11June 2024

Public Speaking Tips for Developing Ideas

‘I don’t know what to talk about.’
is the first hurdle that most speakers fall into and it is usually swiftly followed by:
‘And if I did I don’t know what to say!’
How do we generate ideas and then when we have found an idea,
how do we develop it?
Generating ideas will be easier for the person immersed in the world about them because immersion in the world allows us to see connections across different fields.
And there are many ways to be immersed in the world:
- an interest in current affairs
- an interest in the people around us
- being involved in activities and social groups
- being willing and keen to read
- watching and listening.
If you have no thoughts, no opinions, and no interests, it won't be easy to generate ideas for speaking,
because not only do you need to come up with ideas, but you need to be able to use them in a way that relates to your audience.

Below is a simple Mind Map I used to develop a speech, based on the theme of ‘planned spontaneity’, entitled:
‘When all you see is grey’.
The planning of this speech was originally accompanied by 5 short videos, each one aimed at taking you through the ‘5 canons’ of rhetoric, from Invention through to Delivery.

The first of these videos is focused on the first challenge of coming up with an idea of what to talk about

Creating some form of Mind Map is an excellent way of coming up with ideas because the free association of ideas allows you to find connections in those ideas – sometimes


In the 5 canons of rhetoric, this would be Step 1- Inspiration or Ideas.
Often in planning step 1 is combined with Step 2 - Arrangement, as the best way of identifying a subject to talk about is to come up with ideas and ‘arrange’ and move them around to see how they might fit together.

10 tips for developing ideas

  1. Brainstorm or Mind Map

Any form of free thinking and free association is a great starting place for coming up with ideas.
Most of the blog posts featured here on this website were born out of some form of brainstorming:
10 tips for developing confidence in speaking
10 tips for eye contact
10 tips for asking questions
With an open mind and a blank piece of paper, you can usually come up with 10 examples of anything.

  1. Make connections

Build a web of ideas.  As you are coming up with ideas, consider whether or how they might connect:
gardening, painting, difficult conversations, making friends.
None of these ideas appear to connect, but can we find any?
Preparation: preparing the soil for gardening; preparing the wall or the canvas for painting; preparing the ground for a difficult conversation; moving from gentle acquaintance to a deeper friendship.
Consistency: gardening a little and often rather than intense activity and then nothing for weeks; patience and practice for painting; avoiding having to have difficult conversations by handling small issues consistently; the mark of true friendship is always being there when needed.

  1. Think metaphorically

If we use the definition of a metaphor as
an implied comparison between two things of unlike nature that yet have something in common,
making connections usually means thinking metaphorically, because what we are doing is looking for the similarity in apparently diverse things.
For example, the above use of the words ‘preparing the ground’ in ‘preparing the ground for a difficult conversation’ is already using a gardening, farming, or possibly a battle analogy to help us visualise the preparation before the conversation can take place and depending on whether you are thinking of the difficult conversation as awkward but intending to help or improve or as a potentially aggressive confrontation, you will imagine ‘preparing the ground’ as either for providing the best environment for a flower to bloom or as preparation for a set up for battle.

  1. Keep the daily antenna up

Keep your mind open to possible topics or connections as you go through daily life.
There are not many messages to share, but there are an infinite number of examples and an old tired message can be livened up with a new current example.
If you want to stress the message of Consistency of effort at work and you have recently read about a musician’s practice routine, or how your lawn looks green and cared for due to the consistent love you have shown it, you have a couple of relatable and visual examples to bring your message to life.

  1. Write stuff down

Either keep a small notepad with you or these days with a Smart phone it is easy to keep a folder where you can write a few notes.  Write down any random thoughts or observations.  Don’t worry about where they might lead or whether you can develop them into something to talk about.
Now and then have a look at what you have collected and often you discover that there is a theme running through your ideas and you can arrange them like a mind map and work out which ones connect and how they connect.

  1. What might interest your audience?

Thinking of the audience should be one of the first thoughts for any speaker.
Who is attending? 
How can I reach and relate to them?
Usually, we consider this in terms of how to express content; what stories to tell; and what style of delivery would be appropriate.
However, considering the audience might also be a valuable touchstone for discovering and developing the speech content.
If you are speaking to a culturally diverse audience, then talking around Integration and Tolerance with analogies of blending and cooperation might be of relevance
If your audience is mainly professional and ambitious, then finding a subject where you can allude to success principles and give examples of overcoming adversity with analogies of growth and struggle might be appropriate.
And if your audience consists of many parents and family members, stories and images of Nurture and Development with analogies of symbiosis and social awareness could be useful.

  1. Read books (or watch TV)

If you read widely, you may already have a few ideas that could be connected.
If not once you have a possible direction of travel, you look up articles or research material on that subject.
If you want to sound erudite and knowledgeable, then reference writers and philosophers will suggest a level of depth and enhance your credibility. However I do remember quoting Homer Simpson as a major source to back up an argument.  He is a character that many in my audience would know and love - and it was a chance to lighten the mood of the message.
‘Out of the mouths of babes and sucklings’ is a quote from the Bible and the reference might give me a level of depth and credibility.  However, my reason for quoting it here is to allow its meaning to draw attention to the fact that you and your sources do not need to be learned and erudite;
recalling how your 5-year-old said something very profound yesterday or choosing to quote Homer Simpson might make you more relatable to your audience and sound less pompous.

  1. Use the Internet

Thirty years ago this tip might have been to recommend a visit to the library, to delve into Reference Books and to scour an Encyclopaedia for supporting material.
Today we can do all of that with a simple Internet search.
Try not to make the whole presentation a series of Internet stories, as that take away your uniqueness.
The occasional ‘genius quote’ or lesson learnt from your five-year-old adds a personal relatable flavour to your presentation.
One of my gripes against some motivational speakers is that all their material has been taken from someone or somewhere else, which leaves me feeling that I am not learning anything unique from their experience, they are just repeating stories that I could look up myself.


  1. Use your personal experience

Personal experience is personal and therefore unique to the speaker: it gives them credibility and allows them to share discovered learnings and realisations and so sound more like a ‘sharer’ than a ‘lecturer’.
In the same way that you do not want all your material to come from ‘outside’, you may not want all your material to be just from you. Hence the mind map or early gathering of ideas offers you a chance to find a good mix of material.
If you are delivering a history lecture, then most of your material will be researched and little or none will come from you, but even here you might find it useful to let your audience know your reaction the first time you discovered a certain fact.
If you are sharing your own realisations and discoveries, then the material is likely to be your direct experience; using outside references as a way of adding credibility to your findings.

  1. Ask for Help!

If you draw a blank, ask someone else what would motivate or engage them.
I have a regular experience with my youngest son, who occasionally comes and asks my opinion on a subject.
I think about it carefully and share my wisdom.
‘I am not going to do any of that’, he says, ‘but thanks, because now you have given me an idea of what I should do!’

There is no set way of generating and developing ideas,
You just need to get out there and be open
because as the (bogus?) Chinese saying goes:
‘Man who stand on side of mountain with mouth open, waiting for roast duck to fly in, will have a long wait.’

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Michael's superb training style is underpinned by an incredible depth of knowledge and experience. Like all true experts, he delivers what he knows with ease and simplicity, exampling the skills he is teaching as he does so.

Very informative and great anecdotes which illustrated points and provided visual markers.

The most interesting training that I have ever taken part in! Experience + Wisdom + Perfect teaching approach.

The training was spot on. He really listened to us and customised his responses throughout.

Loved the creation of visual examples through the use of body and how relating the experience really helps demonstrate the message.

Very approachable and motivational. So much information, brilliantly delivered.

Loads of great analogies and stories - very friendly and helpful.

Very approachable and knowledgeable and good use of examples to simplify the material.

In just one day Michael was able to teach a class of children how to craft their own personal stories and experiences into powerful and engaging speeches that resonate with an adult audience as well as with a younger audience. It is a marvellous way to help them increase self-confidence and in the process - almost without them even realising it - become natural speakers and excellent communicators.

Michael has a style of speaking which draws the audience into his world, captivates them and leaves them with lasting memories of some of the descriptive phrases he has used and the information he has included. He also has the ability to pass the skills he uses in his own speaking on to those he trains.

Very good rapport, attention to detail, individual support, positive atmosphere and encouragement - a great place for learning.

• Very great example; how to express yourself, how to be engaging and how to match body language with what is said.