Composing the Body of the Speech

Soldier speaking to an audience of students.The body of the speech will likely comprise about 80% of the total speaking time or more, depending on the length of time given to speak. Some speakers find it beneficial to compose the introduction and conclusion sections of the outline after completing the body because they find it easier to summarize and introduce content once it has been constructed. As speaking time lengthens, that percentage will increase, but for the most part, presenters should devote 75–80% of the speaking time to presenting information in the body of the speech. The speaker should take great care organizing this information in the speech.

Most speakers start composing the body by devising the main points first. On average, most people can comfortably take in about 2 to 7 main points in a presentation, but many beginning speakers find it best to start with 3 points. Delivering three main points provides a variety of information without overwhelming the audience, but at the same time, keeps information manageable, given the average classroom speech time limits.

When developing main points, keep the following guidelines in mind to develop a higher quality oratory and help manage the presented information. First, remember to restrict each of the main points to a single concept or idea.

engineers photoPoor: Main Point I: Engineers serve important roles in our society, but people don’t understand what they do.

Better: Main Point I: Engineers serve important roles in our society.

Main Point II: People don’t understand the role of engineers.

Avoid combining too much information into a single point when a point could effectively be split into two main points. Additionally, express main points using complete sentences, similar to the central idea. A main point makes an assertion that subpoints will then add information to support.

When arranging information, consider the order in which it gets presented. Keep in mind the primacy effect and the recency effect. Listeners can best recall information presented first (primacy) and last (recency), while they will find information presented in the middle harder to remember. Therefore, place the most important information for the audience at the front and/or closer toward the end of the body for better retention.

Speakers have several options available for how to arrange their information, and should determine the best formula for the particular topic:

  • Chronological Pattern: In this organizational pattern, arrange information in a time-based sequence. This works for presentations about historical events, but could also, for instance, teach kids how to make chocolate chip cookies. In cases like this, the information gets presented in a thorough step-by-step breakdown that follows a sequential order.
  • Spatial Pattern: To use this format, arrange information according to physical proximity to one another, such as in explaining how an internal combustion engine operates. In such a speech, the presenter might move from explaining the bottom to the top of the engine, or from the inside to the outside. Such a pattern also works for a speech attempting to inform new students on where to find services on campus.
  • Cause-Effect Pattern: In this speech pattern, the speaker might want to show the relationship between certain causes and their effects. For example, a speaker could discuss the topic of drug addiction by presenting three unique stories about users and showing the audience what caused each addiction, as well as the effects it had upon their lives.
  • Problem-Solution Pattern: A pattern frequently used in persuasive speeches. In this pattern, the speaker presents a problem and then provides a solution to that problem. In an informative speech, the speaker could break up each main point into a problem and its corresponding solution, followed by another problem and corresponding solution for the next main point.
  • Topical Pattern: In one of the most common patterns found within informational speeches, this pattern involves breaking up the topic into smaller topics, such as seen in the previous example of learning how to shoot a basketball. This often becomes the “default” pattern when none of the others seem to offer a better fit.

Once speakers have selected and finalized the main speaking points, they need to start thinking about developing supporting points nested beneath each main point. To illustrate this portion of speech composition, consider the following sample speech topic of examining various classes one could take in communication studies with the central idea: Communication is a diverse field of study that touches nearly every portion of everyone’s daily lives.

Woman speaking to a crowd. Main Point I: Public speaking provides us with a way to learn about how to communicate in front of groups.
interpersonal communication picture Main Point II: Interpersonal communication gives students the opportunity to learn about one-on-one communication in a variety of contexts.
interculture conversation picture Main Point III: Intercultural communication courses allow us to explore how our culture and background affects the way we interact with one another.

At this point, the speaker needs to take each of the main ideas (underlined) and break them down further into subpoints in an effort to expand these ideas and add supporting material. Notice that each main point relates closely to the central idea. Write each as a declarative assertion to provide the opportunity to “prove” or support that idea with research.

For the first main point in the example above, the supporting points could look like this:

Main Point I: Public speaking provides us with a way to learn about how to communicate in front of groups.

  1. Most of us suffer from varying degrees of public speaking anxiety, requiring us to learn how to overcome this anxiety so that we might effectively communicate our ideas with others.
  2. Many of the lessons we learn in public speaking impact our ability to write, as well as interact with people on a daily basis.

For Your Information

As a rule of outlining, use a minimum of two subpoints, or else a single subpoint may then become an additional main point. Outline sticklers simply cannot stomach a solitary subpoint.

Notice that each of the supporting points is outlined using a capital letter, whereas main points are indicated by Roman numerals (I, II, III, etc.). Add another indentation using numerals (1, 2, 3, etc.) to break down supporting points further.

Also, each supporting point should fall within the topical area of the main point, rather than becoming another main point of its own. While the other two main points relate to other fields of communication studies, these two subpoints correspond directly to the study of public speaking, demonstrating how they support the main point of public speaking.

To continue the example, take a look at the expansion of the other two main points:

Main Point II: Interpersonal communication gives students the opportunity to learn about one-on-one communication in a variety of contexts.

  1. Interpersonal communication may include interaction with friends, family, romantic relationships, and even coworkers.
  2. Learning about interpersonal communication combines the fields of psychology, sociology, and communication theory into a fascinatingly complex and interwoven area of study.

Main Point III: Intercultural communication courses allow us to explore how our culture and background affects the way we interact with one another.

  1. Culture goes much further than merely ethnicity or nationality, as many of us might initially think of when considering our culture.
    1. Gender affects listening ability.
    2. Age affects relevance to certain topics.
    3. Religious preference may affect one’s internal priorities.
  2. Learning about one’s own culture provides a greater foundation from which to study others’ cultural backgrounds.


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Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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