WHEN assigned to deliver a talk, many laboriously write it out, beginning with the introduction and working through to the conclusion. Before the talk is completed, numerous drafts may have been prepared. The process may take hours.
Is that the way you prepare your talks? Would you like to learn an easier way? If you learn how to prepare an outline, you will no longer need to write everything out. This will give you more time to practice delivering the talk. Your presentations will be not only easier to give but more interesting to listen to and more motivating to your audience.
Of course, for public talks given in the congregation, a basic outline is provided. However, that is not the case for most other talks. You may be assigned only a subject or a theme. Or you may be asked to cover specific printed material. Sometimes you may simply be provided with a few instructions. For all such assignments, you need to prepare your own outline.
The sample on page 41 will give you an idea of how a brief outline might be arranged. Notice that each of the main points begins at the left margin and is written in capital letters. Under each main point are listed the thoughts that support it. Additional points that will be used to develop those thoughts are listed under them and indented a few spaces from the left margin. Examine this outline carefully. Notice that the two main points relate directly to the theme. Observe, too, that the subpoints are not simply interesting items. Rather, each one supports the main point under which it appears.
When you prepare an outline, it may not look exactly like the sample. But if you grasp the principles involved, these will help you organize your material and prepare a good talk in a reasonable amount of time. How should you proceed?
Analyze, Select, and Organize
You need a theme. Your theme is not merely a broad subject such as might be represented by a single word. It is the central idea that you want to convey, and it indicates the angle from which you plan to discuss your subject. If a theme is assigned, analyze each main word carefully. If you are to develop the assigned theme on the basis of published material, study that material with the theme in mind. If you are assigned only a subject, then it will be up to you to choose the theme. Before doing so, however, you may find it helpful to do some research. By keeping your mind open, you will often get fresh ideas.
As you take these steps, keep asking yourself: ‘Why is this material important to my audience? What is my objective?’ It should be not just to cover material or to give a colorful talk but to accomplish something beneficial for your audience. When your objective takes shape, write it down. Keep reminding yourself of it as you prepare.
After you have determined your objective and have selected a theme consistent with it (or analyzed how your assigned theme fits in with that objective), you can do research that is more focused. Look for material that will be of particular value to your audience. Do not settle for generalities, but search for specific points that are informative and truly helpful. Be realistic in the amount of research that you do. In most cases you will soon have more material than you can use, so you will need to be selective.
Identify the main points that you need to discuss in order to develop your theme and achieve your objective. These will become your framework, your basic outline. How many main points should there be? Perhaps two are enough for a short discussion, and usually five are sufficient for even an hour-long discourse. The fewer the main points, the more likely your audience will remember them.
Once you have your theme and the main points in mind, organize your research material. Decide what directly relates to your main points. Select details that will add freshness to your presentation. When you choose scriptures to support the main points, note ideas that will help you to reason on those texts in a meaningful way. Put each item under the main point to which it belongs. If some of the information does not fit any of your main points, discard it—even if it is very interesting—or put it in a file for use on another occasion. Keep only the best material. If you try to cover too much, you will have to speak too fast and your coverage will be shallow. It is better to convey a few points that are of real value to the audience and to do that well. Do not go overtime.
At this point if not before, arrange your material in logical sequence. The Gospel writer Luke did this. Having collected an abundance of facts relating to his subject, he set them out “in logical order.” (Luke 1:3) You might line your material up chronologically or topically, possibly according to cause and effect or problem and solution, depending on what is most effective to attain your objective. There should be no abrupt switching from one idea to another. Your listeners should be led easily from one thought to another, with no gaps that cannot easily be bridged. Evidence presented should lead the audience to logical conclusions. As you arrange your points, think about how the presentation will sound to your audience. Will they readily follow your line of thought? Will they be moved to act on what they hear, in harmony with the objective that you have in mind?
Next, prepare an introduction that arouses interest in your subject and that shows your audience that what you are going to discuss is of real value to them. It might help to write out your first few sentences. Finally, plan a motivating conclusion that is consistent with your objective.
If you work out your outline early enough, you will have time to refine it before you deliver the talk. You may see the need to support certain ideas with a few statistics, an illustration, or an experience. Using a current event or some item of local interest may help your audience to see more readily the relevance of the material. As you review your talk, you may become aware of more opportunities to adapt the information to your audience. The process of analyzing and refining is essential to shaping good material into an effective talk.
Some speakers may need more extensive notes than others do. But if you organize your material under just a few main points, eliminate what does not really support these, and put your ideas in logical order, you will find that with a little experience, you will no longer need to write everything out. What a time-saver that can be! And the quality of your talks will improve. It will be evident that you are truly benefiting from your Theocratic Ministry School education.