How to pick a speech topic your audience will actually love

How to pick a speech topic your audience will actually love

We’ve all been there.

You have a speech booked at Toastmasters (or something similar) and you have no idea what to talk about. It’s understandable that the task can seem so daunting.

Picking a topic for a prepared speech can be like choosing a plot for that novel you’ve been meaning to write; your mind is either totally empty or it’s full of so many ideas that you just don’t know which one to go with.

Choosing the “best” topic is one of the important aspects of successful public speaking, so what’s the best way to turn this confusion into a viable topic?

Here are some simple tips to help you find the best speech topic for you:

 

1. What do you want to achieve?

It sounds obvious, but lots of people don’t stop to ask themselves this question and go straight on to step 2.

Are you trying to write a persuasive speech? An inspirational speech? An informative speech? Are you trying to challenge yourself by giving a speech outside of your comfort zone?

If you are trying to win a competition, check what guidelines have been published and see what kind of speeches have won before. Certain topics might be discouraged or forbidden; alternatively, certain kinds of topics might be perennial winners. Watch videos of previous competition winners and go to the competition website to make sure you are familiar with what sort of things are allowed.

Making sure that you are clear about what your goal is and what external constraints there are will help you decide if your speech topic is going to help you achieve this aim.

 

 

 

 

2. Pick something you are interested in

So, now that you know your aim; whether it be to inspire, to inform, to persuade or something else entirely, you need a topic that will fulfill it.

Whilst contemplating the various topics available to you, you might come across something that you think would be worthy of more investigation. Before you go further, you need to ask yourself the next question: do I actually find this topic interesting? If it doesn’t fill you with much excitement, then you are unlikely to carry your audience with you on whatever journey you want to take them.

If you pick something that you think is interesting, then your enthusiasm is more likely to be infectious.

A good speech requires many hours of composition and practice. If you look forward to getting started with this hard work, then you have probably chosen a good topic for your speech. If, however, you quickly find that working on your speech is a chore then you should consider choosing something else.

With that said…

 

3. Think of your audience

…if you choose a topic that is a passion of yours, make sure that it’s something can you package in an accessible form for your audience. You have a goal and your topic should be a way of achieving that. Be wary of choosing something that is too esoteric, complicated or requires too much explanation.

An overview of almost any topic can be made interesting, but it’s important to consider how much detail you should give and crucially: what’s in it for the audience? Why should your audience listen to you? What does your speech give them?

 

4. Think about how much time you have to do research

No one can be an expert on everything and you might very well find yourself needing to do some research on the topic you have chosen. The next question you need to ask yourself is: how much time do I realistically have to spend researching this subject?

If you don’t know your topic very well – how much time do you have to read up on it? How much time do you have to find and prepare any necessary visual aids? A speech is more likely to successfully inform or inspire your audience if you feel confident with the topic. If you feel like you don’t have so much time, then choose something you’re more familiar with or something that requires less research.

 

5. Every speech should be a learning experience

A “good speech topic” is one which achieves your goal, but whether that happens or not, regardless of whether your speech is intended to be persuasive, inspirational or just plain informative, make sure that you get something out of it too. Challenge yourself to try something different; choose a topic that you’d like to make accessible for others or one that you’d like to understand better yourself (if you have the time). Push the boundaries of what you think you can achieve and make every topic a tool for self-improvement.

So, there you have it. A few tips on how to choose a public-speaking topic when you find yourself sitting wondering what to talk about. Be relevant, be realistic and most importantly, be a bit adventurous!

 

This post was originally published on 27 Feb 2019, and was updated on 28 Feb 2019. 

Peter Rodger

Presentation Coach & English Teacher

Peter has worked both as an extensive background in public speaking and coaching having competed internationally in speech evaluation. He is also a qualified teacher of English as a second language and specialises in helping non-native speakers with pronunciation. He currently coaches at TEDx Stockholm as well as being actively involved with Toastmasters. Talk to him here.

What You Need to Know About Eye Contact

What You Need to Know About Eye Contact

Remember a time when you wanted to communicate with a childhood friend secretly but without your teacher knowing? What did you do? Most probably, you looked at your friend straight in the eye, and quickly glanced at the door with the fullest force of your eyebrows. It was the purest form of communication: eye contact.

The psychology of eye contact goes deeper than just childhood habits. It satisfies a more profound need for all of us to be seen, to matter.

 

 

If you are in the audience, the presenter doesn’t need to look directly in the eye to engage you. The impact of eye contact can be felt as long as the speaker seems to look at your direction. So if it’s your turn to speak, it’s wise to share your eye contact love equally to as many numbers of people as possible.

Yet, there is such a thing as staring too much at someone, so where should you direct your eye contact and for how long?

Easy. Plant friendly faces on each corner of the room: two at the front and two at the back. These are your friends, whom you’re comfortable staring at for an extended period. Instead of sharing your attention to everybody, you only need to care about these four faces.

Start from the front faces, and perform a swipe with your laser-focused eyes, i.e. if you start from the front-right corner, go to the back-right corner, then to the back-left, then the front-left. Change the direction of your glance swiftly back to the back-left. It shouldn’t look like you’re jumping from one corner to the other. Imagine an electric fan swivelling side-to-side consistently.

They say “eye contact is more intimate than words will ever be”. Not using it to communicate your next presentation will be a misfortune.

 

This post was originally published on 21 Feb 2019, and was updated on 22 Feb 2019. 

 

Martha Winata

CEO & Co-founder of Get Sandwich

Martha coaches people presenting on startup pitches and science presentation grants. When she's not hard at work helping people present better, she can be found travelling around the globe and eating delicious delicacies.

3 Root Causes of Public Speaking Apprehension to Overcome

3 Root Causes of Public Speaking Apprehension to Overcome

To improve your skills in speaking publicly, you need to put in the reps to talk in front of large crowds more often.

It’s easier said than done though. We human beings are wired to be fearful of any risk of social isolation, commonly based on:
Situations–who are in the audience? What are the penalties if you fail?
Preparation–do you have enough info to make a good talk? Do you have enough time to rehearse?
Thoughts–are you the best person for this? What if the audience finds you boring?

The first two fears are real. They are grounded on externalities: it’s not a good idea to talk spontaneously about a hard subject if your boss’ boss is in the room. Doing that will create an attention debt that will retaliate later in the future.

But the third fear is only base on your thoughts and is not real, especially if others don’t share the same fear when you ask them. If you don’t usually talk in front of a large number of people, it’s tempting to follow those internal thoughts. It’s better to address only the first two instead.

 

This post was originally published on 18 Feb 2019, and was updated on 19 Feb 2019. 

Martha Winata

CEO & Co-founder of Get Sandwich

Martha coaches people presenting on startup pitches and science presentation grants. When she's not hard at work helping people present better, she can be found travelling around the globe and eating delicious delicacies.

How to Pick Table Topic Questions That Will Best Entertain Your Audience

How to Pick Table Topic Questions That Will Best Entertain Your Audience

Running an impromptu or a table topic session doesn’t have to be hard. If you pick good topics, people will most likely be willing to participate and learn a thing or two. If you don’t, the impromptu session will turn into a wasted opportunity for everybody. When I first run such session, I never thought much about what constitutes a good or a bad topic but over time, I realise I was wrong.

 

wrong Sadly for everything that has been written on this topic, most people pick their topics following one common rule: randomly. Picking a topic randomly does not provide the opportunity for people to learn and see the breadth of answers. For example, it’s hard to see how you should answer a question on “What’s your favourite coffee blend?” from another person who may get a question like, “How can we reduce child mortality?”. The content will be vastly different, and most likely the structure of the answer will be significantly different. 

 

 

 

A better alternative is to ask another person, “What’s the first tea you’ve ever tasted?”. The coffee and the tea questions set the speakers more evenly, and hopefully, everyone in the audience will be able to compare and contrast the two answers.

 

I think the best kind of impromptu topic is the one where the audience and the speaker, can learn from. The topic is relevant and interesting. It’s specifically designed to improve speaking skills, for example, in having a better structure or to practice handling the nerves.

 

The best impromptu session is, thus, the one that packages all of that in one practice session. Learning any skill happens through three steps: instruction, imitation and then practice. 

 

An impromptu session is a perfect fit for a mini-learning session. I have found that explaining a technique such as the bridging technique can fit nicely as a short instruction. For the imitation part, get a more experienced speaker who is familiar with the chosen technique to start first, then invite the rest to practice their impromptu speaking.

 

Image of learning To summarise, an impromptu session can be structured in the order below:

  1. Describe the session as an impromptu session and why it’s relevant to practice how to speak on your feet.
  2. Explain a technique that is recommended for answering the questions.
  3. Get a more experienced member of the audience to come up and give example.
  4. Open the floor for others to try.
  5. Point out and praise good usage of the technique.
  6. Encourage as many people as possible to come up on stage to speak.

If you’re wondering what other techniques there are, do read on because I’ve listed three techniques with sample questions to get you started.

 

 

PREP (Point, Reason, Example, Point)

First, try to practice following a structure such as PREP (Point, Reason, Example, Point). You can start with clearly stating a point of view that you support (or against) for the speech, then give a primary reason and examples to clarify the reason.

 

If you have more time, you can then move on to a supporting reason, followed by examples to elaborate on the second reason. When you want to summarise the speech, you can restate the first point again. Hearing the main point for the second time will make your speech coherent. I’ve listed below five questions to get you started brainstorming on this technique. Make people agree with the statements:

  • The fastest way to get rich is to be lazy.
  • Big is always beautiful.
  • Books are the best mentors.
  • Green is the new black.
  • Getting married are just for losers.

 

Ending with a summary

Another useful technique to practice on is to put emphasis in ending well. Most newbies started strong but don’t have time to think of the ending. To help change this, you can the speakers to practice ending with summaries and stop. stop   Ask the speakers to end their speeches with the sentences below.

  • And that’s why I always have coffee in my bag
  • And that’s why I like working on Sundays
  • And that’s why my friends envy me.
  • And that’s why I don’t like cake.
  • And that’s why my parents ask me to pay for the movies.

It’s surprisingly easier to work backward once you know where the goal is. Speakers would find it easier to fill the middle once they started on a tangent rather than figuring out the endings while speaking at the same time.

 

Bridging technique

Bridging technique can get a bad rap sometimes because many politicians abused it. The Art of Manliness states that the trick is to acknowledge the significance of the question, then look for “a logical pivot point towards what you think is the more important issue”. Five questions you can use in this exercise. These questions are designed to be difficult to answer truthfully, therefore the best way to answer these will be to bridge to another topic that is more familiar to the speaker. The words with potential pivot are bolded.

  • Tell me about how the healthcare system works in your country?
  • How can we stay immortal with freezing our body?
  • Please tell me how cancer can be cured?
  • What are the economics of producing food ecologically?
  • Can you please explain the science behind how a rocket works?

If it helps, show a video as an example. 

 

There you have it. Three simple techniques to enrich your impromptu sessions. If you think of other creative ways to run these impromptu table topic sessions, let us know!   Subscribe and share this post if you like it. Starting a new blog is hard and I need all the help that I can get!

 

This post was originally published on 6 Feb 2019, and was updated on 7 Feb 2019. 

 

 

Martha Winata

CEO & Co-founder of Get Sandwich

Martha coaches people presenting on startup pitches and science presentation grants. When she's not hard at work helping people present better, she can be found travelling around the globe and eating delicious delicacies.