Speech topic ideas

So You Want to Speak and Can’t Think of What to Say

This article is an excerpt from the new book, Speaker’s EDGE …enjoy!

Effective communication and award-winning presentations must contain great content. Public speaking classes are full of tips on how to hold your hand, stand, and make eye contact. Important as all these habits and techniques are, you have to start with good original content.

Let’s look at how you develop your original content. In my presentation skills training for professional speakers and business speaking training and coaching with executives, I am frequently asked, “What on earth do I speak about? Where do I find good examples?”

Explore Your Experiences

Here is my advice if your goal is to have effective business presentations. This advice applies whether you are in person in front of your audience or deliver your message as a webinar. The secret of developing good content is simply this: you have to live an interesting life and converse with interesting people.

Follow this process for analyzing and organizing your experiences. Make a list of all the people who have influenced you in your life. Lists are a great way to trigger your memory of what you could talk about.

Make a list of every manager and boss you’ve ever worked for. Write down what you learned from them. Even if they were a bad boss, they can serve at least as a pitiful example. Here’s an example: When I was a fifteen-year-old shampoo girl, my first boss was Mr. Paul. I saw him treat every woman who came into our salon, for the time she was there, like she was the only one in the world. He treated the woman who worked as a waitress at the Carlton Hotel as well as the rich little lady who lived in the penthouse at the Carlton Hotel.

When I was young, I thought that was good service. It was nice to treat people well. Now that I’m older, sophisticated, and in business, I reflect back and realize lessons learned that I wasn’t sophisticated enough to understand.

Now that I’m in business, promoting myself, and teaching other people, I realize that the waitress in the Carlton Hotel who talks to a somewhat affluent clientele of 150 to 200 people a day, has a sphere of influence a lot greater than the rich little lady who plays bridge every day with the same half dozen friends.

That’s a lesson. I guarantee your lists will provide lessons learned. As you look at who influenced you and who your bosses were, ask yourself what they taught you and then how that plays out in your life now.

You might also want to remember and record all the turning points: the different jobs, schools, colleges, and seminars; who you met; when you fell in love with an idea, a profession, or a cause, etc. Look at the best advice that you’ve been given.

Conduct Good Market Research

As a hairstylist, I spent twenty-four years behind a hairstyling chair. When I was fifteen, we had many rich, glamorous women as customers. As soon as I got to know them, I used to say, “What were you doing when you were my age? How did you make your money? Did you make it yourself or did you marry it? If you made it yourself, how did you do it? If you married it, where did you meet him?”

My brother, internationally acclaimed guitarist Robert Fripp, is always saying, “Sister, you ask people such personal questions!” During my overlapping careers with twenty-four years behind a hairstyling chair and twenty-five years of going to conferences and speaking and asking questions, nobody has ever said, “That’s none of your damn business.” People love talking about themselves and asking questions is a great way to develop material.

Craft Your Information into a Story

Think about the advice. Think about the lessons learned. The best way to pull out these milestones is to sit down with a friend or a group of your pals who are also interested in developing their public speaking skills and do what I call the “Once upon a time…” technique. Tell a fairy tale of your life as if it was about someone else, and don’t go into too much detail. Here is an example.

“Once upon a time there was a little girl born in England. She had a brother who was one year, one month, two days, twelve-and-a-half hours younger than she was. He was always a very smart kid — top of the class. She worked hard and was about fifteenth in a class of thirty. Her dad sold houses for a living and became a very successful businessperson.

When she was twelve, she decided she was probably more artistic than academic, so she decided to become a hairstylist. When she was fifteen, she left school and served a three-year apprenticeship and really learned about customer service — as well as hairstyling — from her boss.

When she used to go to work on the bus, all her little friends were talking about marrying millionaires, but at fifteen, she realized it’s much better to become a millionaire than to marry one.

When she was eighteen, she left home and went to live on an island off France called Jersey. She worked with sophisticated gentlemen from the west end of London who could do hairstyles she’d never seen before.

However, she thought lunch hours were for squeezing in three extra customers, whereas the other guys thought that lunch hours were for eating lunch. One day her boss told her she actually produced thirty percent more income for the salon, not by being better, but by working much harder. She realized that perhaps tenacity and the willingness to work hard were more valuable than great talent. But where to promote it — obviously the colonies.”

I’ve just gone through my life as if I was talking about someone else, almost as if it were a fairy tale. Go through your time line using the “Once upon a time …” technique. Then get your friends to ask you the questions that are stimulated from your time line. Note the high points, what your friends are interested in hearing about, what people ask you about at a cocktail party when they know what you do for a living, and what your interests are. These are the type of things that an audience would want to know.

Your lists and life timeline can help you develop content and material for your presentations. Every single day, carry around a notepad and reflect at the end of the day. Ask yourself, “What happened to me today that could one day be used in a speech?” If you had good customer service or bad customer service, it’s still a story and an example. Search your life for the stories that have a message. Now use what you’ve learned to develop good, original content.

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The article above was written by Hall of Fame Speaker Patricia Fripp, and is an excerpt from the new book, Speaker’s EDGE by Patricia Fripp, Darren LaCroix, Ed Tate, Mark Brown, and Craig Valentine.

You can learn more about this fantastic new public speaking resource by visiting their World Champion Resources website.

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