The 4 Squares Method

Brainstorming is an excellent way to begin your preparation!

Gathering data and ideas for a presentation can be challenging and time-consuming. Yet, we all have had speeches in our heads that we say we will deliver someday. Well, why not make today that someday. Brainstorming is an excellent way to begin your preparation for that presentation.

Brainstorming is the process of writing your unedited opinions, facts, thoughts, and ideas about your chosen topic. Let all your ideas flow once you have decided to bring that topic to the platform. Then, like an open faucet, begin writing your thoughts.  Write down every – who, what, where, why, and when. However, at times is challenging to stay focused on the overall goal and your intended audience as you write. How you gather your information matters – I call the method I use – The 4 Squares.

A phycologist who helped Nelson Mandela transition from his 20 years of darkness to the light and presidency of South Africa introduced me to this method. Many years ago, I adapted it to my speech writing and coaching. Answer these four questions honestly, and you may resolve your problem: 1. What you know 2. What you don’t know. 3. What you know that you know. 4. What you don’t care to know.

Regardless of the type of speech, you plan to deliver, the 4 squares method will help you stay focused as you prepare. Audiences quickly become aware of whether you are ready or not when you are on the platform. A prepared speaker should never be nervous once they develop a preparation method for their presentations. With this method, you can create word pictures in the mind of your speech.

Selecting an appropriate topic for the audience, you will be facing is an essential part of the preparation process. Let us assume you already had this topic before you began your brainstorming. Once you have all the information you wish to present, an excellent question to ask yourself is, what is my PURPOSE?  Which of the following will it be?

INFORM: Am I going to inform my audience about a subject that should be of interest to us all?

PERSUADE or MOTIVATE:  Do I want my audience to take some action or make a change in their life?

ENTERTAIN:  Am I just going to keep my audience happy. Humor is universal. It is also an excellent additive to your other purposes. Comedy is best when it is natural or carefully constructed and not forced.

Your purpose can be a combination of any of the three. But, while you can always add entertainment to your mixture, your purpose should always be crystal clear.

What you do with the information you collected will determine the outcome of your presentation. The next step is to begin testing and editing to see what you should keep or throw away. Your general rule of thumb should be, keep what adds to your overall goal.     

Now let’s look at the 4 squares method of evaluating the information collected. With this method, you can develop and arrange your facts, thoughts, and ideas in the 4 Squares on a sheet of paper.  You can also focus on your speech title and the foundational statement while gathering information on the topic. Your foundational statement is your power purpose statement that summarizes the message of your presentation.

The following is The 4 Squares method:

Fold a Blank Sheet of Paper into 4 Squares – Add the Letters SMP to Square 1 & 3. SMP stands for – Story Makes the Point. It is always a good idea to add stories to your presentation. You can tell a story to make your point or make a point to tell your story.  

Down The Middle – The long side – Add Your Foundational Statement – Your Purpose Statement will keep you grounded. Then, on the 4 Squares across the top – Add Your Speech Title.  Next, fill in your Squares with the information you collected using bullet points or short sentences.

Square 1:  What You Know about the topic.  Facts, Figures, Dates, verified details you researched.

Square 2:  What You Don’t Know.  The future, the what if’s – What’s accepted universally as the unknowns.

Square 3. What You Know That You Know. What you can deliver like a palindrome – backward & forwards.  

Square 4. What your audience Doesn’t Care to Know. The minutia – what you don’t need to mention.

The 4 Squares method will help you immerse yourself in the subject matter. It will help you gain extensive knowledge and heighten your excitement about your topic. When your audience can relate to your excitement and enthusiasm about a topic,  that compels them to be better listeners and makes them more interested in your presentation.

You now have a roadmap for your speechwriting with that single sheet of paper.  Now you are ready to begin creating your outline. Again, write for the ear and not the eyes as you develop your introduction, body, and conclusion. Finally, you are all squared away. You are ready with the 4 squares method to write and deliver your presentation.

Author: HenryOMiller

Henry joined Toastmasters in 1997. He is presently a member of 4 Toastmasters clubs; two in Santa Cruz and two in San Jose. He is a DTM-4. Henry is an executive speech coach, humorist, and speechwriter. He is also a musician and a lyricist​ whose speechwriting approach is similar to his approach to songwriting.

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