Topic Selection and Refinement

brainstorming graphicOnce speakers have identified the general purpose, which usually takes place early in the planning stages, they can begin deciding on what specific topic areas they want to use to inform or persuade the audience. This often presents one of the more difficult stages of speech development, especially if the speaker does not have a limited or narrowed set of topics from which to choose. After all, when the sky is the limit, it is all too easy to feel overwhelmed and burdened by trying to figure out what to discuss.

To determine worthwhile ideas, consider brainstorming lists of various topics, but do so without judging their value.

Note to Self

For example, if you see a commercial on television that infuriates you because of the way it comes across, write down something like, “Manipulative media: How advertising controls our buying habits.” If you run across a fascinating story on an elderly couple that survived the Holocaust and were reunited after 70 years apart from each other, consider writing down the following topic idea: “After the Holocaust: How Jewish survivors rebuilt their lives after WWII.” Whether you keep a note-taking app handy on your smartphone, or an actual notepad handy in your bookbag, glove box, or purse, make sure to jot down ideas as they come up, so that when you become pressed to select a topic, you have a variety of ideas from which to choose.

Follow current events to find constant sources of topic ideas. Pay attention to various stories in the media. Exploring various news websites, particularly those that provide a wide sampling from diverse media outlets, such as Google News or the Newsmap, provide a nearly limitless source of ideas.

Additionally, certain times of the year provide timely, interesting topics, such as general election season (political candidate profiles, explanations of voting processes, persuading others to register to vote, etc.), holidays (how to make Christmas treats, history of Halloween, the truth behind Christopher Columbus, etc.), or seasonal-related topics (fun family summer activities, best places for skiing and snowboarding, the science behind the colors of autumn, etc.).

Lastly, speakers can consider covering a topic that might be new and unique to them, requiring a bit of research on their part. Often, these topics provide an opportunity to sate intellectual curiosity. When researching these newer topics and beginning to learn more about them, the process of research can manifest into excitement, sparking a desire to share that newfound information with others. Scholars call this approach the social media share test, for if individuals come across new information that excites them to the point where they blindly click “Share” in order to spread that information with everyone they know, then it could very well present a fascinating topic from which to build a presentation.


For a fun topic-finding activity, go to’s main page. Look for a link called “Random article” Click this link until an article of interest appears.

Nested Brainstorming

Another technique for generating topic ideas resembles a more refined version of brainstorming. Try the following quick and painless technique for coming up with speech topic ideas before taking it a step further and refining those ideas into something workable.

  • In 60 seconds or less, compose a list of 10 general subject areas that sound interesting to share with others. Pay no attention to their value and do not imagine whether or not the audience will like hearing about those subjects. For now, simply come up with a list of 10 subject areas as seen here:
Creative Writing * Sci-fi Movies * Board Games * Mobile Technology * Cancer Research * Zombies * Automobile Repair * Mindfulness * Fatherhood * Digital Music
  • Next, take this list of 10 potential subject areas and circle 3–5 topics that seem the most interesting.

Note to Self

How you define this is completely up to you. You might select topics that you know a significant amount about, you might select topics that you are passionate about, or you might select topics with which you have a great deal of experience.
  • Narrow the list to 3–5 topics:
Fatherhood * Mindfulness * Sci-fi Movies
  • Now, rank these remaining topics in order of interest level. Which of these remaining topics sounds the most interesting to share with others? Do not worry (yet) about how the audience could feel about listening to these topics.
1) Mindfulness 2) Fatherhood 3) Sci-fi Movies
  • Once ranked, take the top-ranked item and break it into three subtopics. If this proves difficult, skip that topic and move to the next one on the list:


  1. Behaviors/activities to cultivate mindfulness
  2. The effects of mindfulness on health
  3. How mindfulness can develop better relationships
  • Once again, as with before, speakers should take these three subtopics and rank them in order of their interest level (not what they think an audience might like). The top-ranked subtopic may now become the primary speech topic. Once decided, break it down further into yet another three additional subtopics, which will become the speech’s three main points:

The effects of mindfulness on health

  • Main Point #1: Defining mindfulness
  • Main Point #2: Effects of mindfulness on mental health
  • Main Point #3: Effects of mindfulness on physical health



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Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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