Whether you’re a new speaker or an experienced speaker trying to expand your offerings, you’ve probably debated whether a speech topic will work for you. This is especially common for folks in Toastmasters where you need to choose a topic and create a speech around a certain speech project. I’ve even had it happen to me in recent years where groups have asked me to speak to them because they liked my speaking style but weren’t interested in the topics I typically speak on (communication skills). This can be an exciting opportunity, but if you’re not careful in selecting a topic, you might find yourself stressed out while preparing your talk — or even worse, end up delivering a subpar talk.
The good news is that like most things, some extra preparation upfront can yield significant results. So here are three questions that will help you determine if a topic is right for you.
Question 1: Do you have a significant amount of knowledge or experience in the topic?
This may seem like a given to most people, but sometimes, we like to challenge ourselves (or kill two birds with one stone by learning something new when preparing a speech). This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and will work with “safe audiences” such as Toastmasters clubs or other small groups. But if the speech is to a large crowd or if you’re getting paid for it, I highly recommend sticking to a topic you know well. This is especially important if you’re new to speaking and will answer questions either during your speech or after the event.
So how do you know if you have enough knowledge of the subject? Make a list of your skills, knowledge, and experience on the subject. If your list is long and contains things that people in your intended audience can learn from, then you can go with it. If your list is small, then you might be better off with a different topic.
Question 2: Is the topic something that your audience will be interested in?
When I first started out as a speaker, I sometimes gave talks on subjects that the audience had no interest in. It was frustrating as many times, the people that booked me for the event suggested the topic. The person selected a topic that either interested them or would interest the group. I’ve since learned from my mistakes and ask a series of questions to help determine whether the topic is appropriate for the group.
This can be tricky as the person organizing the event might not know the answer. So find out what subjects have worked in the past and what hasn’t. I was recently asked to speak to an organization at a large university in Boston that I had to turn down. They wanted a talk about making money in real estate and I lacked sufficient knowledge in that area.
This is especially important if you’re a professional speaker trying to branch out. Try rephrasing this question as “are there enough audiences interested in this topic” or “can I make money (or reach my goals) from this topic?” If the answer is “no,” then move on to another topic.
Question 3: Am I personally interested in this topic?
This is an important question to reflect on. You have a positive impact on the audience when you’re passionate about a topic. But it’s also obvious to an audience when a speaker isn’t interested in the topic. I see this all the time in my public speaking classes. The students that talk about things they’re interested in come across as having better speaking skills than those who speak on topics they’re not interested in. I’ve also seen this happen in work presentations, Toastmasters speech contests, and at breakout sessions during conferences and conventions.
So when you’re contemplating whether a particular speech topic will work for you, ask yourself these questions. You might be pleasantly surprised at the results.