Techniques for finding ideas for a speech
Abraham Lincoln apparently would be out and about and when an idea came into his head that he thought he could speak about he would write it down on a scrap of paper and tuck it into his hat.
And some inventors go to bed with a notepad next to their pillow in case they wake up with an idea they can immediately write it down before they forget it.
The point is, inspiration can leap out at you at the strangest moments and it is always worth being ready to make a note of it before you forget. I am not suggesting stopping in the middle of the street and writing down the full outline of a speech, but it is worth putting a couple of words on a stray piece of paper to remind you of your idea later on.
Below are 5 ideas on how to find and take some public speaking ideas and mould them into a presentation.
There are some roles and jobs at work that require you to lead regular meetings and it is always good to have something new and relevant to say, rather than just routinely going over the same set of sales figures, marketing goals, or production targets each time. Therefore being able to keep up a steady supply becomes important.
Keep your antenna up
Inspiration could strike you at any time, so be prepared. You may or may not have a notepad next to your bed or a hat rim where you can tuck in the little pieces of paper with your ideas jotted down, but it is always worth having a strategy to make a little note on the fly. I used to keep a large envelope at home which I filled with slips of paper when I got back that each had the germ of an idea or small reference that had popped into my head when I was out, like: thoughts on mowing the lawn, waiting for the bus, a news headline or a passing comment my wife had made. Sometimes I had no idea of why or how I could use them, but kept them just in case they became relevant.
None of these ideas on their own would probably be enough for the bones of a full presentation, but each might become a seed or be used as an illustration for something else.
So ‘mowing the lawn’ might remind me of the thoughts I was having while cutting the grass:
- ‘I need a new blade’ which could relate to a theme of ‘having the proper tools to do the job properly’
- ‘accidentally cutting the heads off my wife’s daffodils’ which could relate to a theme or ‘paying attention’ or ‘the consequences of being too hasty’
- ‘I should have cut the grass last week’ which could relate to a theme of ‘procrastination always makes the job harder’
All through the day we are seeing things, thinking things and responding to things that could become valuable material to reinforce a message or a principle that we might need to emphasise in a work presentation or a public speech.
Look for the bigger meaning in little things. Maybe it is while mowing the lawn that I realise the best way of getting nice straight lines cut into the grass, like an old-fashioned ploughman, is to lift my head and focus on a point at the end of the garden rather than to look down at my feet or at the mower. The metaphorical message could therefore be that to keep a straight path in life we need to maintain a clear focus on where we are going, rather than be distracted by all the daily events directly in front of us.
You probably don’t want to overdo this one, otherwise, you can sound like a trite philosopher, but it is worth noting how mundane actions can be used to represent bigger themes, like waiting in a queue could support a theme of ‘patience’ or ‘conformity’ or ‘social responsibility’.
Be aware of current affairs. That does not necessarily just mean politics or economics, but depending on the type of audience it could also be sport, show business or music. The aim of any presentation is to connect with the audience and the best way to engage them is by talking about things that might be of interest to them.
For instance, if you want to encourage a class of young teenagers to take a vaccine against a dangerous virus, if you draw an analogy between the threat that the virus poses and the dark lord in Lord of the Rings, the evil empire in Star Wars or even Donkey Kong in Super Mario, you are much more likely to gain their attention…and therefore…Tip number 4…
Know your audience
Put some thought or do a little research into your audience. If you want to scatter your presentation with Star Wars references, that will work brilliantly with a younger audience, but it might come across as a little ‘uncool’ and even patronising to slightly older teenagers, but it will then work wonderfully again with a room full of grown-up men, because they are all still children anyway. Spreading Star Wars references in a speech to a room full of women might not work quite so well and many might have never bothered to see any of the films and will therefore not understand or even relate to some of the cultural references.
Referring to an event that everyone is likely to be aware of:
a war, a coronation, a general election, or The Olympic Games is fairly safe universal ground.
Reference to a specific television series, singer or social media influencer is more dangerous, because if members of the audience are unaware of the reference, rather than making a connection between you and your audience, you are now emphasising the difference between you and your audience and what you intended as a connection now becomes a barrier.
This is why mowing the lawn, waiting for a bus, or standing in a queue work so well, as everyone in the room has probably had that experience or at least can easily imagine it.
Join the dots
My mantra – particularly in storytelling courses – is:
‘What’s your story? What’s your point?’
A story needs a point – otherwise, why are you telling me that story?
A point needs a story to give it reference and impact.
So as I empty out my envelope full of scraps of paper with my little ideas, I might look through what I have, and very often I will find that many of the ideas or examples are actually pointing towards the same message.
Even though mowing the lawn does not stand alone as a strong enough speech subject, it could be used to support a speech about having a vison of the future by keeping your sight on where you are going in life, rather than looking at your feet.
I remember working with teenage girls and one of them said:
‘Sir, I don’t know what to talk about.
I could talk about friendship, but I am not sure I have enough to say.
I then thought I could talk about social media
but then I thought I could talk about teenagers and peer pressure.’
So I said:
‘What you may find is that they all point in the same direction;
that social media can lead you to build up banks of superficial or fake friends who are not really interested in you as a person, that peer pressure says you need to be part of this or that social group, but true friendship is something quite different...you can use them all to talk about ‘true friendship’.’
Keep your antenna up to events and happenings around you
Are they characteristic, symbolic, or metaphors of what is happening in the world?
Note down any things of interest to you, even if you are not yet sure why they could be of interest
Think about your likely audience
And then look at all those ideas you have collected and see if and how they might connect.
Draw it all together and join the dots and you have rich material for a speech