Speech Topics and Titles: Your Problem with Speeches

Speech Topics and Titles Toastmasters 101

Today’s podcast title is Speech Topics and Titles where we’re going to talk about topics and titles for speeches.  It gets a bit meta in here sometimes.

What’s your problem?

I’m baking bread and I have a math problem.

Let’s be a bit honest here. I always have a math problem. The only thing I’m worse at than math – is algebra. Or maybe trigonometry.

I have 3 pans to bake my bread in: two of them are the same, and one is slightly smaller. How do I divide up my dough?

I did what every sane person who can’t do math does – I went on Facebook and posted the question on my feed. In 20 minutes, I had an answer – which was convenient because that’s when I needed to put the dough into the pans.

What does my baking-bread-math-problem have to do with finding  speech topics?

Let’s bite into this problem and discover we’ve got the solution in our very own hands.


Do you struggle with finding speech topics? This problem starts immediately in Toastmasters after a new member completes the ice breaker. What can we say that won’t bore other people?

This is every club’s problem – to some extent, every member’s problem. It doesn’t help the club if the prepared slots on the agenda are empty week after week. One thing you can do to help your club is share this podcast episode with one other person this week, where we’re discussing how to find speech topics.

Every day, you’ve got 24 hours of experiences. Ok, you get to sleep some of them. If you’re living my life right now, 8 hours might be an unexpected blessing. You’ve got things keeping you up at night too, right?

Toastmasters is not therapy. It’s not a time to talk out the troubles of your life to a captive group of people. But preparing a speech may be therapeutic. Especially if you frame your speech topic in a Problem/Solution format.


My problem with making bread is an example of a simple problem/solution format.

1. I have a problem.
2. I search for a solution
3. How my solution worked.

There you go – 3 points for a 5 to 7 minute speech. Add humor, experience, some story and the speech writes itself.

Speeches don’t have to be complicated. In 5 to 7 minutes, it’s smart to be simple.

This type of speech lends itself to storytelling.

The key to successful storytelling in a speech – ok, 2 keys – is to start the story as close as possible to the significant action in the story. The other key is to avoid “the moral of the story” and instead, share what you learned, how it impacted you, and maybe what you’ll do next time.

For example, I wouldn’t start this story when I’m scheduling my bake the day before.  No, the problem is that I don’t know how to divide my bread.  That’s where I want to start – standing at the counter, dough in hand, without a  clue how to divide it correctly so I have the right amount in each pan.

Then add in the necessary back story – the recipe, the reason I’m baking, and what I want to happen.  I could also add some peril.  Not all stories have a happy ending, especially when you’re baking bread.

Excuse me, I need to write down what I just did with my bread dough so I can do it again next week.

[keyboard noises]

Ok, I’m back.

I’d probably put that interruption into my story at the end – to show that I’ve learned to add a written recipe with measurements of the dough per pan for future use.

In this case, the bread has come out perfectly.

That’s another way to tell a story – about a success you’ve had or, even better, a failure. Or best of all, comparing the two.

Baking bread is a pretty technical problem and I don’t know that I could compare a bad bake with a good one – but who doesn’t have stories about good and bad in their lives?


I think you probably have 2 things in your life that you can compare. Pets? Kids? Cars?

These things don’t even have to be in your life… you can talk about any two things. I personally don’t have any relationships with either llamas or alpacas – but I could give a speech comparing them. After researching, I mean. That’s not information I have immediately to mind.

We compare things all the time. We make choices all the time. That’s why a comparison speech works so well… but what do you compare?

That’s the rub, isn’t it? Finding things to compare?

The File Box

I’ve heard of two specific techniques to track ideas – the file and the spreadsheet. You can pick whichever you like.

The file box is a simple way to track ideas. You put a generic title at the top of a card and add ideas as they come to you.

Last night, I was Table Topics Leader at my club. This is the last meeting I’ll be attending for a few weeks, so the idea of last came to me. Last meal, last date, last vacation adventure, final exam, last day of school – lots of lasts. Last could be the title on the card, and a list of lasts could be put below the title.

Any one of those ideas could be a good speech topic.

Here’s an idea I got from another podcast called Speak Up Storytelling. Simply look around the place where you’re currently located and note down three items. I’m at my desk, so I could list the wrenches beside my desk (to tighten my microphone stand), the vial of dirt from a pilgrimage that a friend of mine brought back from Spain, or a poster of Thomas Jefferson’s Rules of Conduct that I bought several years ago and hung up.

That last one – the poster – inspires me to think about how I put this at the top of the stairs in my home for years. I had no idea how much it influenced one of my daughters  who told me that she uses some of those rules as her personal standard of conduct.

That’s a potential speech topic – my action had an impact. It’s not a problem/solution. It’s not a comparison. It’s an example of parenting – which might make it a part of a speech about child-rearing.

Ideas vs. Inspiration

By creating a list on a card, you’re probably not listing actual speech titles or ideas – you’re writing down the inspiration to other ideas. Sometimes our list might lead us to an inspirational speech: wrenches make me think about plumbing. I’ve discovered that toilet repair really isn’t as complicated as we think it may be – it’s more awkward than hard, really. If you turn off the water first, it’s actually pretty easy. I could give a speech about how we convince ourselves that we can’t do something – when all we may need to do is watch a Youtube video. Like when I save myself a $150 service call by watching a video and borrowing a tool from my dad.

Wrenches might also inspire me to talk about bikes and my foiled plan to bike the entire distance of a local hike-bike trail in northeast Ohio called the Towpath.

One object – multiple speech ideas.

The card file is a nice way to work this because it’s so simple. You thumb through the cards and memories and thoughts will come to you. Like music that you listened to as a teen – some things just take us back to the way we felt and thought – we remember that day and time as if we were still there. Collect those ideas on the cards – just a few words to help you remember.

Then when you need a speech topic, you can go back to the file box and pull out a few cards. You’ll find a speech topic in there because you put it there.

The Spreadsheet

This is a more modern take on the card file. It has the added feature of being sortable online and available wherever you have access. The card box probably won’t leave your house – but your spreadsheet can live on Evernote or a Google drive that you can open any time.

The spreadsheet might track your inspirations in different ways. In Matthew Dicks’ book Storyworthy, he uses a spreadsheet for Homework for Life ™ – a daily recording of ideas from his life for his storytelling career. If I were to use his method, I’d probably add an extra column for the emotions these ideas evoke, or even another column for  keyword searches.

Personally, I use a notebook and write down daily events that inspire stories and memories of past experiences. Because I’m into storytelling right now, this system works for me. It’s not precisely journaling, it’s slightly more extensive than the card file, and a lot less portable – but more secure – than a spreadsheet.

Speech Topics Around You

I’m writing about my day in this notebook.  That’s hardly inspirational, you’d think, but

There are dozens of things that happen to you every day that can be speech topics. Consider these:

  • You drink coffee? I’ll bet a significant number of the people at your meeting do the same. Do some research on coffee – its history, its production, your method of making it, or why you buy the coffee you do.
  • I’ve said it before – dogs. Cats. Pets. Animals inspire great speech topics because we connect with our emotions when we talk about them.
  • The processes you’re going through – Are you buying a house? A car? A garage for your car? The process of purchasing or building or repairing is a universal. We all go through something that has a great payoff at the end – but the process may be frustrating or fun. Or both.
  • Tell me about your work. It’s very likely that I have no idea what you do or why you do it. Tell me about your hobby – the weirder the better. Or not. If you collect stamps, that’s not weird but it’s still fascinating to you.

If you don’t know how to make it fascinating – well, that’s a topic for another podcast.

Title Your Speech

The last thing I want to talk about today is how you title your speech.

What’s your ringtone on your smartphone? Why does it matter?

Back in the old days when phones used to be attached to the wall, the sound of a telephone created a sense of excitement – of anticipation that something was going to happen. Someone wanted to talk to me!

Nowadays, I get the feeling that a ringtone does the exact opposite – dread. Oh no, I have to talk to someone!

Either way – it’s an introduction to communication. Your speech’s title is an introduction too.

The purpose of your title is to create a sense of interest in your audience. It’s actually an art form that’s become a science called “click-baiting.” It’s the use of certain styles – like using numbers or benefits. How we respond to certain words, ideas, questions – it’s all be studied and analyzed. You can even go online and find a free headline generator that has dozens of formats that will attract readers.

Let’s compare: How to Brew a Cup of Coffee with another title: Morning’s Best: Brewing the Drink of Power – which one do you want to hear? Reasons to Drink Coffee or Three Ways that Coffee Improves Your Life?

I’m not going to say that your title is more important than your content. You could have the best content in the world and name your speech: Antacids: an in-depth study of the power of calcium carbonate on the digestive system and probably someone will be excited about your speech – but not with that title. You’ll have to have a killer opening to wake up your audience after that.

Two more things about your title

First: Make sure your introducer can say it – tongue twisters are not fun for the Toastmaster of the Day who hasn’t read your intro a dozen times.

Second: I personally love humor in a title. Brewing Your Future would amuse me. I’d be curious what you’re going to say. I’m ready for you in a way that Coffee Brewing Techniques will never interest me because I don’t drink coffee.

Don’t undercut your speech with a bad title. You can create a good title. Just remember, speeches are titled, not entitled. Entitlements are for rights – titles are names.

You don’t have a problem with speech topics or titles – you have an opportunity.  You can rise to the occasion and brew up a great title for your next speech.

Wrap it up Kim

Toastmasters 101 podcast is a production of Toastmasters District 10. I hear there’s a push in some other districts to create their own district podcast. Let me know if you hear one – I’d love to see us share our podcasts!

Our music is from incompetech.filmmusic.io – but our sound effects come from other places. The links will be in the show notes.

This week’s sound effects were produced… by me!

Next week, I’ll be back from a podcasting conference where I expect to see a lot of Toastmasters – and meet a lot more people who need Toastmasters. That should be fun!  Here on Toastmasters 101, we’ll be talking about how to make your speech fascinating.  I’ve got three good tips to help you… Wait – that should be the title of the podcast!  Three Great Tips To Fascinate Your Audience!