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Use Outlining


Techniques Public speaking > Preparing the Presentation > Use Outlining

Description | Example | Discussion | See also



Design your presentation by breaking it down into parts, then break the parts down into sub-parts, and so on until you get to individual points.

Outlining is often best done by developing the structure before adding the detail of individual points you will cover within the structure. This is not a hard and fast rule, though, and you can fill in detail as you think fit and in ways that work best for you.

The thinking for outlining can be done using a wordprocessor. For example Microsoft Word allows headings (Heading 1, Heading 2, etc.) to indicate sub-levels and also be manipulated that text at lower levels are hidden so you can see the structure.

Structures in text can be shown by indenting (as in the example below). You can also visualize the structure using a tree structure, with lines between headings spreading out from the presentation root.

Another method is to write topics and individual items on pieces of card and progressively group them together, in a 'bottom-up' approach. The same approach can be used vertically, with Post-It Notes.

You can also write the outline on a single card and use it during the presentation as a prompting device.


    Opener: Life on Mars (music)
    Martians in science-fiction
    The pre-requisites for life
    Martian history
    Current conditions
    Forms of life that may be found
    Summary: fiction vs. fact
    Possibilities for the future 


Outlining is a 'divide and conquer' approach, breaking things down into 'bite-sized' chunks that can be understood as separate topics. It is easy to use and provides a structure that is easy to understand.

The hierarchical shape that outlining produces is a tree, where there are two types of item: nodes, which are containing titles and leaves, which are the individual points (often slides in a presentation). Nodes are 'parents' and contain one or more 'children' nodes or leaves. Nodes and leaves have only one parent node.

A warning: Do not get too enthusiastic with outlining and go too deep. Whenever you step down to a new level, you are asking your audience to remember where you were and come back to the same place later. The cognitive effort required to sustain this results in reduced attention. In consequence, try to keep you outline to two or three levels deep.

See also



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