Working Up an Outline
1-4. How can the theme and main points of a talk be determined?
1 Said Gospel writer Luke to his friend Theophilus: “I resolved also, because I have traced all things from the start with accuracy, to write them in logical order to you.” (Luke 1:3) So, having done research, having collected an array of facts relating to his subject, he set about organizing them in understandable sequence. It is to our advantage to follow this same practice in preparing our talks. This means working up an outline.
2 Selecting the main thoughts. Since speaking, especially a discussion of God’s Word, is for the purpose of conveying ideas to the mind of another, the thoughts we hope to convey in a talk should be very clearly defined in our own mind first. After you have gathered your material you are in position to determine exactly what it is you want your audience to carry away with them when you are finished. Try to put this into one sentence. If this contains the gist of your talk, if it embodies the one central idea you want your audience to remember, this should serve as a theme for your talk. You will find it helpful to write it down so that you can refer to it during your preparation.
3 Now from the material that you have assembled select the principal ideas necessary to put across this one central theme. These should serve as the main points of the talk. If you have arranged your material on cards, you can place these in sequence on a table before you. Now select other ideas needed to support these main points, putting each one in its proper place following the main point that it upholds. In selecting and putting into place in the outline the various main points and sub-points that have been assembled, it may be observed that some of these do not add materially to the exposition of your theme. If such is the case, do not hesitate to omit them. It is better to do this than to clutter the talk with inconsequential or irrelevant material. Make certain too that the ideas are arranged in the most logical or practical sequence. In following the method suggested here, flaws of continuity are easily seen in the outline and can be corrected. Thus you can see to it that each main heading of the outline follows logically the one preceding it and contributes to the development of the theme. And with every point under those main headings rendering proper support, the talk cannot help but present a logical flow of thought.
4 The points for instruction that you have just organized should constitute the body of your talk. Now you will need an introduction and a conclusion. Decide how you want to open your discussion and, on the basis of the presentation that you have prepared, select a conclusion that will motivate your listeners in harmony with the purpose of your talk. Now you are ready to put this material into a reasonably final form on paper. This can be done in various ways.
5, 6. What is meant by a topical outline? a sentence outline?
5 Types of outlines. The two most common types of outlines are topical and sentence. Frequently a combination of the two is used. To prepare a topical outline, simply note the theme at the top of the page. Then write the main points concisely below the theme, with each main point beginning at the left margin. The sub-points for each main point can be indented, that is, written a little to the right of the margin, under the point they support. If any of these sub-points have additional points to support them, they can be indented still farther. You can now see by a quick glance at your paper which points are the outstanding ones that carry the main ideas that you want your audience to understand. This is helpful in delivering a talk because you can put emphasis on these, repeating the key words in each main idea as you speak so that they are emphasized and will make a more lasting impression. Do this with each main point as you discuss it. Emphasis in this type of outline is on brevity of expression for any given point.
6 The other common form is the sentence outline. In this type of outline, all your different ideas are usually stated as complete sentences but condensed so that each sentence constitutes the main idea of a paragraph for the talk. Some of these sentences, of course, may be indented under others to make the main points of the talk stand out. In delivery sometimes the sentence is read by the speaker and then elaborated on extemporaneously. Both kinds of outlines have their advantages. The sentence outline, with its fuller expression of ideas, is usually better for talks that are worked up weeks in advance or that are given repeatedly, but with intervals of several months, as with public talks.
7, 8. For the actual delivery of the talk, what might you do with your outline?
7 You may use either kind of outline, the sentence or the topical, for your preliminary outline, and it can be as complete as you desire. In this way you will be certain to include all the finer points that you would like your audience to receive. However, for delivery of the talk a briefer outline is preferred by some. As you prepare your talk for delivery you might have both outlines before you. Practice with the condensed version until the points you have included in it call to mind all the more detailed points that you have on your preliminary outline. When you can bring these points to mind from the condensed outline, you are ready to deliver the talk.
8 These are, in brief, the highlights of working up an outline. Now it would be to our advantage to consider in more detail the three main divisions of a talk.
9-12. (a) What is the purpose of the introduction of a talk? (b) Give an example of one type of introduction.
9 Introduction. The purpose of the introductory remarks should be to arouse the interest of your listeners. Those opening sentences should stimulate their interest in your subject and help them to see why it is of importance to them. The first sentence in particular deserves careful thought. It is vital that it constitute a pleasant contact with listeners and not be dogmatic or antagonistic.
10 There are many types of introductions. An illustration might be used, or reference might be made to some quotation that is familiar to those listening. You might introduce a problem that needs solution. The historical background of the subject might form an introduction of itself. A series of questions might be propounded. You might even briefly tell the main points that you are going to cover.
11 It is important that the introduction fit the talk well. Thus a striking illustration can be very effective, especially if the speaker draws on it throughout his talk. This will not only help to make the talk more interesting and easier to follow and remember, but also aid in coherence, provided the illustration is well chosen.
12 The delivery of the introduction will have much to do with the degree of interest the audience will show. The speaker must launch into his talk with a firm, confident tone, and with no stumbling or hesitancy of expression. For this reason some speakers find it helpful actually to write out the first sentence or two of their talk, to assure a smooth start.
13-16. (a) Explain how the body of a talk might be developed. (b) How should the timing of a talk influence preparation of the body?
13 The body of the talk. There are many ways in which the body of your talk can be developed. You may want to present the points of less importance first and then work up to a climax, with the strongest points stated last. Material may also be presented chronologically, as in the discourse recorded at Acts 7:2-53. Partitioning a talk into main sections on the basis of the main lines of development of the overall theme is another good method. For example, if the theme were “A Ransom from Death,” you might develop it under such main points as “How Death Came to Be,” “Humankind Unable to Produce a Ransom,” “Who Only Could Produce It, and Why,” and “Blessings from Ransom Provided.”
14 At times you may find that your talk can be divided into natural classifications, as in the case of Paul’s giving instructions first to the whole congregation, then to wives, next to husbands and then to children. (See Ephesians, chapters 5 and 6.) Or you may find that your material lends itself to development according to cause and effect, or to that which states a problem and then brings forward the solution. At times two or more of these methods can be combined effectively.
15 Straight narration of events, without necessarily introducing chronology, is a very common method of development of a talk. Descriptive material often adds much to a talk. Still other talks can be outlined interestingly on the basis of an argument pro and con concerning some active issue of the day.
16 With consideration for the time element, do not cram your outline with too much material. Good material loses value if insufficient time has been allowed for its development. Besides, a person does not have to tell everything he knows on a subject on one occasion. Perhaps other angles of the same subject theme can be developed at some other time. Assign appropriate amounts of time to each main point in your talk and then realistically adjust the amount of material to fit that time. What counts is not quantity of material but rather its quality.
17-20. Why are conclusions important, and in what ways might they be developed?
17 The conclusion. The closing portion of any talk deserves considerable attention in the way of preparation. It is intended to bring together all the points of the argument in the body of the talk and focus them in such a manner as to convince the hearers and motivate them to action in harmony with such conviction. At the same time it should be short and very much to the point.
18 There are several forms from which you may choose according to the theme that you have developed. You may summarize the main points of the talk in logical sequence, leading unmistakably to the conclusion that must follow. Or you may use a conclusion of application, showing the listener how the information applies to him, and what he can do as a result of the information presented. With some talks, and particularly with sermons given in the house-to-house ministry, it is best to have a conclusion that motivates. It can encourage the householder, for example, to accept literature or to agree to arrangements for a Bible study in his home.
19 The conclusion may also be one of climax, working up to the key point that must be left in the mind of the listener. In order to wrap up the talk effectively, it is also appropriate to tie in the conclusion with something mentioned in the introduction. One might refer back to some opening illustration or quotation. The urgency of reaching and following some decision is often featured in the conclusion. A prime example is the words of Joshua winding up his farewell speech shortly before his death.—Josh. 24:14, 15.
20 It may be seen, then, that a well-outlined talk must provide an attention-arousing introduction. It should include logical development of carefully selected key points that support the theme. And it should have a conclusion that motivates listeners to act in harmony with the Scriptural counsel offered. All of these elements must be prepared for when the outline is being worked up. Skillful outlining of your talk can save time for you, and it contributes much toward a talk that is meaningful and that lastingly impresses valuable instruction on the minds of those who hear it.