By Luke Pearce
I’ve never considered myself to be much of a creative person. In school, my dreary art teacher wrote off my early drawing attempts as no more than “acceptable”; meanwhile I could never hope to improvise as well as that dope-infused jazz piano kid in my music class. But now I’m on the verge of delivering my tenth speech at Toastmasters, I’m happy to say that coming up with potentially interesting topics for my first nine speeches has, for some reason, never been much of a problem for me.
There’s a theory that the reason that many people progress quite slowly through their speech manuals is not due to lack of time or commitment, or fear of standing in front of an audience. The reason we take our time is because we struggle to come up with something we think is worth talking about. We’re all in search of inspiration.
Finding Your Enthusiasm
Before I share some ideas for finding speech topics, I just want to mention the most important criteria that any potential subject matter needs to satisfy.
Your content absolutely has to be something you’re enthusiastic about. I’ve seen too many speeches where the speakers themselves are clearly not that enamoured of their subject. Their own sense of boredom quickly transfers to the audience.
I would far rather listen to someone talk with passion about an obscure hobby like trainspotting, than sit through another speech inspired by some read-once click-baity Facebook post on the latest way to optimise your life. In theory, the latter will appeal to a wider audience – but too often leaves people thinking they could have just read the Wikipedia page themselves.
Your current areas of genuine interest and expertise are a first port of call for speech material, of course. Just make sure they’re topics on which you really can be an authority relative to your audience. Your current or former career, along with hobbies such as dancing, martial arts and collecting are all possibilities. Or perhaps you’ve spent the last month digesting documentaries and articles on how fruit and vegetables are actually bad for us after all, and now have something important to contribute on this contrarian viewpoint.
This Is Your Life
A second source of good material is of course your own life experience. Every single one of us has interesting stories in our past, even if they’re not ones we’re used to telling.
Thinking back to my early speeches, they often made use of little anecdotes from my childhood: the time I launched a school newspaper, only to have it shut down by the teaching authorities. The time I stood up to the school bully – and lived to tell the tale.
This is where older Toastmasters have an advantage. Over a longer life you have the opportunity to collect a bagful of interesting stories, and will be exposed to a greater portion of the human experience. Lucky escapes, love stories, wonderful moments, strange coincidences, bereavement, travel adventures and the processes that led to the formation of your unique personality: all of these make for fascinating topics.
Maybe you think that’s great in theory, but what if you’ve lead a really boring life? You’re almost certainly not that boring – though maybe you could do with spending more time around people who are good listeners, and can encourage you to rediscover those hidden experiences of yours.
Your Amazing Friends
Even if you don’t feel you have much to share about yourself, the chances are that there are others around you whose experiences are very much worth delving into, and this makes for a third valuable well of potential speech topics.
Do you know how your parents first met? Assuming you’re lucky enough to have living parents, is this something you’ve ever asked them about? I guarantee that the love story which ultimately lead to your own existence is a wonderful speech-in-waiting. Perhaps tell that one from both sides of the partnership – the alternative perspectives could be a treasure trove of humour!
You may have an elderly friend or relative who’s lived through a particularly interesting period of history. Use their experience as a springboard to research that period further – and make it relatable by sharing that person’s human perspective. Or maybe it’s time to ask that friend of yours how, exactly, she developed that talent for painting with oils.
Toastmasters has helped open my eyes to the fact that we’re all surrounded by material for potential speeches. Next time you hear an interesting anecdote, experience an emotion more powerful than usual, or even just find yourself laughing out loud – ask yourself, could this become my next speech?
About the author: Luke Pearce is a member of Early Bird Speakers and is co-founder of Radical Tea Towel