Speech Topic

How to get the speech topic for the best speech of your life.

Take a deep breath.

You're about to come up with the six minute speech of your life - and, most importantly, you'll do it with absoutely no fear. (If you're a Toastmaster you can use this to help you compete in the International Speech Contest.)

You need space to allow the speech topic to show itself

Your speech won't be any good ... it'll be brilliant. People will wonder what on earth has happened to you. 'Where did that come from?' ... is what they'll be saying after they hear you speak.

For many years I've been inspired by the talks I've watched at TED.com. If you haven't been there I urge you to spend a few hours watching some of the talks that sound interesting to you. Just watching these talks may allow your speech topic to come to mind straight away. Speech preparation needs a bit of inspiration.

When you speak at TED they don't lay down the public speaking topics. Instead they give the following instructions, which you are going to follow in a moment to nail the speech topic for 'the' speech.

  1. Distill your life’s work or experience into a 3, 6, 9 or 18 minute talk.
  2. Be authentic/vulnerable.
  3. Convey one strong idea.
  4. Tell a story that hasn’t been told before.
  5. Tell and not sell.
  6. Absolutely and positively stick to the time limit.

Now work through this process with me. You can jump around between the steps, just as long as you cover all of them. I'd suggest at least reading through all of them once before going back over them in detail. Don't rush the speech topic, it'll come when it's ready.

Distill your life’s work or experience into a 3, 6, 9 or 18 minute talk.

We'll use 6 minutes. Toastmasters contest rules are good - you're disqualified if you're less than 4mins30secs or more than 7mins30secs.

This probably seems like an insanely short time, but it's brilliant training for you and it'll make your talk so much more powerful. Remember Lord Reading's sage advice "Always be shorter than anybody dared to hope." (Just remember the 4mins 30sec limit :)

Be authentic/vulnerable.

Talk about yourself. If this is the first time you've ever considered doing that, please humor me. It's easy to take the rinse out of other people's life situations, and you can get plenty of laughs that way.

I want you to move your audience and leave them different to how they were before you got up to talk. To move them, first move yourself. Let them see how your story affected you - don't just give them the facts.

Convey one strong idea.

As you're developing your speech, keep asking yourself "If I could only get one message across what would it be?". If you had 6 seconds, instead of 6 minutes, what would you say? These questions alone will probably cause the speech topic to be made clear.

Tell a story that hasn’t been told before.

This is going to be easy for you isn't it? That's because no-one's ever heard your story before.

Sure they may have heard similar stories, maybe even virtually identical circumstances. But they've never heard it told with your voice, seen through your eyes, considered with your mind , felt with your heart.

Tell and not sell.

Don't be a 'flogging nerd' ... or any other type of salesperson for that matter.

This speech is designed to inspire, not to motivate. You don't necessarily want them to run out all pumped-up, screaming a battle cry when you finish (although that may happen for some in the audience). You want them to pause for a moment. To be still. What a gift that is to give someone these days!

Absolutely and positively stick to the time limit.

If you're competing and you go over, you're toast (get it:). The interesting thing about time limits for speakers, is that the audience always has one for you. Even if you have a host who 'graciously' lets you talk over time (very unwise), the audience started a mental tally the moment you hit the original stop time. As every minute passes they hate you more! Even if it's still good stuff coming out of your mouth.

Remember Ethos? Your audience must identify with you, like you, feel as though you're a bit like them. And there's no way they'd ever be so rude and thoughtless as to go over time if they were speaking.

As an aside. On my professional speakers course we were taught how to deal with an over time speaker as a host.

Basically you gently escalate the signals.

For example if the speaker has ignored the bell, or the TIME sign flashing on the screen in front of them or held up by someone at the back of the room ... what do you do?

You stand up where they and the audience can see you. If that doesn't work you walk up on the stage. If that doesn't work you walk over and stand next to them. If they still don't get the message, then interrupt them and ask the audience to give them a round of applause. I don't advocate delivering a physical beating in a backstage room, but a gentle chat about how much more powerful their message would be if they stuck to the time limit, may be of use.

The point here is this ... they are the ones being rude and discourteous, not you. Be gentle but absolutely firm and get them off the stage.

Now back to your speech topic.

Is it starting to gel? If not re-read this page and then give yourself some time and space to let it come. It will if you let it.

Also don't be afraid that you've only got one shot at writing the best speech of your life. Your life so far has given you enough material for more shots at writing speeches than you could ever possibly deliver. You just might not have taken a good look yet!

I want to leave you with one final idea, which I'm absolutely convinced is true. Even though we've never met I know this is right.

Your stories are of value.

It's Time The World Heard Your Story Isn't It?

Here's your chance to build your own web page based around the speech of your life. Just write your story and make sure you tell us how you arrived at the topic.

We'll do the rest, and build you a page on this site.

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