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Toastmasters, International Series

Entry 1: How to Come Up with Topics

I would lay money on this statement: Many people who come to Toastmasters really want to improve their communication skills, but one thing daunts them: What do I speak about? If I have to do this pathways thing, how am I going to come up with all those subjects?

There are three ways to think about this big question.

1. Start with a personal inventory. You know far more about a range of subjects than you might think, and you are an expert in at least one thing, if not more. That “one thing” is your position, your career. So let’s start there. What have you learned in that job about people? About skills? About how to improve in one’s position? What do you wish other people knew about the daily work life of …. (your position)? What daily or regular tasks do you do that might improve the work or personal life of another person?

Beyond your work life, where are you an expert in hobbies, family, household tasks, sports, home maintenance, gardening, pets?

2. A second way to think about this is whether you have to regularly communicate, train, speak, or instruct about in your job. The whole point of Toastmasters is to learn skills to improve personal and career lives. Why not use Toastmasters as a way to practice a presentation for the “real world”? Recently, a colleague who is a member of Toastmasters evaluated my presentation to students about our academic department. Another member gave a presentation on a key aspect of his position for future opportunities in the workplace.

The third way, and I think the most important, is to remember the whole point of rhetoric, or public speaking, itself: what does the audience need? Does it need to laugh at a funny story about your pets? Does it need to know about the experience of a disabled relative so they can know how to interact with persons with disabilities? Do they need to understand a new mortgage law, and you are a realtor?The audience is the first and last concern in public speaking. Know your audience, and serve your audience. They are taking time out to help you learn.

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