Topic Selection

If you’re struggling to select your topic, then you’re not alone. Topic selection can be one of the most challenging aspects of public speaking. Following these guidelines and tips for topic selection should help.

Guidelines for Topic Selection:

1. Consider the following guidelines when selection a topic.

A. Importance to Speaker: The speaker should care about the topic.  It will be difficult to make the speech interesting for the audience if the speaker does not find the topic important.

B. Interesting to the audience: Make sure your topic gains and holds the attention of the audience.

C. Worthy of listeners’ time: Avoid topics that are frivolous and move toward topics that listeners regard as worth their time.

D. Appropriateness of scope: The topic should be manageable within the time limits.

E. Appropriateness for oral delivery: The topic should be easily developed into a speech.  Topics that depend on elaborate formulas or arguments are usually not appropriate for oral delivery.

F. Appropriateness to rhetorical situation: Make sure the topic you have selected fits the rhetorical situation. A humorous topic is not appropriate if the situation calls for a serious, solemn topic.

G. Clarity: The topic should be easy to understand and clear for the audience.

2. Select a topic that is both timely and timeless.  There are certain issues that will always be part of human dialogue.  These issues, paired with contemporary events and issues, always make for timeless speeches.  Something you read in a newspaper article would likely be timely but wouldn’t be timeless.  When reading a newspaper article or watching news broadcast, you should ask “what is the larger issue?”

Tips for Topic Selection:

1. Draw from your own experience. What are some unusual experiences you have had? What special knowledge or expertise do you have? What are some strong opinions and beliefs you hold?

2. Be familiar with news and current events. Keep up to date with controversial, grassroots, and ethical issues.  Check out these news sources:

MSNBC, FOX, CNN, NPR, New York Times, Issues and Controversies database (use number on student ID to gain access)

3. Brainstorm in order to generate ideas. The following are different ways of generating ideas

A. Word association: This is where the speaker generates a list of words or ideas associated with possible topics.

B. Topic mapping: Start with general or broad topic then begin to write down words or items associated with the topic.  Each level should be narrower than the previous level.

C. Internet searches: Web pages such as the ones listed above are helpful when trying to generate speech ideas.  Search engines such as Google and Bing may also be useful for broad general ideas.


O’Hair, D, Stewart, R, & Rubenstein, H. (2008). A speaker’s guidebook, 4th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins.

Ferguson, S. (2008). Public speaking: Building competency in stages. New York: Oxford University Press.

Sprague, J, & Stuart, D. (2000). The speaker’s handbook, 5th ed., Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace & Company.

Zarefsky, D. (2011). Public speaking: Strategies for success.  Boston: Allyn & Bacon.