Generally, the best talks come from presenters who speak on topics that resonate with their own values. These devoted orators talk about subjects that matter to them deeply. They speak with power and passion because they believe so strongly in what they are saying.
When you have the freedom to pick your topic, you have a chance to talk about what matters to you. The challenge here is convincing your audience that the value(s) you are speaking about ought to matter to them as well. Many classic talks, speeches, sermons, and presentations are deemed great not because they echo the sentiments of the day, but because they stimulate listeners to think and act differently. These speakers do this by encouraging their audience to reexamine what they believe, what they value, and where to invest their time.
Years ago I was privileged to attend a dinner party given in honor of astronaut Jim Irwin. Part of the evening’s program included a talk by Jim, who spoke on “The Power of Encouragement.” It was a talk I’ll never forget because it changed the way I feel and think about encouragement.
Jim began his talk by recalling a childhood incident that changed his life. One evening he and his mother were out on their front porch. (I seem to recall him saying that he was young enough then to be sitting on his mother’s lap.) The night sky was clear and brilliantly dotted with stars. Suddenly, Jim looked at his mom and then once again up at the sky. After a short pause he said, “Mom, someday I’m going to walk on the moon.”
Jim’s mom was also at the dinner that night, so when Jim said this, I glanced over at her. She was nodding her head in agreement, and the cutest smile you can imagine come over her aged face as she was surely remembering his outlandish childish statement that night. You see, at that point, no one had ever walked on the moon, so what was a mother to say?
As Jim continued his story back on the porch, he said he stared at his mom and waited for her response. It was one of those pregnant pauses that are noisy with thought. Finally, Jim’s mom said, “Son, maybe someday you will walk on the moon,” and those encouraging words set the course for the rest of that little boy’s life.
On July 26, 1971 at 9:34 a.m., Colonel Jim Irwin, commander of Apollo 15 set off for the moon with his crew. This was NASA’s fourth manned lunar expedition. Four days later, on July 30, the lunar module “Falcon” landed on the moon’s surface. During that visit Jim Irwin fulfilled his childhood dream and walked on the moon.
Jim’s inspirational talk celebrated the power and impact of his mother’s encouragement. It also changed the way I think about and value encouragement. Since then, I have worked hard to be an encourager. I doubt that I will ever encourage a moonwalk, but perhaps someone reading this story just might come to believe they, too, can do something that others say is impossible. That is good enough for me.
Jim Irwin focused on a single subject that night, speaking for only about twenty minutes. But he beamed with passion and talked about a subject that mattered to him deeply. As a result, he touched his audience in a life-changing way.
Celebrate the opportunity to choose your own topic when you get the chance to do so. Study your audience and tap into your knowledge base, values, experience, and passions. This alone can help you identify a speech topic that you can deliver with power and passion.
Gary is committed to helping aspiring and active speakers improve their presentations skills. This is accomplished through Purpose Centered Public Speaking Workshop and personal one on one mentoring. He also offers a free public speaking phobia test and monthly newsletter to those who visit his website.
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