How to Outline a Presentation – A Complete Step By Step Guide

It is inevitable that on certain occasions we would be asked to give a presentation. Some people may find this terrifying and become hesitant, especially when the topic assigned is unfamiliar to them. However, acing a presentation is possible if you would prepare properly. Mostly overlooked, and a step that many skips but this is the key to saving yourself from having self-doubt and anxiety caused by insufficient readiness. If you are wondering how to begin, then it’s best to start digging for information to draft your outline.   

A presentation outline is a blueprint or framework of your speech. It is a  textual arrangement that gives a picture of the entire speech you are preparing.  It is an important planning tool which guides you logically through all the aspects that you need to consider prior to writing the presentation itself. It helps you to think of the elements to include and how do they correspond to one another. It also allows you to analyze and test the order of arrangement of your ideas and makes identifying weak and unnecessary points in your speech easier. Thus the preparation outline helps in giving your speech a structure.


Outline Structure

Since outlines are used to arrange all the elements in a presentation, it has organizational hierarchy and a common format There are a variety of outline styles, however, they all generally follow the same pattern. Below is a sample of a generic speech outline that can support your core message and works for a wide range of speech topics.


Generic Presentation Outline Structure


Title: _________________________________________________________


Topic: ________________________________________________________


Purpose Statement: __________________________________________


Thesis Statement: ____________________________________________


I. Introduction (often written out in full)

     A. Interesting Opening (Technique to get the attention of the audience)

     B. Preview of the Speech (Establish topic and core message)


II. Body

     A. First Main point

          1.Sub-point/ Supporting Argument

               a. Further subpoint or supporting material (details)

                    (1) Evidence, examples, etc.

                    (2) Evidence, examples, etc.

               b. Further subpoint or supporting material (details)

                    (1) Evidence, examples, etc.

                    (2) Evidence, examples, etc.

          2. Supporting Argument

          3. Supporting Argument

     B. Second Main Point

     C. Third Main Point


III. Conclusion (usually written out in full)

     A. Summary of Major Ideas (recap main points; summary of the core message) 

     B. Significant Closing (prepares the audience for the end of the speech)



Outline Formatting Guidelines

As shown in the generic outline structure above, the following basic principles can be observed when organizing ideas and preparing your outline.

  1. Depending on your preference, your speech details may be preceded by the title, topic, specific purpose statement, thesis statement plus additional information you may want to add. As you develop and organize your speech this will help you to be on track on the purpose and main theme of your speech.
  2. When writing your outline follow the suggested simple formula for any presentation: (1) Tell them what you are going to tell them (2) Tell them (3) Then, tell them what you told them. In your presentation’s outline, this is your introduction, body, and conclusion. Dividing your presentation into main headings will ensure a logical and orderly development of the subjects 
  3. In sequencing the ideas in your outline, observe the principles of unity, coherence, and emphasis. Try to avoid random order and focus instead on seeking and extracting meaningful relationships on the materials you gathered.  Arrange it according to their meaningfulness and usefulness in the speech.
  4. Include only the essentials. If you have covered too much, narrow it down and sift out irrelevant materials to keep your focus on pertinent details. Distinguish clearly between important ideas and less important ones and rearrange your points if needed. If some of your main points are sufficiently supported while others are lacking, you may add or subtract supporting material to polish your presentation. 
  5. The body of the speech contains the main ideas about your topic.  To help your listeners easily understand and remember your main points, group your facts into a few main topics. If possible, limit it to three then start with the strongest and most supportive argument. 
  6. Under each main point, write down the supporting information. These subordinate ideas should develop the main points above them. Also, each division of the outline should contain only one idea. Make sure that the supporting details you are going to add are placed under the appropriate main point.
  7. When preparing the outline, focus on the body of your speech first to make writing the introduction and closing easier. 
  8. After carefully planning your body, identify how you would like to begin your presentation. Write an introduction that would arouse the attention of your audience then provide a  general view of the speech.
  9. Pull together all your main points, subordinate points and supporting materials in your conclusion to give a final impact on your proposition
  10. Use transitional statements between elements to hint your audience that you are moving from one point to another. Write it in parenthesis and place it between the main points
  11. To indicate the main and subordinate ideas, use a consistent set of symbols and numbers. Also, make sure that your subordinate points are properly indented under its main idea. Indenting makes identifying your main points, sub-points, and examples easier. 
  12. Write each heading or subheading in complete sentences using the active voice. It should contain the words of the actual speech that helps to somewhat complete the script of your entire speech. Writing your points in full-sentence will help you to remember the easy to forget significant points. 
  13. At the end of the outline, include bibliographic information for any outside resources you will mention during your presentation. This will help you to easily find the sources you will use.

Some may be writing their presentation without an outline, however, having it saves time. The speech you are writing will almost develop itself by having an adequate and detailed outline, therefore allowing you to craft a coherent and more focussed presentation. Exceptional English presenters and public speakers understand the value of having an outline. They know that is an effective device to write and deliver a successful presentation. 


Special Bonus Tip: Writing a presentation outline is often perceived to be reserved for planning purposes only.  However, your outline can function both as a tool when organizing your points and as a reference when delivering your speech. The only difference is that with your preparation outline you utilize full sentences. If you decide to convert it as a speaking outline then you just have to tweak it and use words or short phrases instead of full sentences. 

Kaycie Gayle is a freelance content writer and a digital publisher. Her writings are mostly about, travel, culture, people, food, and communication.