How to Choose a Public Speaking Topic

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Talk Like TED" by Carmine Gallo. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you have a speech coming up but you are not sure what it’s going to be about? What is the most important factor when it comes to choosing a public speaking topic?

According to business communication expert Carmine Gallo, when it comes to public speaking, there is no better topic than one that you are passionate about. If you are genuinely excited about your public speaking topic, you’re less likely to feel nervous about your delivery.

Here are some reasons why you should go for a public speaking topic that you are genuinely excited about.

Public Speaking Topic Selection

Choosing a topic that you’re passionate about is important for a number of reasons. First, if you deeply care about the subject you’re about to talk about, you’re less likely to feel nervous about your presentation. You’ll be so excited about getting to share your passion with the world that the idea of your speech going wrong won’t even cross your mind. 

Second, when you’re passionate about your topic, you’re likely to speak enthusiastically. You’ll therefore be more interesting to watch than a bored and lackluster speaker.

Finally, studies have shown that feelings are contagious—they spread from person to person. Therefore, if you speak with passion, your audience will feel your excitement, and they’ll listen intently to what you’re saying.

TED Talk Example: Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor

In 2008, Dr. Jill Bolte Taylor gave a TED talk about a severe stroke she’d suffered 12 years earlier. She described in detail how she slowly felt her brain function deteriorating as the stroke progressed. Taylor also discussed the spiritual awakening that her stroke triggered. 

The response to Taylor’s TED talk was overwhelmingly positive. It was the first TED talk to go “viral” online, quickly accumulating millions of views. Gallo argues that the key to Taylor’s talk’s success lay in her true passion for her subject. She was fascinated by and enthusiastic about the topic, not only because it related to a transformative experience in her life, but also because she was a trained neuroanatomist. Even before her stroke, Taylor’s life’s work and passion had been studying the brain and its workings. 

Can You Fake Passion?

What if you’re not passionate about the topic you have to speak on? For instance, what if your boss asks you to give a presentation on a prescribed subject?

In this case, try to frame your public speaking topic in a way that does excite you and appeal to your passions. For instance, if your passion is bringing added efficiency to your workplace, and you’re asked to give a presentation on a piece of dull accounting software that you don’t really care about, focus your presentation on how efficient the software is.

How to Choose a Public Speaking Topic

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  • The 9 key principles to good public speaking
  • How to apply the public speaking strategies of popular TED talks
  • How storytelling enhances your appeal to audiences

Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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