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It is possible that your topic has been selected for you,

perhaps by your professor or by the person who invited

you to speak. But it is far more likely that you have

been given a good deal of latitude in choosing what

you’ll speak about, and even if the topic was assigned

to you, you still have a good deal of freedom in choos-

ing how you will address it.

Choosing and narrowing a topic can seem like a

daunting task at frst, but it is actually fairly simple.

The frst rule is to choose a topic with which you are

very familiar. For example, if you are an avid photog-

rapher, then photography would be a natural topic for

you to choose. If you have been assigned a topic with

which you are not at all familiar, then the natural

approach is to speak on what it’s like to be a beginner

in that field. A person who knows little about

photo graphy would naturally want to speak on what

it’s like to be a beginner in the modern feld of digital

photography—what you’ve learned about selecting a

camera or what useful resources you’ve discovered on

the Internet. Even if you were a beginner in photo-

graphy speaking to an audience of professionals, your

approach to the topic would be fresh and unique, and

the audience would undoubtedly enjoy hearing a

familiar topic addressed from an “outsider’s” perspective.

Here is an age-old maxim in the feld of public

speaking: “Speak to your strengths.” In other words,

choose a topic that you know a lot about (assuming

that you have that option), because you will naturally

have something interesting to say about those things

that are of interest to you personally.

This rule applies to every type of speech, whether

you are giving a persuasive speech designed to change

the audience’s opinion on a topic, or making a toast at a

friend’s wedding. You cannot hope to persuade an audi-

ence to your opinion if you don’t frst have an opinion,

just as the most memorable toasts are those that display

an intimate knowledge of the bride or groom.

Choosing a topic that you know about is not

hard, but here are a few ideas to get your creative juices


n How I chose my major in college

n Why I vote the way I do

n The fun and merits of my favorite hobby

n A person who infuenced me greatly in my


n How to . . . (change your oil; get married; raise

a puppy; etc.)

n How not to . . . (similar to “how to,” but with a

humorous approach that emphasizes your own

personal failures and lessons)

n The history of . . . (your town; your political

party; the group that you’re addressing; etc.)

n The future of . . . (related to “the history of,”

but with a greater focus on your thoughts for

the future)

n My favorite . . . (book; movie; teacher; ethnic

food; or something else that gets you excited)

Once you have chosen your topic, you will fnd

yourself back at our initial premise in this chapter:

Ultimately, the audience will determine what you say.

You will need to narrow your topic to suit the audi-

ence’s needs, creating a speech that can be given within

time constraints and which addresses something about

your topic that will be of interest to the audience.

Let’s say that you choose the topic “my experi-

ences in middle school.” If your audience is composed

of middle-school students, you might speak on “how

to make the most of your middle-school years.” If your

audience is composed of senior citizens, on the other

hand, you might speak on “the golden years of middle

school.” If you are speaking to the local Lions Club,

you might speak on “meeting the diverse needs of

middle-school students.”

The setting and time constraints will also infu-

ence your choice of topic. If you have 60 minutes to

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speak, you could wax eloquent on your reminiscences of those turbulent years in seventh and eighth grade. If you

have only 30 minutes, you might narrow the topic to “my favorite teacher in middle school, and how he changed

my life.” If you have only fve minutes, you might narrow it still further and speak on “the one lesson that I learned

in middle school.”

In each of these examples, you would still be speaking on a topic that you know and love, but you would be

narrowing that topic to meet the specifc needs of your audience. The main rule to remember is this: Speak about

what you know! Keep in mind, however, that even speaking about what you know means you have to do research or

talk to experts who might know more than you in order to make a full and robust speech.


Fill out this questionnaire before choosing a topic:

n Why was I chosen to speak at this gathering?



n What knowledge do I have that will be of interest to the audience?



n How much will the audience know about this topic?



n How will the audience respond to my views on this topic?



n What type of speech will I deliver? (persuasive, informative, humorous, etc.)



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