What should I speak about?
How many times have you asked yourself that question? You sign up to give a speech in your club and then wrack your brain trying to think of a topic. You ponder, reflect, grasp for ideas.
The process doesn’t have to be that daunting, say veteran Toastmasters. Speech topics are everywhere—you just have to look. Part of that search comes simply from experiencing and observing. “Live life, pay attention,” says member Ray Engan.
The late American author Nora Ephron lived by a tried-and-true motto: “Everything is copy.” In other words, everything that happens to you, no matter how painful, silly, or absurd, can be turned into content.
The same is true for crafting speeches. Need ideas for a presentation? Pull from your own life. “Personal experiences are often the backbone of a successful speech, so expand on one of your own experiences and use it to inform or inspire,” says Toastmaster Rosie Wolf Williams.
In her Ice Breaker—the first speech every Toastmaster gives—Williams talked about how her parents named her after the film they saw on their first date: Rose Marie, a 1954 remake of a musical her mother had loved.
Are there funny family stories you can share? Or professional triumphs and travails? Maybe adventures with pets—or children.
Need ideas for a presentation? Pull from your own life.
Adversity can also be a powerful source for material. Tammy Miller, DTM, a longtime Toastmasters leader and the author of My Life is Just Speech Material … And So is Yours, has given speeches about her battle with breast cancer. Inspirational topics can include how you overcame obstacles, achieved certain goals, or learned from mistakes.
Go back even further when looking for ideas. “Your childhood is a wonderful place to start,” says Engan. “Use your older, wiser eyes to look back at your youth, and reflect on the memories and how they’ve changed you.”
Draw From Everyday Life
Common, relatable experiences can engage an audience. Give a speech about your old car. Or what you see at your neighborhood grocery store. Or a recent adventure: Miller went skydiving once and turned it into a talk about leadership lessons.
If you’re out and about, write down ideas and observations in a notebook. Keep a file of story ideas and organize them by topic.
Just taking a walk is helpful. “Walking, or even pacing, can clear your mind,” says Williams. “You’re more receptive to ideas. It helps you look at your surroundings in a different way.”
Another idea she suggests: Share a favorite quote and tell a story that reflects the message.
Dig Deeper Into Your Interests
If you’re still having trouble generating speech ideas, it might be time to consult some reliable resources: websites, newspapers, books, and magazines. Plug in an interest of yours or something you’ve wondered about, and you’ll find a wealth of topics. Research rising travel costs, or the latest technology in classrooms. Such resources are a natural route if you’re doing your “Research and Presentation” project in the Pathways learning experience.
The next time you need to think of a speech topic, let your mind wander and your thoughts flow. And have fun in the process!
- Speech Topics Are Everywhere by Ray Engan
- What Should I Talk About? by Rosie Wolf Williams
- Leadership at 12,000 Feet by Tammy A. Miller, DTM
Staff The Toastmaster magazine staff is comprised of five editorial team members. Learn more about them on the Staff page.
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