How I Select a Speech Topic

Gary Lee Webb

As of the Fall 2011 Conference, I have now done 96 original speeches, 24 since 1 July 2011. The question was recently asked: How do I come up with so many topics?

The answer is simple – Everything is a potential topic. Even boring things can be turned into a great speech with a little creativity. I once did a speech on the difference between “who” and “whom” and when to use them. A friend just did a speech on making soup: you would think that to be incredibly boring, but he did it from the perspective of one of the vegetables. Being peeled, chopped, boiled – it was not boring!

A better question is “How do I always have a topic at hand?” Once again, the answer is simple: I make lists. I keep three lists: 1) ideas for speeches; 2) great titles, for which I need a speech; 3) the projects I need to do. Every time I say to myself “That’s a great topic; I could do a speech on …” I write it down. If something strikes me as a neat title, I write it down. When I decide my next advanced manual will be …, I list out the projects. Three lists, in the same file.

Then over time, I flesh them out. At some point the topic will acquire a title and project, or I shall find an idea to match the great title. Once I decide on a project, I write the title in purple into the third list. I take note of new ideas as I come up with them on each project. That way I am augmenting many speech ideas at once, as I get bright ideas. Eventually I have enough material to write the speech. Once I have done a first draft, the title goes bright red, and I start practicing it. As I practice, I polish. When there are no more drafts, the title becomes brick red. When I deliver the speech, the title goes black. Thus eventually my list of speeches to do mutates into my list of speeches I have done.

A costume can really enhance your speech!

Great topics can come from many places. For a beginning speaker, I recommend you draw from yourself, and from things you are passionate about. I have talked about myself, my family, my hobbies, and my beliefs. I have presented my experiences: great vacations, trips that went right, trips that went wrong, pets, and illnesses.

For the more advanced speaker, you can talk about things you have learned and want to share. You can talk about things that happened at work, or to other people, or in history. I like history, and I have found things I wanted to bring to life. Of course, you can talk about Toastmasters or teach elements of the education program. Just because there is a canned speech on a subject does not mean you cannot write your own original speech on the same subject.

Note that an event itself can be a source of ideas.  If the meeting has a theme, the theme can provide ideas. My club had a meeting on Robots in Disguise; I did a speech on coming out of the closet and admitting I was an android. Or, if the meeting is tied to a holiday, then use things related to the holiday for ideas.

Finally, you can craft your own tales. All of us read fiction: write your own speech from some idea you got in a book, movie, or TV. We all think we could do better; probably not, but that does not keep you from trying. If you ever thought you might want to write your own novel, this is your chance: a series of dramatic speeches could be the core of a great story.

Life is a source of speech topics. Open your eyes and take note of them. When you do, jot them down.

Gary Lee Webb

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by Jodie Sanders