Don’t Be Afraid To Think Outside of the Box by Emalyn Sharp

The season for contemplating speech topics is upon us, and as camps, clubs, and the start of a new year of Speech and Debate competition approaches, one dreaded question will swirl amongst them all. 

What are you giving a speech on?

Speech is about so much more than just presenting; It’s about telling a story. It’s about connection, and even more, it’s about impact. Your speech will be listened to by literally captive audiences, and, whether you mean it to or not, will take up some form of residency in their minds. So how do you choose a speech topic that will make their time worthwhile? 

It can be really tempting to choose a topic because it seems to carry some deep moral significance which could make it impactful, and in turn, give you an edge in competition. However, my number one piece of advice when it comes to selecting speech topics is this:

DO NOT PICK THE TOPIC JUST BECAUSE YOU THINK IT WILL BE COMPETITIVE. 

Read that line again. I cannot tell you how many speeches I gave just because I thought the topic would be well received and meaningful. Don’t get me wrong, for a while it was. But what happened as the season went on was that I hated the speeches, and I grew to detest hearing about the topic. Those kinds of things shine through a performance no matter how well you try to hide it, and it ends up having the opposite effect that you wanted. 

That is not to say that you shouldn’t pick a wise topic to speak on. Far from it. If you feel like God is leading you to give a speech on a deep subject that you are also passionate about, I would highly encourage you to do that. However, if that is not the case, don’t limit yourself to deep moral quandaries. You can also give impactful speeches on something that you’re interested in that isn’t deep at all. 

I literally talked about my chickens for ten minutes during a speech about “life lessons on the family farm” and was very successful. In a different speech, I found a bizarre way to combine three of my interests in Mushrooms, Music, and Molasses and weave an entertaining tale about creativity. My brother gave a speech on the song Baby Shark. When I say anything is possible, I mean it. You just have to find something to connect, persuade, and compel the judges. Sometimes you’ll do that with laughter. Sometimes you’ll do that with wit, and sometimes you’ll do that with an intensely emotional speech. 

It really comes down to goals. Judges are wild cards. Placing your goals entirely in their hands gives them too much control and can frustrate you. If you have a goal like “I want to make finals at every tournament” you will be disappointed and constantly dissatisfied with your speech because your focus will be on the fact that it just isn’t good enough. Instead, try to pick goals that you have some control over. These goals could be something like “I want to make someone laugh” or “I want to persuade them to think about this topic differently.” 

My brother’s goal was to “have the song “baby shark” stuck in someone’s head” and he achieved it nearly every time. By the end of the tournament, there was this undercurrent of the song running through the tournament because enough kids had watched his speech on “Baby Shark” and the concept of Musical Earworms. 

I would encourage you to take some time to yourself to think before choosing a topic. Really consider why you are competing. What do you want to say? What are you passionate about? What would you like to tell people? This is your platform to practice sharing what you love, and the speeches you give really will make a difference in someone’s life. The biggest mistake you can make is to tell yourself that it doesn’t matter. 

Your ideas may end up being out there and crazy. Believe me, mine were. The key is to take those ideas and concepts and frame them in a larger, more impactful narrative.  “Chickens” became about finding the joys and meanings in the small things of life. Mushrooms, Music, and Molasses became about thinking creatively with the things we already have. “Baby Shark” was my brother’s way of showing the power of earworms in music, while also running a fun social experiment, much to the chagrin of everyone else at the tournament. 

So please, don’t be afraid to think outside of the box and give a speech on a topic that you are passionate about. If framed properly, I’m positive that you can make an impactful and pertinent speech out of it. 

If you are already feeling stuck and not sure what to a speech on… schedule a Mental Prep Appointment today. A coach can help you assess where you need to go! Emalyn Sharp, the author of this article, is one of our Lasting Impact! Coaches. She is actively involved in judging and teaching, and was even part of the TP Sourcebook Team. When a competitor, Emalyn competed in nearly every speech event and debate and saw much success. Schedule a coaching session with her today!

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