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.
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.