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Parts of the Speech


"Good order is the foundation of all things."

-Edmund Burke

          You organize your closet, your purse, your dishes in the cabinet, why not organize your speech too? When you organize a speech, you are giving your ideas structure and direction. As part of the speech-building process, you are like an architect or contractor using blueprints to build a skyscraper. Those blueprints are like your outline and through your organization you are building the foundation for your message. Organization allows you to develop a memory path and dampen the sponge. In life, when you are called upon to give a presentation or speech, you only have one shot to get your message across to your audience. Listeners do not have a rewind button or a video they can “refer” to later, or text they can read again; you are presenting your message in real time for one moment in time. If you are best man in a wedding, you only have one opportunity to give the toast. If you are an engineer, you only have one chance to impress a client. Organization helps the listener pick up the meaning more quickly and be successful in accomplishing the speaker’s goal. Like life, in that we are born—we live—we pass away, speeches also follow the rhythm of and flow of having a beginning, middle, and end.

Central Idea or Thesis is a combination of your specific purpose and the points you are going to cover.


Related Reading:

The Purpose of a Speech

Delayed thesis is a method of withholding the speech's intent until the end of your speech.

Preview is a brief list of the main ideas/points you are going to cover in the body of your speech.

Central Idea/Thesis

          A central idea (sometimes referred to as a thesis sentence) is a single phrase summarizing the content of the speech. The central idea/thesis sentence is the overall intent for a speech and aligns with your speech goal. The thesis lets your audience know what you want them to think, feel, know, believe, or do when the speech is over. Sometimes a thesis may be delayed or held until the end of your speech as you may not want to be direct at the beginning of a speech. If your audience is not in agreement with your ideas or if you want to draw them in and have them continue to listen—even with their differing views of the topic—you might delay your thesis/intent. Delayed theses may also be appropriate for controversial topics and ideas but are not for every topic as they can be very tricky. Delayed theses must be well planned and prepared by the speaker to have the greatest impact.


          A preview is a brief list of the main ideas/points you are going to cover in the body of your speech. In some approaches, previews are considered part of the Central Idea, highlighting the information to come in the body. Previews help listeners to have the damp sponge or even a road map of the ways you are going to support your hypothesis or main goal. Your preview of the points set the listener up to absorb the body of information; they are a vital aspect of the damp sponge theory.

Example: (Informative) During my speech today, I am going to tell you about Shih Tzu dogs. First, I will cover a brief examination of the breed’s history; second, I’ll provide some of the characteristics of the breed; and third and finally, I will tell you about some famous Shih Tzus.

Example: (Persuasive) As I explain the importance for you of volunteering in nonprofits, I will first, tell you about the benefits of volunteering; second, provide you some local nonprofits needing your help and assistance; and third and finally, give you ways that you can become involved as a volunteer.

Main Points

Main Points are the body of your speech.

          Main Points are the body of your speech. Most speeches should have between two and five Main Points. Having less than two Main Points is just restating your topic and does not provide depth of information for your audience. Having more than five means you may be covering too much material. It is better to cover a small amount of content well and in depth, so the audience has a full picture of your ideas than to cover a large amount of content poorly and not provide the audience with enough details to understand your intent or position. You must always consider the occasion and the time frame for your speech when deciding which points to include.

          Once you have researched and decided on your topic, you begin to flush out the main points/ideas you want to use to convey and support your message (meaning). You will solidify your main points before writing your introduction, transitions or conclusion. The introduction and conclusion have the tendency to be a more creative aspect of speech writing, offering the opportunity to draw your audience in with impact and to wrap up and end your speech with power. If you have not decided on your main points first, it will be difficult or impossible to write an effective introduction and conclusion.

          Main Points should support your topic, Central Idea/Thesis, position, hypothesis, and argument. To do this, you should use researched information as evidence along with examples, statistics, and stories. Main Points follow specific patterns of organization depending on what type of speech you are giving. A caveat to the order or pattern of your main points is that there may be one pattern for your overall pattern of main points while the individual points may follow another pattern.

Example of how an Informative Speech may use multiple patterns of organization. The overall pattern of the speech is topical but each of the main points is arranged in a different pattern.

Introductions are the lead in to a speech. They set up the speech and reveal to the audience what you are going to talk about.

Attention getters are what draws the audience in and sets the appropriate tone for the speech.

Relevance is the reason the audience wants to listen; what's in it for them.

Credibility Statement establishes your qualifications by including the relevance to you and what your credentials are.

Reveal the topic equates your central idea/thesis and preview.

Humorous introductions make the audience laugh.

Stories are short personal experiences that allow the audience to be drawn into a topic.

Narrations are extended stories that lead into the main reason for speaking.

Quotes are relevant sayings/snippets from other works that add value to the speech.

Arouse Curiosity uses stories and narration to get the audience from wondering to thinking. 

Ask a Question uses a rhetorical question or audience response question to engage the audience.

Reference the Audience/Occasion/Topic are techniques to engage the audience relating to them, the occasion, or the topic.

Personal Reference uses a story or personal example from your own experience and why you are credible to tell it.

Startling Statement uses a powerful fact, statistic, or example to command amazement.

Informative Main Points.png


          An introduction leads into the speech, sets up your speech, and reveals to the audience what you are going to talk about. Introductions capture the listener’s attention and give them a reason to listen. Despite coming first in a speech, introductions should be written after the Main Points have been determined and solidified. Introductions tend to be a creative part of your speech. Allow ideas to germinate as you prepare the body of information, then write the introduction. Remembering the primacy/recency theory, the introduction is the first opportunity you have to make an impression on your audience. Most of the time, introductions are around 10 to 15% of the total speech time. Introductions contain several parts:

  • Attention Getter: Draws the audience in and sets up the appropriate tone of the speech.

  • Relevance: Gives the audience reasons to listen. Tells them why the topic is important to them, how the topic affects them, what is in it for them, and why they should listen.

  • Credibility Statement: Establishes your qualifications. It also includes the relevance of the topic to you. Be sure to cover why you chose the topic, why it is important to you, and what are your credentials on the topic. Establishing your credibility helps to personalize your speech.

  • Reveal the topic: This equates to your central idea/thesis statement and preview.


          There are several types of introductions:

  • Humor: Make the audience laugh

    • Be very careful of opening with humor. Make sure it is funny to a variety of people, that it is not offensive, and it is broad in its application. It is very hard to do humor well. It is all about timing—it must be practiced with a variety of listeners to perfect the rhythm and humor.

  • Story: Use a short personal experience allowing the audience to be drawn in to your topic. It helps you connect with the audience. When using a story, you have heard/seen, include the source and their credibility . . . It enhances your own credibility with the audience.

  • Narration: Use an extended story to lead into your main reason for speaking (thesis/central idea).

  • Quote: Use a powerful related quote to start. Be sure to cite orally the source of the quote either before or after you say it.

    • Where you place the citation is dependent on where it smoothly enhances the credibility of the source.

  • Arouse Curiosity: Use a story or narration to get us wondering or thinking. You must tell the audience what the curious thing is at some point, don’t leave them hanging. If you choose, you can reveal it within the body at some point or leave the revealing of the “answer” or end of the story for your speech’s conclusion to tie up the entire package

  • Ask a Question: Use a rhetorical question (one you don’t really want an answer to that you are using to make a point) or use a question requiring the audience to respond. If using the latter, tell the audience you would like them to respond.

  • Reference to the Audience: Ask them why they are there, what they are wanting to hear, or what experiences they all share.

  • Reference to the Occasion: Bring up the reason everyone is gathered, its importance to life, and relevance to your topic.

  • Reference to the Topic: Bring up the importance of the topic either to you, the audience, the community, or the world.

  • Personal Reference: Use a story or personal example from your own experience. Present this type of introduction to the audience so they have a window into your life or credibility of why you are talking about the topic.

  • Startling Statement: Use a powerful or unknown fact, statistic, or example to command amazement. If using this type of introduction be careful it doesn’t overpower the rest of the speech. Make sure the statement is relevant to the topic while not over-exaggerating. When using a startling statement, make sure it is from a valid or credible source, citing the source as needed.

          Your introduction may fall into several of these categories at the same time. You might have used humor in your personal reference while at the same time referencing the occasion and the audience OR you might have a story or narration that is a reference to the audience and includes a startling statement. It may be difficult to discern a singular type of introduction you used, which is fine if it fulfills the purpose of the introduction. A good introduction will verbally lead right into your central Idea/thesis statement and preview.


Transitions are connectives, bridging multiple ideas and/or parts of the speech; they can refer to both past or upcoming material.

          Transitions are connectives, bridging multiple ideas and/or parts of the speech; they can refer to both past and recent or upcoming material. Ultimately, transitions seek to clarify the structure of the speaker’s ideas. Transitions exist in all parts of the presentation, from point to point, within points and subpoints, anywhere there is a need to clarify the movement; they can be both verbal and nonverbal indications of a change of thoughts or ideas.


          Some examples of verbal transitions are words or phrases like:

  •  “in addition,” “furthermore,” or “to continue,” “as you have seen,” and “let me reiterate.”

  • “you can see how ____ is in contrast to______, now let’s look at . . .” (an internal summary with an internal preview).


There are many ways to move smoothly from one idea to the next.


          Some examples of nonverbal transitions are:

  • Facial expressions like a raised eyebrow or a smile.

  • Vocal cues like a pause, a change in speaking rate, or a change in vocal pitch.

  • Movement like pointing, arm movement, or stepping away/toward a podium, or positioning your body toward a side of the audience as you speak about each point.


          Audiences may not be trained listeners; the speaker’s task is to have their message remembered. For the greatest impact, you must help your audience follow your message, so it can be understood or acted upon easily. Transitions are valuable tools for helping them to remember your information and speech.


Signposts are verbal statements signalling where you are in the speech.

          Signposts are verbal words or statements signaling where you are in your speech. Most may be either numerical or alphabetical in nature. Signposts usually occur as you are delving into a main point or group of subpoints. Some examples of signposts are: “first, second, third, etc.” or “parts A, B, C, etc.” They help keep audiences on track and organized as they listen to your speech, serving to provide aural structure to your possibly complex message for listeners.


Conclusions end, wrap up, and finalizes a speech.

Summaries repeat core concepts of the message and main points.

Quotes are relevant sayings/snippets from other works that add value to the speech.

Refer to the introduction is a concluding method that brings up what was said at the beginning of the speech.

Challenge is something you want your audience to do because of your speech.

Call to action gives your audience the a physical task to do based on the inspiration delivered in your speech.

          A conclusion ends, wraps up, and finalizes the speech. As with writing introductions, the conclusion should be written after the body of points has been determined. Conclusions tend to be a creative part of your speech. Allow ideas to germinate as you finalize the body of information, then solidify the conclusion. Many people skip right into the conclusion without letting their audience know they are ending. Include a signal such as: “to conclude,” “to wrap up,” “in conclusion,” “to sum up,” “I’d like to end with this,” “You can see how,” and “as I draw to a close.” A conclusion refocuses the audience to listen one last time; they review or reinforce the central idea/thesis and the main points. Use an effective final statement or “tag” to bookend your speech into the memory of the audience. Remember the primacy/recency theory, the conclusion is the last opportunity you have to leave an impression with your audience. They need to tie it all up for the audience. Don’t be afraid to end with a BANG. A powerful ending is one with a confident speaker. Conclusions are around 5 to 10% of the speech time.

          There are several types of conclusions:

  • Summarize: Repeat the core concept of your overall message and the main points.

  • Quote: Use a quote that is relevant to your topic and ends powerfully.

  • Refer to your introduction: bring up what you said or did in your Introduction to come full circle.

  • Challenge: Issue a challenge to your audience to do something related to your topic. (Used particularly in persuasive speeches)

  • Call to action: Give your audience an inspiring call to action based on your topic. (Used particularly in persuasive speeches)

          Your conclusion may fall into several of these categories at the same time. You might have a summary with a final quote or a summary and a reference back to the introduction with a challenge as your last words. It may be difficult to discern a singular type of conclusion you used, which is fine if it fulfills the purpose of the conclusion.

          If time is available, after your conclusion, you can have a question and answer session with the audience. Finish the speech first then open the floor to the Q & A. If incorporating a Q&A session into your speech, be sure to know as much about your topic as possible (all sides) so you can answer questions thoroughly. If you don’t know an answer to a question, don’t make something up, instead be truthful. Tell them you will get back with them with an answer to their question. Ask the audience member to stay after your presentation so you may get their information to follow up with them. Nonetheless, don’t forget to follow up with them.

Review Questions

1) Why should speeches be organized? 

2) How does using a preview dampen the sponge of the listener? Sometimes the preview is considered to be a part of the central idea, why is that?

3) Generally, what are the four parts to an introduction? How are each of them used to build a cohesive introduction?

4) Why is it important to have at least three main points? Less than five? 

5) What are some methods to begin your speech? Which do you think is most beneficial?

6) Why are signposts used in an effective speech?

7) When should you write your introduction? Your conclusion? 

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