Speechwriting Fundamentals and Best Practices - Picking your topic

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December 12, 2016

Picking your topic
You are given a topic most of the time. This is a good thing. Sometimes deciding what to talk about is the hardest part of giving a speech. What non-professional speakers don’t know is that, even when you have a topic, you still need to refine it and limit it in order to deliver an effective presentation. Too loose, and you will lose both your audience and yourself — not to mention going over time, which is never a good thing. Even if you have a topic in mind, do not skip this part. As you will soon learn, the more specific the topic, the more valuable your presentation.


Knowing your audience is where you start. If you try to write for everyone, you will end up speaking to no one. If you are not already familiar with the audience, contact the event coordinator and ask them the following questions:

  • What age group will I be speaking to?
  • What gender/background/business level will be most represented?
  • What do the attendees expect to take away from my presentation?
  • How many people will be there?
  • Who will be presenting before/after me?
  • What time of day will I be speaking?

Once you know about the interests your audience, consider what you know and what you like. Then, find that sweet spot between all three of these elements. That is where you will find your ideal topics.
Picking Your Speech Topic

Once you have your topic, how you write your speech will also depend on these factors. For instance, you do not want to have a lot of jokes about pizza and donuts if your time slot is 11:00 AM. Folks will already be thinking about lunch. The only thing worse than hearing loud snores from your audience is hearing their bellies grumble. It is a sure sign that they are not listening to you. Tailor your talk to the time, as well. 

Nailing down your main point

If you have been volun-told to do a topic, you may feel like you do not have much of a choice. The truth is, you have a plethora of choices! Even if your topic is wonderfully, beautifully narrow, there is a lot of wiggle room for you to play with. It all revolves around your unique take on the topic.

Worried that you will not have enough to say? Don’t worry, you will! It may seem counterintuitive, but the more narrow your topic, the easier it will be to research, write, and speak about.

Your main point — the whole reason for giving your talk — should be one sentence that could fit on the back of a business card. If you can’t make it that succinct, then your audience won’t remember it. This main point is your “home base.” The rest of your speech should revolve around it, refer to it, and come back to it often. If you don’t keep touching home, you will be out — and so will your audience.

A good place to start is to think of what is most important to your audience and fill in this blank:

“If you get nothing else out of today’s presentation, remember this: __________________________.”

Case study: Meow

Remember back to fourth grade when your teacher assigned a 500-word essay and allowed you to choose a topic? You can probably still hear the collective groans, “How am I ever going to come up with that many words?”

You were led to the library where you picked a really broad topic that interested you, let’s say cats. You hoped that by picking a general topic it would be easy to find lots of information and, thus, your report would be a snap to write. You read, you checked out books, you took copious notes.

When it came time to actually write your report, you did not know where to start. You had information about lions and sabretooth tigers and Siamese — oh, my! Your research was all over the place with lots and lots of facts. With all of that information, you still felt like you had nothing to say. The report seemed impossible.

Hopefully, you got the help of a savvy teacher or parent who told you to narrow your topic. While you may at first have been afraid to get your topic too specific, you learned that getting it down to a specific breed or a specific aspect about cats actually made it a lot easier. You were then able to outline and write your essay in record time.

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