Where do you find speech topics? A simple answer comes from 2003 World Champion of Public Speaking Jim Key: “I live life, and I pay attention.”
Here are three words to help you use that advice, which in turn can lead you to develop hundreds of speech topics.
Great stories lead us to reflect. Fairy tales begin “Once upon a time …” The movie classic Star Wars starts with the words “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away …” Reflect on your life, and feel the stories flow. Your childhood is a wonderful place to start. Use your older, wiser eyes to look back at your youth, and reflect on the memories and how they’ve changed you.
Live life, pay attention. When I was 4, my brother convinced me to steal a piece of candy. As I grabbed it, he screamed, “Mom! Ray’s stealing candy!” She instantly busted me. Reflecting on that moment, I now understand, no matter who says otherwise, wrong is wrong. Twenty-five years later, that moment led me to return 1,263 USD that I had found and could easily have kept. It’s a story I now use in my speeches. It’s relatable because all children have people who influence them. What we take from those people defines us.
Your story needs to connect with your audience. I had a client talk about taking his driving test in a Porsche. My first car was a 100 Ford automobile with huge windows. I couldn’t relate to my client’s “Porsche pain,” but I found that many loved to hear about my “terrarium on wheels.” People relate to challenges and adversity—like not being able to buy a better car.
We have all seen odd things. People connect to those as well. What stories of the strange do you have? Live life, pay attention. In a grocery store once, a well-dressed man picked up a mini-watermelon and held it to his ear.
Who taught you the greatest lessons of your life? Share those.
I asked my only possible question. “Are you a Watermelon Whisperer?”
He stared down at me with an uppity raised nose, declaring, “If they speak to me, I take them home.”
I turned this into a story about how leadership shouldn’t be difficult, because there are people waiting for watermelons to guide them. Strange is good when you can connect it to a life lesson.
The story or the message must resonate with your audience. Speeches work wonderfully when they include some combination of leadership, laughter, and influence.
What actions routinely make people laugh? When have you purposely, or not, led a group? When have you been talked into doing something? What unique things have you witnessed in your life? These are all stories! Who has taught you a lesson? That’s a story!
Mark Brown, the 1995 World Champion of Public Speaking, talked about creating characters out of inanimate objects. I presented that lesson to my club, and it turned into a District-winning humorous speech about my luggage (now named Jack) mistakenly being sent to Paris while my plane landed in Kentucky. Jack wound up explaining turbulence to me and having a fling with a French handbag named Chanel. He returned to America wearing a beret … and now wants to be called Jacques!
What business mistakes have you lived through and how did you overcome them? That’s another topic.
Your story can be lighthearted, and deliver a meaningful message. For example, what would it be like if people were as faithful as dogs? That might lead to an interesting speech on loyalty.
Or this: The spider web you walk through outside every morning means there’s a spider unwilling to give up on catching you. A speech on persistence?
Stories are everywhere. If you reflect, connect, and make your speech resonate, then the phrase “I live life, and I pay attention” won’t just be speaking champion Jim Key’s advice—it will be the key to let your stories flow.
Ray Engan is a member of Toast of Petaluma Club in Petaluma, California. A former stand-up comedian and inventor of The Humor Algorithm, he is currently Chief Charisma Officer at Leadership Through Laughter. Learn more at www.leadershipthroughlaughter.com