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Looking for a Speech Topic? How to Get From 'Oh-No!' to 'Oh-Yes!'

by Jean V. Dickson

Take a moment and remember back to the last few times you had to give a speech at Toastmasters. I want you to think about how you felt as you looked at the speech objectives and thought about what topic would best help you meet those goals.

I would guess that for many of you, your feeling was one of frustration. Perhaps you felt like you were running up against a blank wall. Or you may have heard yourself exclaiming, “Oh, no, I have to do a speech. What on earth can I talk about?”

Don’t worry. Help is on the way. Finding a suitable speech topic is easier than what you think. All you need to do is remember Jean’s 3 Rules for Going from ‘Oh NO!’ to ‘Oh YES!’

Rule #3 - Go With What's Familiar!

Let’s start with Rule #3 - go with what's familiar!

Think about what’s happening in your life. Just like an author should write about what he or she knows, you should talk about what you are knowledgeable about.

For instance, if you are a grandparent, you have a whole slew of possible topics:

  • Three Reasons Why Being Grandma is Better Than Being Just Ma
  • What My Daughter Taught Me About Parenting
  • The Hidden Wisdom of Children's Stories
  • Why Dogs and Kids Belong Together
  • How to Teach Children to Enjoy Work
  • Five Ways to Wear Those Grandchildren Out So YOU Can Get a Nap!

Ten Ways to Change a Diaper and Not Get Soaked – now, wouldn’t that be a great humorous speech contest topic? Not a grandparent? Well, then if you had a vacation and went somewhere exciting, tell me about it.

If you have gone from houseful of kids to empty nest, tell me how I can survive the first year.

If you are into wine making, tell me why you decided to stop buying wine and start making it.

Rule #2 - Read Reader's Digest.

Subscribe to magazines that appeal to a wide variety of people because they write about a wide range of topics. And there is none better than Reader's Digest!

Reader’s Digest talks about issues that are important to people. Parenting, grandparenting, car insurance, accidents, getting along with people, gardening, pets, weight loss, nutrition, alcohol problems, heroes….

Read through the table of contents and when a title appeals to you, question yourself, “What do I think about that topic? Do I know someone who reminds me of the person in this story? What have I learned about this topic? What DON'T I know about this topic but would like to learn?

For instance, if an article was on weight loss, you could come up with the following speeches:

  • Nutritional Tips to Help You Lose Weight
  • A Funny Thing Happened to Me on the Way to Weight Watchers
  • How I Lost 20 Lbs and How You Can Too
  • Dressing For Success After a Weight Loss Program
  • Dr. Phil is Out to Lunch - Why His Weight Loss Book Won't Help You Lose Weight
  • How Dr. Phil's Weight Loss Program Changed My Life
  • The 5 Best Ways NOT to Lose Weight
  • The Acceptable Discrimination: What I Learned in My Journey From 250 Lbs to 120 Lbs.

Rule #1 - Write it Down!

Ask yourself, “What’s happened today that I can use in a speech?” And then WRITE IT DOWN!!!

I often said (and still sometimes say), “I don’t have anything interesting happen to me. All these professional speakers such as Craig Valentine and Patricia Fripp use stories to illustrate their points. But I’m so boring. And I can’t remember the stuff that happened when I was younger.”

Then someone said to me, “You will be surprised what you’ll find if only you look for it.”

It’s the self-fulfilling prophecy. You think you can’t come up with an idea – and you won’t. But if you say to yourself, “Every day something happens that I can make into a speech” then you’ll start looking for items and seeing speech topics where before you saw nothing.

For instance, on Sunday I had an opportunity to see a VERY good friend of mine that I hadn’t seen in quite some time. Now, I don’t know what it is, but whenever my friend and I get together, her son has to do something to get attention. Perhaps it is because we always had so much fun together. And being single parents with an only child, both of our sons got jealous because we weren’t paying attention to them. That was back when the boys were only 9. Now they are 19 and it appeared that things hadn’t changed.

My friend and I were having a great time laughing, when her son interrupted us.

“Jean, do you know what? The girls just think I’m wonderful. I’ve got quite a bit of stamina.”

“Jonathon!!!!” My girlfriend screeched, “I don’t want to hear this!”

But that only got her son even more excited. “Yeah, I do it when mom’s home and she doesn’t know that I have my girlfriends in my bedroom. Actually, I’m surprised she hasn’t heard anything. It gets quite loud.”

My friend immediate screamed louder, “I don’t want to hear this” and ran down the hall, hands over her ears.

I, however, took what he said with a grain of salt. After all, this was the boy who told me that as part of his swimming test he had to swim 14 kilometers out in the ocean, touch a buoy and then come back. A boy who told me he really had written a poem himself with the word, 'macabre' in it when he was only 9 years of age and didn't know what the word meant or how to pronounce it even though he knew how to spell it. A boy who….well, you get the idea.

That night I asked myself, “What happened today that would make a good speech?” And I thought of what happened in the airport. "Hmm," I thought. That story could lead into a topic on the things kids do to embarrass their parents. Then I thought, “It could also lead into a speech on talking about sex with your child. The psychology of why kids tell lies. Exaggeration and its part in storytelling."

What happened yesterday? A rather boring business meeting – but there was a story that could be used in a speech entitled, “101 Ways to Ensure That No One Will Follow You When You’re the Leader.”

But don’t just think about these ideas, write them down – each night - in your speech ideas journal. Otherwise, you’ll forget them. Writing them down each day will also reinforce looking for ideas during the day.

And then, when you are looking for speech ideas, get that journal and look through it. You'll be amazed with how many ideas you have.

So now that you know my three rules, instead of thinking backwards to when you were struggling with your speech topic, think forward to your next speech. Imagine yourself sitting at your living room sofa, with your speech idea journal and several copies of Reader’s Digest Magazine. See yourself looking through them. Can you see yourself finding one good speech topic after another, becoming excited about the speech? Well, I don't know about you - but I sure can see it so clearly that I can read those topics on the page.

So excuse me now - because I've got a speech to write!

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