Thursday, January 30, 2014

Trouble with Topics

As a fledgling public speaker (less than a year studying intensively, and only a casual learner before that), I can honestly say that there are certain things about public speaking that I love - and others that I don't particularly enjoy.  The following issue falls into the latter category.

I've discovered over my time studying that I really do enjoy public speaking.  That right there may put some of you off, but before you run away thinking I'm some freakish weirdo that won't understand why you hate it, listen to what I have to say.  I enjoy public speaking because I love to entertain other people.  I love being in front of a group of people and trying to make them laugh or draw them into a story or perhaps even make them cry.  But one thing I do not always enjoy about public speaking is coming up with a topic.

In the professional world this is usually not so much of an issue, as in situations where you might be asked to give a presentation to company executives about the sales report from this last quarter, or you might be asked to be the keynote speaker for an organization's fundraising event.  But in times when I am required to choose my own topic, as for all of my speeches now, I find myself jumping from topic to topic, desperately trying to find something, ANYTHING that will be worth speaking about for several minutes.

Sometimes, many times in fact, my search comes up empty - or so it appears.  But I've found in all my hours of tedious brainstorming and thinking so hard that my eyes hurt that there are certain things I'm passionate enough about that will make good speech topics.

But of course, the focus of this is not to talk about how awesome I am (really, I'm not that awesome).  I'm here to offer up some advice, or at least put some things out there that have helped me become better even in the short time I've been doing this.  Below are listed a few tips on choosing topics for speeches that I've found to be helpful in my long and arduous searches:
  • Be Passionate.  If your audience thinks you are only partially invested in what you're talking about, then they will most likely be only partially invested as well.  Choose topics that allow you to get excited about what you're telling people.  Believe me, when the speaker is truly interested in what they're talking about, the audience can tell.
  • Do Your Research.  Even if you already know a lot about a certain topic that you think you may want to speak about, do some research.  Look up some numbers or quotes.  Things like that can really help you nail down a good solid premise for a speech.
  • Be Confident.  Don't get halfway through planning a speech only to chicken out and think that your topic won't be interesting enough or relevant enough to hold the interest of your audience.  If you plan well and you know what you're talking about, you have the makings of a good speech with a good topic.
  • Know Your Audience.  This is something I'm sure I'll come back to, but it's important here as well.  Know the group of people you'll be speaking to.  I don't mean know them personally, of course, as that's usually not feasible; I mean know what kind of people they are - their interests, opinions, beliefs, hobbies - even knowing the age of the group you're speaking to will help a great deal in what topics you deem appropriate.
  • Know The Occasion.  Like it or not, you need to know what kind of a setting you'll be speaking in.  You need to know if it's just a casual speech (as most of mine are) or if it has an actual practical or real world purpose.  Knowing a speech's intended purpose can also guide you in choosing an appropriate topic.
Well, there you have it.  Some real world practical tips on choosing a topic for a speech.  I hope this helps some of you in your quest for a good speech topic.  May you forever be more successful in your endeavors than I have ever been.

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