A lesson from the skyline of Chicago

Chicago
Old and new meet in Chicago

According to the Chicago Architecture Center, “Chicago has long been a laboratory for architectural innovation and experimentation.” I was recently in Chicago for a conference and got to experience that great city firsthand.

While in Chicago, my daughter Alexandra joined me and together we explored some of what the city has to offer. And yes, the architecture is magnificent.

A highlight was the Architecture River Tour. For 75 minutes, we cruised up and down the three arms of the Chicago River while our tour guide shared the history of, and stories behind, approximately 40 or so buildings.

Chicago Skyline
Dad and Daughter Day in Chicago

If you ever visit Chicago, I cannot recommend this tour enough. It’s a great way to see this fantastic city and its architecture. From Art Deco to Beaux Arts to Postmodernism to Spanish Colonial Revivalism and more, Chicago has it all.

What can we learn from these very different buildings? Well, it has to do with the one thing that they all have in common (apart from being in Chicago).

They all have structure.

Without structure, none of these buildings would be stable and most, if not all, would fall. It’s the same with speeches and presentations. They need structure.

The essential elements of any speech are an opening, development of the theme or message, and a conclusion. The opening should grab your audience’s attention and let them know where you are going to take them. The conclusion should summarize the key points, include a call to action if any and, ideally, link back to the opening.

The structure of the main part, during which the speaker develops the theme or message, can differ from talk to talk just as the structure differs from building to building in Chicago.

The following are examples of different speech structures:

  • Chronological: Present the key points in chronological order, beginning with the oldest event and proceeding to the present or, where applicable, the future. This structure is useful when discussing, for example, the history of a company or the evolution of a product.
  • Sequential: Present the key points in the order in which they must be accomplished. This structure is useful when discussing the different steps in a project or undertaking.
  • Pros and Cons: Present the arguments in favour of, or against, a proposition. This structure is useful when a decision has to be made and there are different options.
  • Climax: Present the key points in order from least important to most important. This structure is useful when trying to persuade the audience to do something. The speaker’s argument builds in intensity to the final point.
  • Headline: Present the key points in order from most important to least important. Like the Climax structure, the Headline structure is useful when trying to persuade the audience to do something. The difference is that the Headline structure is better when you have little time to present or are presenting to busy people with a short attention span. In such cases, you don’t want to bury the lede.

Whatever your speech or presentation, make sure that you structure your ideas in the most effective way possible given your subject, your audience and your objective. Throwing random ideas together in a haphazard manner is not an option.

Until next time, Chicago!

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7 Replies to “A lesson from the skyline of Chicago”

  1. Great stuff, John. A talk’s structure’s a huge deal to make the content easy to digest, to recall, and to apply.
    One of my favourite structures is one I first heard of from Olivia Mitchell. That is, use 3 issues or questions (which are top-of-mind for the audience) as the 3 main points. (There’s a bit more about that here.)

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