Choosing A Speech Topic

In some instances, speakers are given a specific topic. But, most of the time, you will be given a general type of speech with the choice of specific topic left up to you. Once you have identified what type of speech you will be making, follow these guidelines in choosing a specific topic:
  • Choose a topic you already know a lot about. You will feel much more relaxed and confident talking about something you know about instead of browsing the Reader’s Digest and selecting a topic that you know nothing about.
  • Choose a topic you are interested in discussing. You may know a good amount about many topics but you may not be very interested in them. Avoid these topics. It is hard to interest the audience in a subject matter that doesn’t interest you.
  • Choose a topic that you can make interesting and/or beneficial to your listeners. Your audience doesn’t have to be interested in your topic before you speak but they must be when you are finished speaking. If you analyze your potential listeners, you must have a somewhat good understanding of their interests.
  • Choose a topic that suits the requirements of the assignment. Be sure you know the type of speech, the time constraints, and any other requirements, and choose your topic accordingly.

You may also want to conduct a self-inventory to help you come up with possible topics. Ask yourself the following:
  • What are my intellectual and educational interests?
    • What do I like to read?
    • What interesting things have I learned from television?
    • What particular courses, or topics covered in courses, have specifically interested me?
  • What are my career goals? What do I hope to do in my life?
  • What are my favorite leisure activities and interests? What things do I do for fun that others might like to learn more about or take part in?
  • What personal and social concerns are significant to me?
    • What is going on in my life that bothers or affects me?
    • What is happening outside my immediate world that is unfair, unjust, or in need of improvement?

Narrowing Down the Topic
Once you have chosen your general topic, you are ready to narrow it down on the basis of your listener’s interests and needs. Here are the steps to follow in narrowing down a topic:
  1. Choose potential speech topics (from self-inventory).
  2. Consider situational factors.
  • Familiarity: Will my listeners be familiar with any information that will help me select a topic?
  • Current events: Can I select a topic to emphasize current events that may be of significant interest to my audience?
  • Audience apathy: Can I encourage my audience to be less apathetic toward vents that are totally relevant to me?
  • Time limits: Do I have enough time to discuss the topic sufficiently?
  1. Consider audience factors.
  • Previous knowledge: What do my listeners already know?
  • Common experiences: What common experiences have my listeners encountered?
  • Common interests: Where do my interests and my listeners’ meet?
  • Relevant diverse factors: How diverse are my listeners?
  1. Select your tentative topic.

Some examples of narrowing down may be seen below:

Career Choices career choices of graduates of top American schools career choices of graduates of top American schools in the last 5 years factors affecting the career choices of MBA graduates of Wharton School of Business in the last 5 years
Southeast Asia security problems in Southeast Asia roots of terrorism in Southeast Asia cooperation among governments of Southeast Asia in addressing the problems of terrorism
Housing housing projects in the last 10 years housing projects in City X financing problems in the housing projects in City X

Determining Your Exact Purpose
The basic purposes of public speaking are to inform, to instruct, to entertain, and to persuade. These four are not mutually exclusive of one another. A speaker may have several purposes in mind. It may be to inform and also to entertain. Another speaker may want to inform and at the same time convince, stimulate, or persuade. Although content, organization, and delivery may have two or more purposes, most have just one central purpose.
Speeches that inform offer accurate data, objective information, findings, and on occasions, interpretations of these findings. Those that instruct teach the audience a process or a procedure based on information provided in the speech. Those that entertain provide pleasure and enjoyment that make the audience laugh or identify with delightful situations. Finally, speeches that persuade try to convince the audience to take a certain stand on an issue, an idea, or a belief, by appealing first to reason through logical arguments and evidences, and to the emotions by moving statements.

Identifying the Objectives of the Speech
An objective is more limited and specific than a purpose. It may target behavior or thought. What does the message communicated in the speech expect to accomplish? What response does it invite from the audience? Does it want to convince the listeners to support a cause by joining a movement? Does it want the listeners to buy a certain product or use a certain service? Does it want the listeners to modify their behavior through a process presented? Does it want to move the listeners to laughter and later to reflection about a significant social issue? Does it want to provide accurate and credible information to lead them to a decision? As answers to these questions are given, speech objectives can be identified and stated.
Here are some examples:
A Call for Support for Dependence of Old Age
to persuade
The speech will seek pledges of effort, time, or money to help establish an institution to support dependency of old age.
Why My Goal in Life Is to Become a Lawyer
to inform
After hearing my speech, the audience will understand why my dream is to become a lawyer.

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