, and finally those on the third.

Sometimes, the strategy is to organize the talk from the center to the outside. For example, the control panel in an airplane might be discussed by describing first those often used instruments in the center, then by moving out toward the surrounding instruments which are used least often.

In all talks arranged spatially, each aspect or main point needs to be introduced according to the strategy used. Just as with a talk organized by time, the subject matter and the transitions should include elaboration and clarification of how the main points relate to one another. A simple listing of the various objects or places without elaboration as to how they are related may confuse the listeners.


A causal pattern of arrangement is used in a talk where one set of conditions is given as a cause for another set. In such talks, one of two basic strategies may be used to arrange main points. With a cause/effect strategy you begin with a given set of conditions and contend that these will produce or have already produced certain results or effects; with an effect/cause strategy you take a certain set of conditions as the effects and allege that they resulted from certain causes.

The cause/effect strategy might be used in a talk concerning the increasing number of women in the Air Force. The talk might first discuss the fact that women are now assuming more responsible leadership roles in the Air Force. One effect of women assuming such roles might be that women are joining the Air Force in increasing numbers.

The effect/cause strategy might be used in a talk on child abuse. The first point might explain the effects of child abuse upon the children themselves, the parents, and even on society. The second point might allege that the causes are that parents themselves were abused as children or that proper education on parenting was not received.

Whichever strategy is used, two cautions must be observed. (1) Beware of false causes. Just because one event or circumstance precedes another does not mean that the former causes the latter. Many persons assume that "first A happened, then B took place, so A must have caused B." (2) Beware of single causes. Few things result from a single cause. Many causes are more common with one playing on another until it is hard to disentangle them. Lack of safety features on automobiles is not the only cause of most highway accidents; but this cause, plus careless driving or unsafe highways, may account for many highway accidents.


This pattern, sometimes called the disease/remedy pattern or the need/satisfaction pattern, presents listeners with a problem and then proposes a way to solve it. With this pattern, you must show that a problem exists and then offer a corrective action that is (1) practical, (2) desirable, (3) capable of being put into action, and (4) able to relieve the problem. It must also be one that does not introduce new and worse evils of its own. For example, the issue of controlling nuclear weapons has long been debated. Those against control argue that erosion of national sovereignty from arms control is more dangerous than no control.

The problem/solution pattern is especially useful with briefings whose purpose is to provide listeners with information on which to base decisions. It can also be used effectively with persuasive speeches and teaching lectures where the speaker wants to present a need or a problem followed by a way or ways to satisfy the need or solve the problem.

There are different strategies that might be employed when using the problem/solution method. If the listeners are aware of the problem and the possible solutions, you will probably discuss the problem briefly, mention the possible solutions, then spend more time in showing why one solution is better than others. For instance, if the objective is for listeners to comprehend that solar energy is the best solution to the energy crisis, our main points might be: (1) The world is caught in the grip of an energy crisis. (2) Several solutions are possible. (3) Solar energy is the best long-term solution.

If the listeners are not aware or are only slightly aware of the problem or need, you may describe in detail the exact nature of the problem. Sometimes, when listeners become aware of the problem, the solution becomes evident and little time is needed to develop the solution in the lesson. At other times, you may need to spend time developing both the problem and the solution.

Still another strategy is to alternate or stagger portions of the problem with portions of the solution. For example, the cost of a project may be seen as one problem, work-
ability another, time to do the projects as a third. Taking up each portion and, in turn, providing solutions to cost, workability, and time as you present these aspects of the problem may be more satisfying to your listeners than if you had discussed all of the problem and then its total solution. The problem/solution pattern is a good one for advocacy or persuasive briefings.


The pro/con pattern, sometimes called the for/against pattern or advantages/dis-
advantages pattern, is similar to a problem/ solution pattern in that the talk is usually planned so as to lead to a conclusion. A major difference, however, is that fairly even attention is usually directed toward both sides of an issue with a pro/con pattern.

There are various strategies to consider when using the pro/con pattern. One consideration is whether to present pro or con first. Another is whether to present both sides and let listeners draw their own conclusions or to present the material in such a way that listeners are led to accept the "school solution." For instance, with a talk on the effects of jogging, you must decide whether to present the advantages or disadvantages first. Then you must decide whether to let listeners make their own decision as to the advantages or disadvantages.

When deciding the specific strategy to use with the pro/con pattern and determining how much time to spend on each, the following guidelines may be helpful: (1) Giving both sides fairly even emphasis is most effective when the weight of evidence is clearly on the favored side. (2) Presenting both sides is most effective when listeners may be initially opposed to the school solution. (3) Presenting only the favored side is most effective when listeners already favor the school solution or conclusion. (4) Presenting the favored side last makes its acceptance more likely, especially if the other side is not shown in too favorable a light.


A topical division of the main points of a talk involves determining categories of the subject. This type of categorizing or classifying often springs directly from the subject itself. For instance, a talk about a typical college population might be divided into topical divisions of freshmen, sophomores, juniors, and seniors, with each class division serving as a main point. Housing might be discussed in terms of on-base and off-base housing. A talk on the MX intercontinental ballistic missile might be arranged according to the main points of warhead, guidance, and propulsion systems.

At times the material itself suggests certain strategies for ordering the main points. For instance, a talk on lesson planning would most likely begin with knowledge-level planning as the first main point since knowledge-level lessons are generally simpler to understand. Then the lesson would move on through the hierarchy to comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and, finally, evaluation levels. In other words your talk would follow a simple-to-complex strategy in organizing the "topics'' or levels of lessons.

Other talks might follow strategies of known to unknown, general to specific, or specific to general arrangement of topical main points. There are many strategies for arranging topical main points. The important consideration, as with any pattern, is to give thought to the strategy of arrangement in order to help the listeners' understanding.

Combining Patterns

If a single pattern is used to organize the main points, your talks will make more sense. And as a speaker, you will be able to remember more readily what your main points are when you present the talk. Even more important, listeners will be able to follow the talk more easily and remember what you said if a single logical pattern of organization is used for the main points.

Although you may choose a certain organizational pattern for the main points, you may decide to use different patterns for subpoints. Consider the following tentative outline (fig. 1) of a talk with an objective or goal for listeners to know the importance of nonverbal factors of communication. Notice that the main points (1. Performance Factors, and 2. Nonperformance Factors) are arranged topically. The subpoints for main point 1 (upper, middle, and lower body) are organized spatially. A pro/con pattern is followed in discussing positive and negative effects from each body performance factor. The subpoints of main point 2 (objects, space, and time) are organized topically. Subpoints under 2a are organized by time. Subpoints under 2b are organized topically.


   1.  Performance Factors

        a.  Upper Body (head and face)

             (1)  Positive Effects
             (2)  Negative Effects

        b.  Middle Body (arms, hands, torso)

             (1)  Positive Effects
             (2)  Negative Effects

        c.  Lower Body (hips, legs, feet)

             (1)  Positive Effects
             (2)  Negative Effects

   2.  Nonperformance Factors

        a.  Objects

             (1)  Present
             (2)  Past

        b.  Space

             (1)  Personal
             (2)  Constructed

        c.  Time

Figure 1

The important thing to remember is that each set of main points or subpoints should follow a logical pattern of organization. The tentative outline reflects this fact. Of course, it may be that none of the formal patterns of organization discussed in this chapter adequately fits your content. For instance, with a speech to entertain, you might simply string together a group of interesting or humorous incidents that would hold the audience's attention. But whatever the case, you must strive to organize your talk in a way that will help you present the information to your listeners in the most meaningful fashion. As you construct a tentative outline, you must do so with your listeners' needs in mind. Quite often, the experienced speaker revises the outline three or four times before being satisfied and finally putting it into final form for the talk.

Now that You Have Organized

The organization patterns and strategies you choose provide structure to the body of your talk. But structure without content is not enough. Interesting and effective supporting material is needed. To use an anatomical analogy, the organization provides the skeleton and the supporting material supplies the flesh for the body of the talk. The next chapter discusses how to choose effective visual and verbal support for the talk. The following chapter suggests how to begin and end various kinds of talks. The final chapter tells how to present talks.