For the Novice: Looking for Speech Ideas? Look at Your Life!
It's not just a speech –
it's your life story!
By Dee Dees, DTM
You look at the newly-distributed schedule for the upcoming month’s meetings and there it is...your name listed under “Speaker.” While you’re eager to complete the manual and achieve the coveted CC, you find yourself wondering, What am I going to talk about this time?
Look no further than your own life experiences. After all, that’s how we begin our Toastmasters journey – talking about yourself in our Ice Breaker speech. I suggest you continue down that path throughout the entire manual.
Too egotistical, you say? Too “all about me?” Afraid others will be bored? Not if it’s done with the audience in mind.
Let’s look at each project, and see how you can use your experiences, skills or interests to educate the audience, while also letting them get to know you better:
1. Ice Breaker (Objectives: Discover strengths and weaknesses of speaking.)
We already know that the Ice Breaker is an opportunity to give the audience a brief overview of your life, so they get to know you early on. While a mini-bio from childhood to the present is often the chosen format, you might also try some other options. How about describing the “inner you” – your philosophies, beliefs, values and goals. Or perhaps you’ll choose to focus on a life-changing event that guided your journey so far. There are lots of ways to let your audience get to know you. Be creative in how you present it.
2. Organize Your Speech (Objectives: Supporting material, transitions, strong opening and closing statements.)
This project is broad enough to give you lots of options for speech material. Using your life’s experience as a basis, consider some of the following topics: Your current or past jobs, military experience, organizations you’ve volunteered on or been part of, hobbies, or areas of expertise you might have. Use the speech to explain how you became interested in the subject, how you’ve gained your knowledge of it, and what you want to do in the future along these lines.
3. Get to the Point (Objectives: Inform, persuade, entertain, inspire, narrow down broad purpose into more specific one.)
This project, too, is broad enough to allow for lots of topics. Since you are talking about your life, discuss an issue that’s important to you and has influenced your life somehow. Perhaps it’s the importance of your college education, or the impact of having served in the military. Or maybe you’ve raised a child with special needs, or been the main caregiver for a parent with Alzheimer’s disease. Any of these would meet one or more of the objectives to inform, persuade, entertain or inspire.
4. How to Say It (Objectives: Select the right words, eliminate jargon, use rhetorical devices.)
This is the perfect project to tell about some of your favorite vacation spots; be sure to describe them vividly. Or describe your emotions during a major event in your life – marriage, the birth of your child, or retiring from your job. Describe a special person in your life, searching for just the right word to help everyone see and really know that person.
5. Your Body Speaks (Objectives: Stance, movement, gestures, facial expressions, eye contact.)
In this project, choose an incident in your life that will allow you to move around a bit more than you have in the past. Describe how you landed the 38-pound trout, your first time trying to hit a golf ball, or the agonies you go through in your aerobics class. Put your whole body into it! Or try a speech where your facial expressions do the talking – raised eyebrows, a smirk, or even the Bob Newhart blink, can all express a multitude of emotions or attitudes.
6. Vocal Variety (Objectives: Use volume, pitch, rate, add meaning and interest, pauses.)
Did you teach your teenager to drive? Have you had a heart-to-heart talk with an aging parent? Did you tell your boss what he could do with his job before you walked out? These are great opportunities to tell a little about events in your life where passion, emotion or drama were involved. You can change your voice for each part, or just use the varied inflections in your own voice as your emotions changed.
7. Research Your Topic (Objectives: use facts, examples and illustrations gathered from various sources through research.)
This would be a great time to speak about a favorite relative. Research how your ancestors ended up here. Bring photos of your grandparents and tell how they managed through the Depression. Tell about an uncle’s experience in WWII or Vietnam, and include information about the political attitudes of the era. Once you begin, the research will be fun, and you’ll be adding to your own life’s history by including the history of your ancestors.
8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids (Objectives: Select visual aids appropriate for message; use them correctly and with confidence.)
While we normally associate visual aids with business meetings and seminars, their use can also be an excellent way to demonstrate a hobby, skill or talent you enjoy. I’ve seen props used to demonstrate the steps involved in building model ships, needlework techniques, food preparation, and scrapbooking. Computer- based visuals can flash pictures of a favorite trip on the screen. A flip chart or whiteboard can be used to list specific instructions for a craft or hobby that you enjoy.
9. Persuade with Power (Objectives: Use logic and emotion to appeal to audience; persuade them in some way.)
What are you passionate about? What social causes do you believe in? With what organizations do you volunteer? Any of these issues can educate an audience while also allowing you to explain your viewpoints, beliefs, concerns and passions. If you can convince a member of your audience to get involved in a specific cause, everyone wins!
10. Inspire Your Audience (Objectives: Challenge audience to achieve higher level of beliefs or achievement; appeal to needs and emotions, use stories, anecdotes, quotes.)
Choose a special event in your life; maybe a challenge you’ve overcome, a successful venture, or perhaps a life-changing decision you’ve made, and explain the importance of the event or what you learned from it. Present it in a way that the audience can also learn those lessons or be inspired by your experience.
Once you’ve completed the basic manual, you can apply the same format of life story to many of the advanced manuals: The Entertaining Speaker, Speaking to Inform, Specialty Speeches, The Professional Speaker, Persuasive Speaking, Storytelling, and Humorously Speaking could all be used effectively to share your life experiences.
If you typically write out your speeches in full, do whatever editing is necessary to make them more readable. If you usually just jot down notes, go ahead and write out the speech in full. As you complete each speech, file it in a three-ring binder.
These speeches will serve as a basis for what may become a notebook full of stories of your life. A notebook that your descendants will one day treasure! So remember, the next time you’re on the schedule, it’s not just a speech – it’s your life story!
Dee Dees, DTM, served on Toastmasters’ Board of Directors in 1994-1996. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.