Stage Time: Yikes! Without This, Your Presentation Will Fall Apart!


Have you ever had the intention of creating a boring presentation? One that’s not memorable or leaves no lasting impression? Probably not. Nobody has the ‘intention’ of doing that. So, why are so many presentations boring and forgettable? Great question!

I remember the summer just before I entered first grade. My parents built a new house just across town. It was exciting — I can still see the trucks and cement mixers, and smell the soft clay they were digging up. After they poured the foundation and built the framework, I finally got to help! They put the plywood down for the floor in my room and gave me a little hammer and some nails and let me go to town. To this day, if you were to pull up the rug in that bedroom, you’d see scores of nails that were hammered half way in, bent and then hammered flat.

Toastmasters International World Champion of Public Speaking, Darren LaCroix teaches how to write a speech.What does this have to do with your presentation? Think about it. Once the structure was in place, little Darren couldn’t really affect the building of the house. Small issues won’t cause any damage when the structure has been built correctly. There are three components to a good presentation: structure, content and delivery.

Structure: the framework on which you build your speech (the ‘skeleton’)

Content: the stories, examples and metaphors (the ‘meat’ of the presentation)

Delivery: the manner in which you present (the ‘life energy’)

Often, we can find great content and work passionately on our delivery, but without good structure, it all falls apart. Many presenters don’t see the value or take the time to create good structure. For example, last year I was giving a keynote speech at a company in Florida. As usual, I arrived early to hear the other presenters. I listened to one passionate presenter who’d been on Oprah and was doing great work with kids. His stories were very good, his delivery was passionate and compelling. I’m sure many audience members left thinking he was great, simply because they laughed and liked him.

I don’t believe, however, that audience members walked away with a memorable message. He lacked good structure. I don’t fault him — if you don’t know, you don’t know. Many passionate presenters can ride a long way on great delivery. The challenge is that they don’t see how good they could be by building a simple structure.

For many years, I struggled and created my keynote speeches by trial and error. I had a three-point structure: an opening, a body, and a conclusion. Having an opening and closing is better than not having one, but the body of my speech was just a bunch of funny stories strung together. There was no real purpose to it. That might be okay for a seven-minute speech or an amateur one-hour presentation, but surely not for a professional!

In the corporate world, the presenters I coach deliver presentations with slides to help make their point. I always show them the power of creating a good structure before they put together their slide show. They see how 10 minutes of planning can save time and bring much clarity to the listener.

Many people (including me, in my early days of keynoting) don’t like structure. They feel it ‘confines’ them and limits their ability to be in the moment. I’ve learned that just the opposite is actually true.

Lou Heckler, CSP, CPAE and speaking coach says it brilliantly…

“Structure — it doesn’t ‘freeze’ you, it ‘frees’ you.”

That’s deep and powerful, isn’t it?

Like me, you may have to read it several times before you fully grasp what he’s saying. Good structure allows you to be in the moment and even go off on tangents, yet still have the ability to get back on track — and the audience will be able to follow right along with you. Structure is the opposite of memorizing. Early in my comedy career, I memorized my routine word-for-word. I was so nervous that if anyone heckled or said anything to me, I’d lose my place! In my mind, I had to go back to the beginning of my routine and start over to find my place. It gets even worse — when I would re-write a routine I’d have to un-learn the old one first!

Even great comedians, before a show, write out their ‘set list’ — a list of ‘bits’ in a specific order. There’s a reason for their order, though. They know which ‘bits’ transition best into other jokes. For presenters, it requires more of a structure than a set list to leave a lasting message. In my quest to help presenters connect with their audiences, I came to realize that the one piece I was not teaching was “structure.” That’s why I developed the Create Your Keynote by Next Week program.

If you ever visit my parent’s house, don’t carry a metal detector into my childhood room. It would light up like a Christmas tree, but you wouldn’t find anything but half-bent nails. There’s a logical reason why my Dad didn’t allow me to help while they were ‘framing’ our house… the structure was just too important.

Without good structure your speech could fall apart… it could blow up… lose the audience… go off on a tangent and never return. It could just bore your audience to tears.

Content and delivery are equally important. A great speech begins with structure. Great structure gives you confidence, a solid plan, a stronger ability to be ‘present’ with your audience, make mistakes and still have a clear and memorable message. It’s quite simply the first requirement for creating a memorable speech. Got structure?

Please share your stories, thoughts and comments here on my blog.



3 Responses to “Stage Time: Yikes! Without This, Your Presentation Will Fall Apart!”
  1. Tom says:


    Excellent article. Couldn’t agree more.

    Whenever I work on presentations, the first things I think about are the audience and what is the message I want to get across. Then I spend a lot of time envisioning how this presentation will play out and run through it before I even start writing it.

    This keeps me focused on the main message and helps me to write a speech instead of a novel.

  2. I’m SO excited to read this blog, Darren! It’s true. It’s true!! I can attest to what you are saying from first hand experience. But there’s more…..

    I have learned from trial and error that when I can structure my speeches well, I don’t HAVE to memorize! What a relief that it!! It takes the stress out of it for me. And do you know what the result is from not having the stress of having to memorize (I have a lousy memory!)? The real me comes shining through. I’ts so much more fun to be able to just be yourself and have fun when you are speaking than be trying to remember what comes next!

    And if I don’t get in that awesome phrase or story that is in my written speech? Oh well. If I didnt say something in as profound a way as how I’d written it? Oh well. The important thing is my audience got the real me and I had a blast.

    I have a long way to go, but I have to say this is one of THE MOST profound lessons I have learned, from experience and from you.


  3. Andrew Margrave says:

    Structure (or speech architecture, as I often call it) and memorization of script are not antagonistiic, but mutually helpful. With first-rate speech architecture, you know where you are going early in the preparation process. With memorization, you are preparing and thereby giving your speech architecture a chance to shine in the performance venue. “Proper Preparation Prevents Pathologically Poor Performance.”

    Ten days ago, I did an educational presentation at the Toastmasters District 10 Conference. The subject was the four core values of Toastmasters International. The speech architecture was as follows: Opening-Four Modules (one for each value, with one or two stories per module, and transitions from story to story and module to module)-Transition-Breakout Session (four groups, one for each value)-Transition-Q&A-Conclusion. I was allotted 45 minutes, and finished in about 42½. This architecture made it much easier to formulate and master the content, and helped greatly with the choreography of the all-important non-verbals such as gestures, vocal variety,and staging.

    The presentation went well and was very well received.