Blank Slate? Chose a Topic that...

Blank Slate? Chose a Topic that...

You’re given a chance to speak to an audience. The choice of topic is open and yours to make. This can be daunting.

Choose A Topic that You Know

When shortlisting topic ideas, keep in mind that the subject of your talk should be something you know well. You’ve been invited to talk presumably because the organiser considers you have something of value to share. You should not need to deep dive into research for the topic you’ve chosen. This is not an academic paper. 

When talking on a subject you know well, the precision of your words, your anecdotes and insight on the matter will naturally signal to the audience you have authority to speak on such a topic. Your choice of topic is also an exercise in authenticity, which is what audiences crave. Pick a topic you know.

Choose A Topic Your Audience Cares About

Within the domain of possible topics, you know, chose one that you have good reason to believe the audience will care about. 

Here, research can help. 

It may not always be easy, but do not pass up a chance to ask pertinent questions about the audience with the organiser. Ask them what kind of people will be in the audience. Will they predominately be laypersons or subject-matter practitioners? 

Do some research on the topics that would interest these types of people (a profession, nationality or industry sector). Research recent trends and issues that may overlap with potential topics you know well. 

In a workshop training with small or mid-sized groups, it could be possible and very rewarding to send out a pre-session questionnaire seeking feedback about the audience’s expectations for the training and the most popular aspects people would want you to specifically address. 

If you cannot get much by way of hard research, use your best judgement. Ask yourself: if I was this type of person in the audience, would I find this interesting? 

Choose A Topic You Care About

It’s ever so important to be authentic lest your audience tune you out. At the same time, you ought to be passionate and tap into some of your audience’s emotions. You will not be able to be both authentic and emotional if you do not have some form of conviction about the topic you are addressing. A Talk is not a lecture. A lecture given by a professor can be no more than a laundry list of information about a subject (not a great way to engage with students). You can indeed inform your audience and even deliver interesting new information to your audience, but at some point, you will have to interpret that information. You will have to tell them why they should care and the best way to do that is by explaining to them why YOU care. 

Hence, it’s paramount to choose a topic you genuinely have a conviction about, a strongly-held belief about, a call to arms about or even better a passion for.

Venn diagram to illustrate the point:


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The Communication Funnel

The Communication Funnel

Nicolas Boileau  | L'Art poétique (1674)

Nicolas Boileau | L'Art poétique (1674)