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July 2024
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The Elusive Speech Topic

Four tips for finding the subject of your next great speech.

By Bill Brown, DTM

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Click play to hear additional tips on how to find speech topics from author Bill Brown, DTM.

Sometimes the hardest step is the first one. I can write a speech just fine, but what do I speak on? Picking a topic can frequently be difficult. Where can we find the inspiration for a speech?

At times it’s simple. Some of our Pathways projects define it for us. For instance, the project entitled “Understanding Your Communication Style” tells us to deliver a speech “about your communication style and its impact on your professional and/or personal relationships.” That is pretty straightforward. But most projects aren’t that specific. Where do you get your ideas? Here are four suggestions.

First, review why you joined Toastmasters in the first place. For me it was to test out various subjects as potential professional topics. I made a list of all my ideas, lined them up with the upcoming projects, and worked on each one in order.

What about you? Is there something in your reason for joining that suggests a speech topic? If you joined to become a better speaker for your job, are there job-related topics you can talk about?

Light bulb with yellow paper

Second, sometimes daily life suggests topics. We have two cats. And each one has its own way of communicating what it wants. My wife wrote a speech once on how cats communicate. She had a fun time writing it, and I think it is still her favorite speech.

The longer you are in Toastmasters, the more you are going to recognize a potential topic when it happens. Unfortunately, it rarely happens when you are brainstorming on your next speech. It always seems to happen when you are out living life. When you have one of those “that would make a great speech” moments, make a quick note. If you don’t write it down, you likely won’t remember it.

Third, if you have ever been to an International Speech Contest, you have heard a number of inspirational personal stories that talk about lessons learned. Personal stories are a great source of ideas for speeches. I recommend that you start a list of personal stories and what they have taught you. Many of them won’t be a topic for an entire speech, but they are great examples that you can use in a longer presentation.

The longer you are in Toastmasters, the more you are going to recognize a potential topic when it happens.

Stories are an excellent way to illustrate your points. They do a better job of connecting with your listeners than just about any other method.

There is an art to constructing a great story. If you select several for your club speeches, you will gain experience working and reworking your stories for maximum effectiveness. In fact, in Level 1 of Pathways, there is a project where you give a speech, get feedback, then rework that speech, incorporating the feedback. This might be an ideal place to tell a personal story.

And who knows, that speech may turn into a contest speech. Go for it. That is how you learn.

My fourth suggestion is a bit of a challenge. There is a saying—the best way to learn something is to teach it. That is because it forces you to learn it in detail. Is there a topic that you want to learn?

My wife and I just moved to a new home. Our front yard has several flower beds. Our backyard has a raised bed for vegetables. There is one problem. I can’t grow anything. I like to joke that my last name is Brown for a reason. Yet I am in a situation where that needs to change. And we like the idea of growing some of our own veggies.

I found out that our local university offers a community-oriented class on gardening. I am now taking the class to, hopefully, learn how to keep plants alive for at least a week. There is a lot to learn, so perhaps I will speak on one of the topics. It would certainly force me to master
at least one small area of the material.

Speech topics are everywhere. Coming up with ideas isn’t the real problem in speech writing. It is recognizing them when they present themselves. And they rarely do that when you are thinking about them. Develop the skill of recognizing a great topic when you see it. Then your only problem will be which one to pick. That is a great problem to have.

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