Whether presenting virtually or in person, more and more professionals want to emulate a TED Talk-style in their briefings, research reports, recommendations, pitches, training modules, conference presentations, board meetings, and updates at organization-wide events. This dynamic style of speaking is characterized by compelling, concise messages delivered authentically, enthusiastically, and confidently—often with no lectern, notes, script, or teleprompter. It can be a time-consuming style of speaking to achieve; in fact, most TED and TEDx speakers script out their speech and painstakingly memorize it word for word.

Speakers face two common problems when they try to infuse their work presentations with a TED style: they either spend too much time scripting their talk word-for-word and committing to memory content that was better suited for the printed page, or they can’t get started. They have ideas but get overwhelmed looking at a blank piece of paper or an empty set of presentation slides on their computer screen. So, they procrastinate, and end up with a hastily prepared speech and lack of rehearsal, or recycled remarks that don’t fit the speaking situation. Both problems lead to the same result: speeches that are a disappointment to both the audience and speaker. It doesn’t have to be this way.

It is possible to achieve a TED-like presentation style in a reasonable amount of time with our Sandwich Structure Method. Our outline method allows speakers to visualize their whole presentation structure on one piece of paper as they build it, and later helps them go from one idea to the next with without relying on a script or getting tripped up on exact wording. 

This is a unique approach that you will only find at Spoken with Authority and in our books Presenting at Work and Presenting Virtually. Speakers swear by it because it is useful for crafting almost any presentation structure and particularly conducive to the extemporaneous mode of speaking, which we recommend for most workplace situations. As opposed to scripting and reading, scripting and memorizing, or speaking off the cuff, extemporaneous speaking requires careful research that is translated into a detailed and logical outline that the presenter rehearses thoroughly and delivers dynamically. Our Sandwich Structure method offers a straightforward process that works for a wide range of speeches and a step-by-step procedure that prevents writer’s block. Additionally, it encourages clear and memorable content, incorporates best practices of public speaking, and just as importantly, saves valuable time.

Here is how it works: The Sandwich Structure rejects word for word scripts that generally lead to a stiff and inauthentic delivery style. Instead, it embraces and adapts the Roman Numeral Outline you may have learned in school to sketch out papers. It makes four important changes to the Roman Numeral Outline format to better adapt to the demands and the best practices of public speaking. Following are four ways the Sandwich Structure differs from a Roman Numeral Outline:

1. It limits the outline to one page;

2. It is oriented horizontally rather than vertically;

3. It is stacked like a “Sandwich,” with a section at the top and at the bottom for the speech attention getter and clincher; and,

4. It includes visual cues to remind speakers to incorporate several best practices of public speaking.

  1. One Page

The first way the Sandwich Structure differs from a Roman Numeral Outline is that it is always on one sheet of paper. It doesn’t matter if it’s a two-minute report or two-hour webinar. By limiting notes to just one page, the Sandwich Structure prevents a scripted presentation because speakers must limit their outline to key words and phrases. This saves vast amounts of preparation time and improves speech delivery because it promotes extemporaneous speaking—when speakers take brief glances at their well-rehearsed notes and then talk to listeners about each idea using a conversational tone and making eye contact. 

  1. Oriented Horizontally

Next, the Sandwich Structure differs from a Roman Numeral Outline because the page orientation is horizontal rather than vertical—so main points are organized on the paper like a timeline from left to right. This orientation is crucial for extemporaneous speaking because it allows speakers to find their next idea quickly. When you are moving from one point to the next, or worse, at those moments in a presentation when you completely lose your train of thought and freeze, the Sandwich Structure helps you recover quickly because you have the security of knowing exactly where to look on the outline to find your next point.

With the outline limited to one page and oriented horizontally, you always know that notes related to the beginning of your speech are on the left-hand side. In the middle of the presentation, the notes are right in the middle of the page. And toward the end of your speech, you need only to glance to the right-hand side of the paper to find the word or phrase you wrote down to jog your memory for that part of your presentation.

Speaking from a Sandwich Structure Outline and in the extemporaneous mode is uncomfortable for some speakers at first, as is doing anything new. But with a little practice, you will find it easy to glance at your one-page outline in the correct part of the page, find the word or phrase for the next idea in your speech, look up at the audience, smile, and speak with confidence.

The horizontal orientation also can be a tremendous time saver because it allows speakers to diagnose problems with their speech content early in the outlining process. If in an early iteration of the Sandwich Structure you notice that the first point in your speech has six sub-points, but the second has only two, it is immediately clear the presentation lacks balance. This knowledge suggests that the organization should be reconsidered; perhaps the first main point should become the subject of the entire speech, or maybe the first main point could be broken into two smaller and more manageable main points. 

If you write out an entire script for a speech, chances are you will have spent much more time on the content before you realize there are issues with the supporting material or organization. Worse yet, you may never develop a clear thesis and carefully structured main points to support it—something the Sandwich Structure prompts you to do concisely and early in the process of crafting presentation content.

  1. The Sandwich 

The third difference between the Sandwich Structure and a Roman Numeral Outline is the presence of a “Sandwich,” the namesake of this method of outlining, which refers to the portion of the page at the top and bottom of the outline that is sectioned off from the speech body with horizontal lines. The top and bottom of the Sandwich are sectioned off so you can write the first line or two and the last line or two of the speech. Why, you might ask, would the opening and closing of the presentation be written out after great pains were taken to describe the Sandwich Structure as a rejection of a scripted approach? 

Because the introduction and conclusion are the most important parts of a presentation. According to the basic psychological principles of primacy and recency, people most vividly remember what they hear first and last. This holds true for presentations, so you must make your opening and closing count. 

Don’t waste the opening lines of your speech providing biographical information about yourself (that is the purpose of having someone else give the speaker introduction), repeating the title or main idea of your presentation (you will get to this after the opening lines), or thanking the person who introduced you or the event organizer (you can thank the introducer as you acknowledge the host after your attention getter and before you get into the body of your speech). The first words out of your mouth must be interesting, catchy, and suspenseful. You want those words to grab the attention of audience members and give them a reason to continue listening. 

The concluding lines of your presentation are equally important. They must signal the presentation is coming to a close so listeners know you have finished, and they can clap, ask questions, or move on to the next presenter (whatever is appropriate to the situation). A strong conclusion will prevent an awkward silence after your last line, and means you’ll never have to say an uninspiring “thank you” or “that’s it” as the last words of your presentation. Accomplish this by coming full circle—your clincher should refer, in some concrete way, to your attention getter. Effective closings also offer listeners pause for thought or an actual challenge to change their beliefs or actions. 

The Sandwich element of the Sandwich Structure ensures a robust, well-planned introduction and conclusion because these sections are written out in advance and, ideally, memorized. If nerves cause you to blank out on the introduction or conclusion during a presentation, the lines are in front of you for last-minute review, and in worst-case scenarios, available for you to read to the audience word-for-word before moving to the body of the presentation and a more dynamic, extemporaneous delivery style.

Having the Sandwich is crucial to effective speech delivery because having a carefully crafted introduction and conclusion, as well as the security of knowing the lines are there for reading if necessary, makes speakers feel more confident. It allows speakers to approach and leave the lectern on a high note, even if there were a few stumbles during the body of the speech.

  1. Ocular Cues

The last way the Sandwich Structure departs from the Roman Numeral Outline is the inclusion of ocular, or visual, reminders to include best practices of public speaking in your presentation.

One best practice that the Sandwich Structure facilitates is overtly stating the central idea. There is a place below the introduction for a speaker to write a word or phrase for the central idea of the speech. Though it sounds obvious, many speakers fail to identify and clearly state the point of their speech early in the presentation (or ever). In most cases, this is advisable and will improve clarity of the overall message. (If you happen to be giving a persuasive speech to an antagonistic audience, however, you would be wise to establish your credibility and provide some support for your case before revealing your specific ask.)

Additionally, the Sandwich Structure has the word “preview” on the page just below the central idea to remind the speaker to tell audience members at the beginning of the speech how it is structured. This roadmap of the presentation structure lets listeners know what to expect and promotes the retention of key ideas. Continuing with the sage advice of “tell ‘em what you’re gonna tell ‘em, tell ‘em, tell ‘em what you told ‘em,” the Sandwich Structure includes the word “review” just above the conclusion so the speaker is reminded to recap for the audience where they went on the journey of the presentation, and to reinforce main points.

Finally, the T’s with boxes around them signal the speaker to transition from one idea in a presentation to the next. This ensures that listeners are never left behind when a speaker moves on to a new main point. And, it serves as another way for a speaker to emphasize ideas he or she wants audience members to remember.

Having ocular cues—the central idea, preview, review, and transitions—on the Sandwich Structure reminds speakers to be clear and repetitious, which are particularly crucial when a message is delivered orally rather than in writing, and virtually rather than in person. By using ocular cues, speakers are prompted to follow these best practices of public speaking without a lot of extra text that could hinder locating key ideas and supporting points on the Sandwich Structure while delivering an extemporaneous presentation. 

Remember to write your Sandwich Structure in large text on a full sheet of paper that is oriented horizontally. You also can utilize our online speech-planning tool to craft your Sandwich Structure. It provides an easy template to fill in and offers helpful reminders to keep you on track. Using large, legible font (whether handwritten or computer generated) is key so that you can easily read your notes when you refer to them, and can readily find the next point on your Sandwich Structure when you “freeze” and can’t remember to say next. The Sandwich Structure provides many speakers peace of mind by knowing exactly where to look to find their next item to present. 

Like anything new, the Sandwich Structure will take a little getting used to. But with practice, it will save time on crafting a presentation, improve message effectiveness, support an extemporaneous delivery, and even provide the foundation for a TED-style speech with no notes. Soon you will have success at the lectern—whether you’re delivering your presentation in person or virtually.