How to Find Your Speech Topic

Remember watching the Wizard of Oz? Dorothy and her pals on an epic quest to find a heart, brain, courage, and home.

Along the way they encountered the Wicked Witch of the West, flying monkeys, and field of poppies to die for.

Despite their hardships they finally arrived at the Emerald City to claim their reward.

And that’s when they found out what they have been searching for has been with them all along.

As a speaker, whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been a speaking pro for years, your journey to the Emerald City starts in the same place.

Searching for the answer to this core question:

What do you want to be known for?

Gulp. That question is scarier than the Wicked Witch of the West.

But deep down you know that to land the speaking gig of your dreams, you need to follow the yellow brick road to answer this question.

You look at the most successful speakers out there and they are all known for something.

Sally Hogshead is known for Fascination

Danielle LaPorte is known for Desire

Brene Brown is known for Vulnerability

Amanda Palmer is known for Asking

Simon Sinek is known for Why

They’ve traveled the road and it lead them to what I call your BIG IDEA.

The BIG IDEA is what you want to be known for. It’s the one idea you want the audience to remember long after you’ve ended your presentation.

The BIG IDEA is your Emerald City

Imagine you’ve just finished a speech. The Tin Man. who was right there in the front row of your presentation, runs into the Scarecrow who asks “Golly, I missed the presentation. What was it about?”

The Tin Man’s response is your BIG IDEA.

When you’re clear on your BIG IDEA, it’s easy for your message to spread and for you to be the go-to expert on your topic.

So how do you find this BIG IDEA?

I’m glad you asked….

Examine your body of work

You’ve been creating. Writing. Workshops. Webinars. Presentations. Art. Poetry. Maybe you’ve taken a class or two and done some assignments.

Everything you create is a part of your body of work.

Pamela Slim tells us that we all have a body of work (in fact that’s what she is known for), and I believe your message is lurking inside those disparate pieces.

Much like the cowardly lion in the Wizard of Oz, your courage (or in this case your message) has been with you all along.

Examine your body of work with a critical eye to these two questions.

1. What are you an expert on?

I’m not talking just academic, I’m talking street cred, school of life credibility. Experience counts and matters, of course, but don’t discount your expertise just because you don’t have a degree (trust me this comes from a Ph.D.)

Start with this question: what do you geek out on?

What do you spend hours doing? You love doing it so much that you lose all track of time (or enter a “flow state” as the psychologist would say).

This is where your expertise lies. It also points to your great area of passion, and that is fertile ground for your BIG IDEA to grow and thrive.

2. What matters most to your audience?

However, being an expert is not enough…

I’m an expert on Duran Duran. Seriously, ask me anything.

Could I give a 60-minute keynote speech on Duran Duran? Absolutely. Would my audience care? Hell no. Do I often wonder where I went wrong in life because I have such a great knowledge of Duran Duran? Yes.

Expertise and passion for your topic doesn’t get your far if no one gives a crap. Your audience must care about your expertise. It must make their lives better in some meaningful and ACTIONABLE way.

Every client I work with must answer this question:

“As a result of hearing me speak, how will my audience change?”

Now as you think about finding your message, your BIG IDEA, ask yourself:

“As a result of my expertise, how will my audience’s lives change for the better?”

When your expertise creates change in an audience, you will know that you’ve found your BIG IDEA.

So Scarecrow, your message, your BIG IDEA – it’s with you right now. It lurks in your body of work, the conversations that you have, and your experiences.

You’re in Emerald City already (and you didn’t have to get attacked by flying monkeys to get there).

Now go hang out at the intersection of your expertise and what matters most to your audience and find the BIG IDEA you need to share with the world.