THE prospect of speaking from an outline makes many people nervous. They feel more secure if everything they are going to say is down on paper or memorized.
Yet, in reality, every day we all speak without a manuscript. We do it in conversation with family and friends. We do it when sharing in the field ministry. And we do it when offering heartfelt prayers, whether in private or on behalf of a group.
When you deliver a talk, does it make a difference whether you use a manuscript or an outline? While reading from a prepared script can help to ensure accuracy and the use of choice wording, it has its limitations in reaching hearts. When you read more than a few sentences, you will usually adopt a pace and a pattern of inflection that differ from your spontaneous conversational style. If your attention is focused more on your papers than on your audience, many may not listen as intently as they would if they felt that you were really thinking about them and adapting your material to their circumstances. For a truly motivating talk, extemporaneous delivery is the best.
The Theocratic Ministry School is designed to help us in everyday life. When we meet friends, we do not pull out a piece of paper and read our thoughts to them in order to ensure the best wording. In field service, we do not take along a manuscript to read, out of fear that we might forget some points that we want to share with people. When demonstrating in the school how to witness under such circumstances, practice speaking in a manner that is as natural as possible. With good preparation, you will find that an outline, either mental or written, is usually sufficient to remind you of the main thoughts that you want to discuss. But how can you develop the confidence needed to work from one?
Organize Your Thoughts. In order to use an outline when speaking, you need to organize your thoughts. This does not mean selecting the words that you plan to use. It simply means thinking before you speak.
In daily life, an impetuous person may find himself blurting out things that he later wishes he had not said. Another person may speak somewhat aimlessly, wandering from one idea to another. Both of these tendencies can be dealt with effectively by pausing to formulate a simple mental outline before beginning to speak. First fix your objective in mind, next select the steps that you need to take in order to achieve it, and then start to talk.
Are you preparing for field service? Take time not only to pack your witnessing case but also to organize your thoughts. If you decide to use one of the suggested presentations from Our Kingdom Ministry, read it over several times to get the main ideas clearly in mind. State the gist of it in one or two brief sentences. Adapt the wording to your own personality and to conditions in your territory. You will find it helpful to have a mental outline. What might that include? (1) As an introduction, you might mention something that is of concern to many people in your community. Invite the other person to comment. (2) Have in mind something specific that you could share on the subject, including one or two scriptures that show what God has promised to do to bring relief. If given the opportunity, emphasize that Jehovah will do this by means of his Kingdom, his heavenly government. (3) Encourage the person to take some action on what you have discussed. You might offer literature and/or a Bible study and make definite arrangements to continue the discussion.
The only outline you will probably need for such a presentation is a mental one. If you want to consult a written outline before your first call, the outline will probably contain no more than a few words to use for your introduction, a notation of one or two scriptures, and a brief note of what you want to include in your conclusion. Preparation and use of such an outline prevent us from rambling, helping us to leave a clear message that is easy to remember.
If some question or objection comes up often in your territory, you may find it helpful to do research on the matter. Usually, all you need are two or three basic points along with scriptures that provide the basis for them. “Bible Topics for Discussion” or boldface subheadings in Reasoning From the Scriptures may provide exactly the outline you need. You may find a good quotation from another source that you want to include. Make up a brief written outline, attach a photocopy of the quotation, and keep these with your equipment for field service. When a householder brings up the question or objection, let him know that you welcome the opportunity to give a reason for what you believe. (1 Pet. 3:15) Use the outline as a basis for your reply.
When you are going to represent your family, a book study group, or the congregation in prayer, it is also beneficial to organize your thoughts. According to Luke 11:2-4, Jesus gave his disciples a simple outline for meaningful prayer. At the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem, Solomon prayed at length. He obviously thought about the subject in advance. He focused attention first on Jehovah and His promise to David; then on the temple; and then, one at a time, on specific situations and groups of people. (1 Ki. 8:22-53) We can benefit from these examples.
Keep Your Talk Outline Simple. Is your outline meant for use when giving a discourse? How much should it include?
Remember that an outline is meant to help you recall ideas. You may feel that it would be beneficial to write out a few sentences for use as an introduction. But after that, focus on ideas, not words. If you put those ideas down in the form of sentences, favor short sentences. The few main points that you plan to develop should stand out clearly in your outline. This can be achieved by writing them in capital letters, underscoring the points, or marking them in color. Under each main point, list the ideas that you want to use when developing it. Cite the scriptures that you plan to read. It is usually best to do the actual reading from the Bible. Make note of illustrations that you want to use. You may also have some significant secular quotation that is appropriate. Make your notes extensive enough to have specific facts to present. The outline will be easier to use if it is neat.
Some use outlines that are very basic. An outline may consist of a few key words, notation of scriptures that the speaker will quote from memory, and drawings or pictures that help him recall ideas. With these simple notes, a speaker is able to present his material in a logical order and a conversational manner. That is the objective of this lesson.
On pages 39 to 42 of this book, you will find the discussion “Making an Outline.” It will be very helpful to read that material while you are working on this study, “Use of an Outline.”
How to Use the Outline. Your goal at this point, however, is not simply to prepare your discourse in outline form. It is to use the outline effectively.
The first step in using your outline is preparation for delivery. Look at the theme, read each of the main points, and state to yourself the connection that each of those main points has to the theme. Make note of how much time can be devoted to each main point. Now go back and study the first main point. Review the arguments, scriptures, illustrations, and examples that you plan to use to develop that point. Go over the material several times until that section of your talk is clear in mind. Do the same with each of the other main points. Consider what you could omit, if necessary, in order to finish on time. Then review the entire talk. Focus on the ideas, not the words. Do not memorize the talk.
When you deliver the discourse, you should be able to maintain good visual contact with your audience. After reading a scripture, you should usually be able to reason on it with the use of your Bible but without going back to check your notes. Similarly, if you use an illustration, tell it as you would to friends instead of reading it from your notes. As you speak, do not look at your notes to pick up each sentence. Speak from the heart, and you will reach the hearts of those who listen to you.
When you master the art of speaking from an outline, you will have taken a very important forward step in becoming an effective public speaker.