Choosing a Topic

Learning Objectives

Discuss methods for choosing a topic.

Andrew Dlugan, an award-winning speaker and public speaking coach, created the following Venn diagram to help speakers select a great topic. The diagram shows that the intersection of your knowledge, your passion, and what your audience cares about is a strong starting place for a great topic.

Venn diagram showing interlinking circles. The circles are labeled "Topics you Know, Topics You Care about, and Topics your Audience Cares About." At the intersection the diagram says "Choose topic here."

Thus, every time you start the process of choosing a topic, focus on the following three questions:

  1. What do you know about? You don’t need to be an expert, but what topics do you have experience or knowledge about? Examples might include what it’s like to have ADHD, gaming, Korean food, foster care, or national parks.
  2. What matters to you? What makes you excited? What are you passionate about? Examples might include meditation, proper weightlifting techniques, criminal justice reform, zero waste, or Kanye West.
  3. What interests your audience? What matters to your audience right now? What might you share that would enrich or benefit their lives or understanding? This doesn’t mean your audience has to be knowledgeable about your topic, but selecting a topic and tailoring it to their needs and interests will ensure an engaged audience.

Keeping these three questions in mind, below are a few methods for choosing an appropriate and relevant speech topic both for a public speaking class as well as public speaking opportunities in your workplace, civic life, personal life and beyond. These methods are:

  • Personal Inventory
  • Guided Brainstorming
  • Internet Research
  • Current Event Research

Personal Inventory uses prompts to quickly generate lists of possible topics. Set a timer for three minutes and make a list of as many “Things I Know About” followed by a list of “Things I Care About.”

Person writing in notebook making columns with ruler

The Personal Inventory method brainstorms topics in five columns: People, Places, Things, Events, and Processes.

Next, make five columns labeled “People,” “Places,” “Things,” “Events,” and “Processes.” Your goal is to quickly write 20 topics under each label. Don’t overthink the process; just write what comes to mind. At this point, focus simply on what you know about rather than thinking in terms of a speech topic. There are no bad ideas here so let your imagination go! You are starting to broaden your range of topics, and you might start to notice some patterns or commonalities.

A second method for selecting a topic is Guided Brainstorming. Once again, quickly respond with as many ideas as possible to the following prompts:

  • “It makes me angry that/when . . . .”
  • “It’s not fair that . . . .”
  • “The world would be a better place if . . . .”
  • “If I were in charge, I would . . . .”
  • “I feel most happy when . . . .”

Responding to these prompts and making lists will help you generate ideas that you care and know about. Not every idea will stick, but you’ll start seeing a few ideas that might be promising.

Internet Research can take a few forms. You might simply search in your Internet browser for “informative speech topic ideas” or “public speaking topics” to see lists of topics to help you generate ideas. You might also do research by looking at headlines of major news organizations or other media outlets to identify timely and relevant topics that interest you and your audience.

Stack of newspapers

Current Event Research often starts with the newspaper.

Current Event Research means looking into what’s happening right now—what’s being reported in the news? What are people talking about on social media? Which topics are trending on Twitter? If lots of people are discussing a particular event, development, or tend, it might satisfy the “things your audience cares about” circle. If one of these current event topics is also something you know about and care about, it might be a good subject for your speech.

While these four methods are useful, keep an open mind as you go about your everyday life for possible speech topics. As you read or watch the news, talk to friends and family, do hobbies and participate in other classes, pay attention to topics that spark your interest or remind you of what matters to you.

Review your lists of ideas and circle any ideas that you know about, excite you, and would interest your audience. Your instructor will also be a great resource for feedback about topics that fit the assignment and will engage your audience.


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