Practicing a speech from an outline

Feb 11, 2021 3:45 AM

An outline can be an efficient tool for rehearsing a presentation. It frees you from writing and memorizing a rigorous script while focusing on the delivery of high-level ideas. An outlining method that has worked for me goes like this:

  • Create a slide-deck with one slide per minute of speech
  • Add a title to each slide describing the section
  • Add bullet points and speaker notes as appropriate

I learned about the 1 slide/minute rule while preparing for rapid-fire lightning talks at work. This process chunks your content into one-minute sections that can be practiced independently. I omit the slides when presenting to my Toastmasters club to focus on my delivery and the audience.

I used an outline when creating “A consistent cup of coffee” that I presented to Mountain View Toastmasters on Dec 2, 2019. Take a look through the transcribed slides and a recording of the speech.

A consistent cup of coffee

Has coffee gotten too fancy?


Survey of coffee drinkers

  • Majority - the experience of making your own coffee
  • Minority - how to experiment with any recipe

Help you make a consistent coffee with a little problem solving

Click to reveal speaker notes

On the second floor kitchenette of my office, the answer is spelled out in bold sharpie. Yes. As someone who lives in ignorance about the true size of a venti and grande at starbucks, this comes at no surprise. The coffee subculture runs deep. These connoisseurs are like those who strongly prefer a particular vintage of wine or varieties of strongly hopped beer. Local coffee roasters are sprouting up all around us, sourcing directly from coffee plantations and roasting in their garages or repurposed airplane hangars.

But for me, coffee is a simpler pleasure. There’s something about the taste, the caffeine, and the morning ritual that I can’t quite shake off. My favorite mornings are the ones where I can peacefully relax in front of my computer with my favorite mug — my least favorite evenings are the ones where I’ve had maybe a cup too many before a strict deadline.

For most of my adult life, I took the availability of coffee for granted. At a previous job, there was always someone who made the batch at 7:45 that I would gladly drink. In my college days, there would often be a pot sitting out, made by someone else. Eventually, it became my turn to make the pot. And even with the guidance of a friend, it came out tasting like coffee-flavored water.

If you’re like me, doing something for the first time can be intimidating. But today, I’d like to distill the process of making a consistent cup of coffee. All it takes it takes are coffee grinds, a coffee maker, and some trial and error.

In my office alone, there are at least 4 different ways of making coffee. You can pop a pod in the keurig machine if you’re a fan of automation. You can try your hand as a barista at the espresso machine. There’s a pour-over rig that makes great drip coffee. And finally, there’s this thing. An aeropress.

Introducing the Aeropress

It was a birthday gift.

The first cup was sour, here’s how I solved it.

Read the instructions

Demonstrate how all the pieces go together.

Click to reveal speaker notes

Espresso is made by forcing nearly boiling water through finely ground coffee beans under pressure.

Making a cup of coffee

Filter on, pour fine grain coffee in, fill with water, stir for 10 seconds, press for 20-40 seconds.

Eye-contact with the whole room, move after each step

How you screwed up the coffee

It turned out sour, I’ve condense the research on google for you

Under-extraction makes coffee sour

Grind can be too fine or too coarse, the water too hot or too cold, and the brew time too short to too long

Controlling the coffee making process

Try it again, but change a single element of the process

Making a consistent cup of coffee

Click to reveal speaker notes

I’ve made at coffee at least 100 times with this things, and I’d say only 5-10 of those were a failure. There was once a time where the bottom came off, and got the grounds in the coffee. And many of those failures were sour because of water temperature, mostly.

Once you start doing something enough times, you build the muscle memory so you can start to try new things.

The process of doing and observing has been key for me to make coffee that doesn’t taste like an unripe berry. If you find yourself in my shoes, I hope I’ve encouraged you to try making that pot of coffee. I appreciate the cup of consistent coffee, and I hope you can brew one too.

See the original slides here.

Here’s the speech that I presented to the club for reference.

If you read through the outline, you’ll see where the significant transitions occurred in the speech. Try picking out the timestamps where I transition between topics.

Spoiler: Click here for timestamps
0:00 - Has coffee gotten too fancy?
2:27 - Introducing the Aeropress
3:01 - Making a cup of coffee
4:09 - How you screwed up the coffee
5:00 - Controlling the coffee-making process
6:05 - Making a consistent cup of coffee

Here are a few pointers for your own practice.

Prepare the introduction and conclusion

The introduction and conclusions are the most memorable sections of a speech, so it pays off to prepare them. Memorizing these sections can help build momentum before you jump off into unwritten territory.

Be terse with supporting statements in the outline

Ideas that you jot down within a slide should be short, something you can speak about impromptu. Consider this slide:

Controlling the coffee making process

Try it again, but change a single element of the process.

I’m enthusiastic about this topic, so I only need to have the main idea to talk about this for a minute, starting at 5:01.

Highlight any specific techniques you want to pull off

In the section titled “Making a cup of coffee,” I demonstrate the literal technique of making coffee in my AeroPress (great device, by the way). Based on earlier feedback, I decided that this was an excellent place to make eye contact with the entire room and note it in my outline.

Watch the recording starting at 3:01 in the video and evaluate for yourself whether I was able to execute my plan.

Practice and record yourself at least ten times

Once you know what you’re going to say, repeat it, so you know what you’re going to say. A six-minute speech practiced ten times from start to finish is an hour of total practice time. You can (and should) spread this out over a few days. Record your practice sessions so you can track your progress and self-evaluate your performance.

I use this online voice recorder, which has a straightforward interface and doesn’t require anything outside of a web browser.

Thoughts and Next Time

There’s value in trying out different processes and seeing what works for you. Learning to become better at public speaking requires experimentation and practice. I find that outlines work well in the professional settings where I’m a subject matter expert and need to give an informative 5-10 minute presentation on a short timeline. It’s less effective when giving a speech full of descriptive language and literary devices. Your mileage may vary.

In the next post, I’ll write more about “A consistent cup of coffee.” Trawling through my notes, I was surprised by how much better my speech was the second time around. I’ll address the process of evaluation and feedback at Toastmasters and how I applied it to my speech.