Narrowing Your Topic

Learning Objectives

Describe strategies for narrowing a topic.

Once you’ve selected a speech topic, your next step is to narrow it. Many beginning public speakers start with a topic that is much too broad and become overwhelmed. The problem with a broad topic is that you will not be able to adequately address it in the allotted time, you will spend unnecessary time researching it, and you will tend to only be able to present superficial details on a general topic. It is almost always more effective and interesting to speak in depth about a focused topic than to try to superficially cover a broad topic. 

So, how do you narrow your topic? This section will outline three strategies for narrowing a topic:

  • Clustering
  • Inverted Pyramid
  • Initial Research

Let’s say you’ve chosen to speak about yoga. That’s a great start, but is still too broad. Using the topic of yoga as an example, we’ll apply the three strategies to creating a focused, doable topic.

Clustering allows you to explore and identify related subtopics to your general topic. Write your general topic (“yoga”) in the center bubble on a piece of paper, then draw lines and more bubbles and fill those with a variety of related sub-topics. Some of these sub-topics will generate sub-sub and sub-sub-sub topics and so. on It might look something like this:

A mind map with Yoga in the center, radiating to Lifestyle, History and Origins, How to Become an Instructor, Types of Yoga, and Benefits of Yoga. Benefits of Yoga has two branches to Emotional and Physical. Physical benefits are listed as Posture, Breathing, and Flexibility. Emotional benefits are Stress reduction, Mental health, and Academic benefits

This student began to make a mind map about Yoga. At this stage in the process, the student is exploring the benefits of yoga to see if that would be a good way to narrow down the topic. It could narrow even further to “academic benefits,” for instance. This chart was generated with a free online tool called miro, at

As you cluster, you will start to identify more focused topics that interest you and your audience. You will also be able to edit out topics that aren’t relevant to you and your audience.

The Inverted Pyramid is another visual technique where you start with your broad topic at the top, then make it more specific step-by-step. Each topic should be a sub-topic of the one above it, so your pyramid follows the same thread. As always, focus on areas of your topic that interest and relate to you and your audience. Your narrowed speech topic might be what you end up with at the bottom of your inverted pyramid, or part-way down. For instance, in the following illustration, you might ultimately decide on the speech topic of “How Yoga Practice Can Help College Students Manage Anxiety.”

Inverted pyramid chart with Yoga at the widest (top) part, followed by Benefits of Yoga, Benefits for College Students, Stress Reduction, Helps with anxiety, yoga meditation, and breathing.

A final strategy to narrow your speech topic is to explore your broad topic with initial research, which can take different forms. Using the topic of yoga, your research might include a conversation with your yoga instructor to find out what aspects of the practice might be most interesting and relevant for your audience. If you use social media, you might poll your friends and family about what aspects of your topic they are most curious about. A face-to face discussion with classmates, co-workers, friends, and family members about your topic is also a great option! Finally, use Internet search engines to read some articles and discover more about your topic. Since your audience for this class will be college students, adding the phrase “for college students” to your search query can be helpful for some topics. For instance, you might search “benefits of yoga for college students.” Initial research will help you identify more focused variations of your broad topic.

Clustering, Inverted Pyramid, and Initial Research are strategies that will help you take a broad topic and narrow it so it is manageable, is interesting, and allows you to go in-depth in your research and what you ultimately present to your audience.

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