Wednesday, August 11, 2010

How to Choose a Speech Topic

When I was at my second Toastmasters meeting, I heard a few people telling our club president and mentor to all, Gail, that they were not sure how to choose a topic to speak about. I reflected on this and thought I might be able to provide some insight on how to do this.

When I turned forty-nine in 2002, I decided to change my life. Part of that change was a notion to document my forty-ninth year in a journal. I had the idea that it would turn into a book that would get me my fifteen minutes of fame including talk show interviews and enough money to change my life. It was a great dream that did not entirely come to fruition. It did however pay great dividends.

I wrote every day. I handwrote one page a day, four hundred to one thousand words a day. When I began, I handwrote every word. I felt like I woke up. They say that “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” I realized there was a part of my brain I was not using. Not only were my writing skills rusty but so were my non-career thinking and dreaming abilities. This re-awakening was the dividend. I have been writing every day since then.

After a year or so, I realized my writing was not going to turn into that book that would liberate me financially. I was proud of what I was doing and wanted to do something more with it. Serendipity brought me an idea to send a monthly letter, via e-mail, to friends and family. I have been doing that monthly since February 2004. Each of these letters runs about two thousand words. In 2009, this all turned into a blog. I now post 2-3 pieces on my personal blog ( ) and 3-4 on my business blog ( ) per month. It has been more enriching than the money I had visions of making from that book I never wrote.

In short, I feel I have truly become a writer.

What do I write about each day? How do these turn into monthly e-letters and blog postings? I will relate my own method.  Please note that method is way too strong a term for how this happens. It relates directly to how to choose speech topics.

At first, I wrote about me and my desire to improve. I wanted to be fitter, thinner, smarter, and more successful. The reason the journal did not turn into a book was that, well, simply, it was self-absorbed whinny drivel. It was moderately helpful to me but in no way was it ready for prime time and the general public. I knew I had to write more seriously about more serious topics. So, I started writing about things that were happening in the world and happening around me. I evolved from the self-absorbed drivel to meaningful things. In the course of a month of writing, a topic would emerge that I would write about in greater detail. Toward the end of the month, I would edit and turn the topic into an essay, the e-letter, I would send out.

Sometimes the news would trigger a topic. I have written about the 60th Anniversary of the Atom Bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I have written about Al Qaeda and what it was like to work in New York City after 9/11. I have written about the economy, politics, the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, and the election of Barack Obama. Most readers really respond favorably when I write and reflect on my youth. I have written about a winter survival campout I went on with my friends when we were Boy Scouts. I wrote about Robert Burns Elementary School in the 1960s and the Armenian Picnics from the same era and the impact they both had on me. I have written about my Armenian Heritage and the Armenian and Turkish music I love. I have even write an annual health and fitness letter.

This month I am writing about the Chelsea Clinton wedding and the passé notion of the melting pot. I am writing a book review about a wonderful book called The Lost Cyclist, and I am writing about bookstores and what might happen to them as e-books are outselling hard covers. Professionally, I am writing about the stalling recovery and the implication it will have on demand and supply chain planning.

There is really no shortage of topics to either write about or speak about. How do you feel about same sex marriages, the war in Afghanistan, the popular reaction to this war versus the Vietnam war, the Democratic administration, the Tea Party movement? Where is our economy going? Will we come out of this looking more like the United States of 2005 or will we be more like the UK or Italy? Who was your favorite teacher and why? What was the single most influential event or events in your life? What is your favorite hobby? Pastime? Who are your heroes? If there were one thing you could learn, what would it be and why? The answers to these questions are topics to speak and write about.

There is no shortage of topics. Each day we react to things we see and hear. We have opinions. Each day we have memories that surface, some wonderful, some embarrassing, and some sad: we experience these memories washing over us. Each one of these is a potential topic. Always being on the lookout for topics has made me more aware of the world around me.

At first, I was at a loss for topics. More and more, I found them in abundance simply by being attuned to the world around me. Generating topics became easy. When I decide to reflect on my youth, the writing flows very easily. If I decide to write about economics, religion, or politics, it was a bit more difficult. These topics are more emotional and I, personally, am a centrist. I like to explore all aspects and draw a centrist, common sense, and, in my mind, balanced view point. That is me. I like to fly in under the radar and get my point across.

This is my little story. If you worry about choosing and developing topics, I hope it helps.

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