Most people think the hardest part about taking a class in public speaking would be, well, the speaking. Given that 75% of all people experience speech anxiety, that would make sense. However, there is a component of the course that throws more people for a loop than they expect: choosing a topic.
Unlike real life, in public speaking class, topic selection is a contrived exercise. In life, generally topics evolve from the context. You’re invited to speak because you’re an expert in something (such as communication—yes, I am available), you are moved to speaking because you feel strongly about something (such as a policy at work or in your local community), or maybe you’re forced to speak for a job requirement or volunteer work. In any case, while you may have choices about how to narrow your ideas, you don’t have to decide on a message out of thin air. Some students claim to have no opinions while others have too many. Ultimately, the topic a student chooses is an extension of their “voice.”
If you’ve ever watched American Idol, you’ve heard them repeat over and over how important song choice is for the contestants. Why is it so critical? While many contestants have amazing vocal talent, audiences connect to “voice” on a different level. Ultimately, the song is both a message and a channel through which a contestant tells you they are. It’s the story he or she wants to tell. An audience of any kind wants to know your story.
What is your story?
What is your point?
What should I take away?
I watch presentations every semester where in the back of my mind, I can’t figure out what I was supposed to learn, why I should take the time to listen. I’ve read a lot of books that were interesting, and the prose painted lovely pictures, but at the end, I walked away dissatisfied because I couldn’t figure out my take-away.
Being focused on your message is essential in all of these contexts. It’s a life lesson, really. Of course, we’ll go off on fabulous tangents, and we’ll be distracted by a bad note here or there, but it’s far easier to achieve a goal when you’re clearly defined it in the beginning.
So, what IS your story?