How to choose a speech topic

What should I talk about? This article is a summary of an educational session I gave at a meeting of the Chinglish Bilingual Toastmasters Club in Chatswood. Toastmasters speak on subjects of their choice, but often it is hard to know what to talk about.

This article gives some tips on choosing a speech topic and would be relevant for anyone asked to speak on a subject of your choice.

At school and university we are given fairly specific assignments. But in Toastmasters  we are can speak about anything we like as long as follow the speech objectives. The challenge comes when you  have to pick the topic.

Do you find it easy to think of speech ideas?  In this article I share my ideas on helping you find a speech topic. I have three things for you to consider.

  1. Know your audience
  2. Know the purpose of your speech
  3. Make a title and a tagline to get the attention of your audience.

1. Know your audience

It is important to know your audience. The audience is everything to you as a speaker – you should choose suitable subject matter for the speech. Knowing the audience also guides you in how to present the material to suit the audience.

Here are some some of the many characteristics of audience – think about their needs and interests.

  •    Age
  •    Male/female ratio
  •    Common interests – eg public speaking, Chinese culture, Australian culture
  •    Professional or Occupation – if you gave a speech to a group of  accountants
  •    Native language – English as second language?  Mandarin?
  •    Educational background
  •    Political orientation – conservative / liberal?

What do you think the audience wants to know?  Why are they here?

Two key questions to ask yourself about the audience are:

1. What experience or knowledge do you have that would be of interest to the audience?

2. How will you adapt it to this audience based on their characterists.
Is the material suitable?

2. Know the purpose of your speech.

A speech usually has one of four main objectives:

To Inform

To Inspire

To Persuade

To Entertain

There are two general sources of information for your speech – personal experience and research.

Personal experience – your interesst and personal involvement will create a greater   response in the audience. You will deliver speech with greater conviction – because it is personal. What are your interests? Career – family –  personal observations?  Many of my speeches especially humorous are based on my observations of daily life especially on City Rail.

Research. Other sources include web sites, news, Wikipedia, research, books, magazines and newspapers.

Before you begin writing the speech ask yourself these two powerful questions:

  1.  What do I want the audience to think, say or do differently after hearing my speech?
  2.  What is the takeaway message of yoor speech – how would you  summarise your speech in one sentence?

3. Have a compelling title

Every speech needs a title. You may think this isn’t very important but a speech title is like a movie title or newspaper headline. It  should grab the audience’s attention and give a hint of the content.

Look at how movies are marketed. A film has a title and tagline. A film currently in release is  Hotel Transylvania. Its tagline is Even Monsters Need A vacation.  One of the top movie taglines is for Apollo 13 – Houston, we have a problem.

Some of the Toastmasters in our club are accountants. Would you be excited to hear a speech titled Recent Changes in Taxation Law.  Excited? Maybe not. But what if the speech was titled How to reduce your tax bill in 2012.  Maybe you are more interested now?  I remember a fun speech by another accountant member – Why Accountancy is not boring.

Members often have difficulty thinking of titles for their icebreaker (introduction) speech. Instead of a title like “About me” – give the audience a hint of your content, for example “From Shanghai to Sydney” or “Hong Kong or Sydney – my two homes”.

Now you are ready to write your speech. Look at the 2nd project in the Competent Communicator Manual “Organised your speech” for ideas on how to organise the content of your speech.

Have fun with your speech and inform, entertain, persuade or inspire your audience!

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2 thoughts on “How to choose a speech topic”

  1. I particularly like the tip #3. Very often I get caught in busily preparing the speech then forgot to think carefully about the title. Tagline tagline tagline!

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