Good Speech and Presentation Structure: SCORRE Method and Ways to Get Your Public Speaking Message Across

Most people start with a presentation by thinking that the most important thing is the content, and they stop there. And after 5 minutes they bore the socks off their listeners. The problem is that to secure the attention of your listeners over any length of time takes more than just having good content. People need to be able to follow your argument without needing to make notes. For that we need to take inspiration from key memory techniques. On the whole this means creating images in the minds of your audience which relate to the content (and no, don’t rely on powerpoints to do this) and then putting those images into a speech and presentation structure which has a certain sense of logic or story to it. This means that when a person remembers one of the images you have placed into their minds, they have a good chance of remember the rest of it.

Before I go on, for an alternative approach to writing which is more academical, you might be interested in my article on how to write college, university or seminary papers and essays. 

Power point presentation structure

One of the mistakes I often see is people who use many words on their presentation slides, and then go and read from the slides. It is imperative that you structure your presentations and speeches without the need for the powerpoint at all! Why?

  • If your powerpoint fails, you still have a presentation that will make sense
  • Powerpoint is actually distracting!

Scientists have discovered through analysis and recall that because you divide the attention of your audience between the words you are saying and the words that the audience reads on screen, that recall is severely limited.


Presentation structure closing remarks

Those images, needless to say, aren’t just pictures, but stories.  Stories that have emotional content to them that the audience relate to and can picture being part of in their minds.  Then you just link them together into your structure, and on those images you can hang your key points which will be memorable – memory experts call it pegging.

I won’t go into memory systems here, but you may find it interesting to explore since if you can memorise your own talks you will find that you can deliver them with far more passion, energy and connectivity with your audience.  The best orators can go for an hour or more.  I can memorise my key points for my own scripts that last this long in about 15 minutes, and I keep them on file so that if I repeat I can just look at the notes, rememorise, and I’m off one more time.  If you are well structured it is simple, and each idea flows into the next seamlessly.

However, the ideas themselves have keypoints, like stepping stones, that you will expect your listeners to hang onto, this is what gives you the structure.  Each preceding section supports and builds to the keypoint.  Incidentally, that preceding section is also a space where people should be able to relax their minds since the human brain can only concentrate for so long.  It’s somewhat art as well as science to spot these moments, but if you can it’s well worth doing since you can put the picture language and stories into these sections and put the main points in at the moments when they are concentrating the most.

For now, let’s move onto the systems of structure that I personally find the most useful.

There are three systems that I would like to list here: the ancient Greeks classic structure; the SARI system (which is by far the easiest, and I picked up on Twitter of all places!); and the SCORRE system, which I detail the reference bibliography for below.

Each of the structures has it’s own merits, and when you put together your own, you will be able to spot if it's a good presentation structure if you can see hallmarks of each of them.  They are, somewhat, interchangeable. Gain what you need from each of them, try each out at least once to see how you get along with them. Some will be more suitable than others. For example the Greek structure would be ideal in a sales presentation structure, as I hope you will see by the end of that section.

Top tips for using powerpoint in presentations


  1. Print out what you would have used as quotes for people to take away in handouts. You can still read them out, at the right moments, and have people read them. Better still, show them on the power point or handout and give people a moment to read them and react to them. This goes for data as well.
  2. Wherever possible, only use pictures. Those pictures should support the stories you are telling.
  3. When presenting, don't draw people's attention to the powerpoint and carry on speaking. This is diluting their concentration between two places. As a magician I use this technique for mis-direction so that while everyone is concentrating on two things at once they will miss what I am really doing to make the trick work. Whilst great for magicians, I hope that you can see how it is counter productive to presenting materials! This is what you should do. Point out the presentation, let people think about it for a moment, then draw attention back to yourself. It's like handing over to another staff member (for example) before taking back the reins.
  4. Finally, the powerpoint structure should supplement the structure you already have in place. Don't be a slave to the powerpoint.


Why not try leaving the powerpoint presentation behind next time, go old school and use a flipchart? It will demonstrate that you know your subject better, and help you to be far more flexible with you audience.

The Greeks Speech and Presentation Structure (good for sales)

The Greeks would stand in the oratorium delivering the most complex of speeches, from memory, and would expect those who listened to them to remember what they said. They did have generally better memories in those days, writing things down has made our memories much weaker. However, structure was the secret. They considered that they had failed if their students couldn’t remember what they had said without taking notes.

Their simple shape to their system was

  1. · Proposition
  2. · Reasons to believe the proposition
  3. · Refuting the questions that might be raised against the proposition
  4. · A summing up of the reasons to believe the proposition, perhaps including some evidence
  5. · A call to action.

Sound familiar? You betcha. It’s a classic sales letter! Nothing has changed in 2000 years!

SARI presentation structure

Now that might be useful for you, but it might not. So let’s move on to the simplest, the SARI system.

The word SARI stands for:

  • Situation
  • Action
  • Result
  • Interesting fact.

This is the quickest way from A to Z for someone like a standup, or for a wedding speech. When you use your ideas generation system, whatever it is, choose the strongest situation that you can. The one which will have most impact on the listeners. The one which people who are in your close circle of friends talk about when you are around. It’s the ‘remember when’ story. It also might NOT be your favourite story, but remember that it is not about you, it’s about the people you are speaking to. It should illustrate the point that you want to make as well, so if it is a group of employees you are speaking to then the action should in some way relate to what you are trying to explain to them.

Ok, so go ahead, and explain the situation. Don’t use too much waffle, explain the minimum you can. Use emotion, use the situation to describe the emotion that you want to communicate. So, for example, don’t just say ‘it was red,’ say something like ‘you know blood, when it first comes out what colour it is? I don’t mean when it’s gone kind of dry and it turns that darker colour, with a bit of brown round the edges, I mean the real colour when it still has the life in it?’ At no point here have you said the colour ‘red’, but you have linked into the colour red with is a common experience for everyone. You have also connected emotions - that of life. Obviously in this case what will come next will be red and be alive. Perhaps it is the colour of the valentine card that you bought for your first girlfriend!

The next question is what Action did you take. If there is a problem that needs to be solved, then what you are about to describe will hopefully provide the solution.

Third up, what was the result? Why will people want to know the result? Don’t reveal the result too early. Leave them hanging. But not too long, because if you leave them for too long then they will lose interest and start thinking about something else!

Finally, just as they think it’s all over, hit them with one more thing, the most poignant Interesting fact of the whole saga. It’s kind of like the free unexpected gift that arrives in that package that you bought from Amazon.com. The people in front of you have invested both their time and their money in you (if they paid to come) and the person who invited you has risked their reputation. So you, being the product, need to deliver the goods. But when you do so, including the Interesting fact on the way through will be the overdelivery necessary for people to warm to you in a way that will be beyond your imagination!

A whole evening’s talk might be devoted to a series of these cycles through SARI, but you will want to make sure that each builds on the previous one.

SCORRE Presentation Structure

The third and final method of structuring SCORRE. This is from a book called How to speak to young people and keep them awake , which seems to go in and out of print!

  • Subject
  • Central theme
  • Objective
  • Rational
  • Resources
  • Evaluation


Subject – an overall theme. It will be broad. Something like the classic ‘what I did on my holidays.’ Would be a broad theme. You did a lot of things on your holidays, one of those things would be ….

The Central Theme! Okay, so while you were on your holidays you went to the zoo and rode a camel, you went on a boat, you rode a horse, you walked in the mountains, you got stung by a bee. You haven’t got time to talk about all those things, so you just choose one. For example you rode a camel.

Okay, so what’s the objective? Often you might have to be a bit convoluted here, but you want people to go away with a specific action or something that has persuaded them to think the way that you do. So the objective is simple and comes in two flavours – the imperative (commanding) statement, and the enabling statement.

The imperative statement starts with the phrase ‘You MUST …’ and the enabling statement starts with ‘you should.’ So taking our camel story the objective could be

‘You must be careful when you climb on the back of a camel…’

Or

‘You can be safe when you climb on the back of a camel…’

Okay? So what comes next? Well its quite natural. The imperative statement immediately creates the question in the listeners mind of ‘why should I?’. Imagine that you are speaking to someone in separate sentences.

You : You must be careful when you climb on the back of a camel

Them : Why should I

You : Because….

Hey look at that! You just found your next word in the sentence…BECAUSE

Right, what would be the next word in the empowering statement? Well the empowering statement implies ‘how?’ Like this

You : You can be safe when you climb on the back of a camel

Them : how can I be safe?

You : By….

Easy huh? So now follows…

Rationale

These are the logical answers to the questions. You might at this point want to go back to your ideas generation and start a new sheet. I will complete this one for you, but you could do with chatting over with your buddy some ideas of your own.

Imperative statement:

  • You must be careful when you climb on the back of a camel because
  • You could trip on the way up
  • The camel might spit in your eye
  • You might get on the wrong way round
  • Everyone will laugh at you if you mess up

I am sure you can see how you could turn this into a blow by blow account of being careful climbing on a camel.

Enabling statement :

  • You can be safe climbing on the back of a camel by
  • Being careful where you put your feet
  • Turning your head away from the camel’s mouth
  • Putting the correct foot first

Being aware that there are other people who might be waiting for you to mess up, and not worrying about it.

Now you might the three ideas that I have suggested. So you could use SARI to illustrate the rationale. Don’t go on for too long though, leave them wanting more. And you don’t have to have many points. Between 1 and 5 are good. Any longer it gets boring.

The next R stands for Resources. What objects might you need, or stories, anecdotes, powerpoint slides, to get you through the talk? Make sure you have them all prepared well in advance so that when you rush out the door you can take them with you.

And finally Evaluation. Look at what you are doing and honestly ask yourself ‘is it really going to achieve what I want it to achieve.’ Where are the hooks for people to grab onto? If you leave out that particular thing will it still make sense and work? If it will, then eject it. Less is more. When you have started to get reviews from others (another item we will come to lower down) then you can use these reviews to also challenge your writing. Keep what people like, and remove what they are less keen on.

Presentation Structure Tips Summary

There has been a lot of information here, so let me summarise the key points.

  • Use imagery
  • Let ideas flow
  • Let ideas be logical
  • Summarise each point
  • Powerpoints serve you, you don't serve the powerpoint!

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1 comment

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quuenieproac 5 years ago from Malaysia

Very good guidelines, certainly helpful. Thanks for sharing.

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