It seems like the most asked question for a public speaker is, “What should I talk about for my next speech?”

When you ask for help, everybody says, “Talk about what you know.”

What does that mean? You think, “What do I know that would interest anyone? I don’t know enough about anything that an audience would want to hear. Everyone else knows so much more than me.”

You want to proclaim some solution to their problems. You want to help your audience with the answer to their problems. You want them to respect and admire you. Then you think, “Who would listen to what I have to say?”

You try to get ideas by listening to the other speakers. They talk about so many interesting topics and experiences. One speaker told about seeing Flamenco dancers during his honeymoon. Another talked about being a dirt bike racer. The business woman practiced her work speech on being organized. The retiree gave an eloquent argument about the Fair Tax.

Now you are becoming worried. The self-doubt is setting in. You could never live up to those expectations. Could you?


Wait. Think. You do not have to “change the world” with your message. Your audience does not want to be lectured .Unless you are at church, your audience does not want you to preach to them about being better persons, changing their lives or saving the planet.

What does your audience really want to hear? It is simple. We do want to learn a little more about you, hear a different perspective, and be entertained.

There are four general purposes for every speech: inform; entertain; motivate; and, inspire. Every speech will fulfill one or more of these four purposes.
Think carefully. What is the best way to motivate and inspire an audience? It is - by informing and entertaining them.


What do you remember about the speeches you have heard? Why were they memorable? Each speaker had a different perspective or a different approach. You enjoyed that.

Most speeches are about little lessons in life, about something that happened to the speaker and what difference or what memory it made. You usually thought about similar experiences that you had, or similar stories that the speaker pulled out from the confines of your memory.

Now consider this. Your experiences, your perspectives and your approaches are different than others. That is what makes you unique. Your audience would like to hear about that, and about you. They want to relate and to compare.

You have had many special experiences. Almost none changed your life. But they were memorable. They meant something to you. They stirred some emotion: regret, happiness, awe. They are like that old song, “Things that make you go ‘Hmm’.”


How do you find a message or point for your next speech? The inspiration is all around you. All you need to do is look, and think. Here is your assignment.

STEP 1: Ask yourself some questions to stir your memory:

• What stories do you like to tell? (We all find ourselves repeating stories.)

• What is a memorable event in your life? It does not have to be a major event, just one that stirs some emotion when you recall it.

• What is a favorite hobby, or place you like to visit?

• Who is a favorite person or relative? It does not have to be someone you know.

• Do you have a favorite quote?

Pick one. It does not have to be “the best one.” Just select one topic to get you started.

If you are having trouble, ask someone – your spouse, your kids, your friends. What would they suggest? What comes to their mind when they think of you?

STEP 2: Ask yourself “why is it special to me?” List all the reasons.

What meaning does it have to you? What was the point of it or lesson from it? What emotion does it evoke? Every story has more than one lesson or point. List them all.

STEP 3: Decide on the one main theme (point, lesson, message) that you want the audience to remember. Make it a general message relative to all. It can be something simple, as: “it helps to know where you are going,” or “this can be fun,” or “actions speak louder than words.”

Whenever you are speaking, you should have a clear, concise message appropriate for your audience. Your presentation should have a point to it, a lesson learned, a “moral of the story,” a central theme that frames the speech. If you do not have a message, then you are RAMBLING!

Now write it down. David Brooks, Toastmasters’ 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, suggests that your message should fit on the back of a business card.

STEP 4: Build your speech around that topic, story and message. Start with your first story, and add what it meant to you. Pick another story or topic with a similar message. Add some quotes or facts to support the theme.

STEP 5: Start crafting your speech. You already have the material you need. Make sure you stay in focus with your message. Do not go off on tangents. Do not add too many details. It is like you are bringing someone down a trail. Keep them on the path, but don’t spend too much time describing every rock or tree.

Like all important skills, it takes time and practice. It is work, but it is fun. A good challenge is fun.

I am looking forward to it. The next time I hear you speak, I want to say, “Hmmm.”

Write to me at if you want more help.

Author's Bio: 

Fred Haley, published author and speaker, has been a member of Toastmasters for over 12 years. Fred has earned two Distinguished Toastmasters awards. His web site, is “Every Toastmaster’s first stop for advice and resources.” Fred publishes a weekly ToastMentor newsletter. Contact Fred at