Career Advice

3 Rules for Choosing Your Next Speech Topic
Carl Friesen posted on May 04, 2016 |
Public speaking is one of the best ways to demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership to pote...

Public speaking is one of the best ways to demonstrate your expertise and thought leadership to potential clients. Why?
  • Prospective clients can learn what you’re like as a person – and they can see whether they’d enjoy working with you.
  • Wearing a “Speaker” badge at an event gives anything you say a surprising amount of credibility.
  • Being a speaker is something you can promote on your social media, building credibility as an expert in your field, even with people who didn’t hear you speak in person.

So, how do you pick a presentation topic that will help you make the most of the opportunity?

To be truly effective as a business-development tool, your speech should meet all three of the criteria below. Think of these criteria as three interlocking rings, with the topics sitting in the exact middle being your “sweet spot” for the greatest support of your business goals.


1. Choose a topic that matches your audience’s biggest concerns.

To understand how this works, imagine yourself attending a conference. You read through the list of concurrent events, and choose those that are of most interest to you.

For example, you might pick one speaker who talks about a new development that will affect your industry – a new environmental regulation, worker safety rule, or maybe a new legal case or a study you’ve heard about.

The people who might attend your presentation look at things the same way – as do the people planning the event.

If you’re developing topics for your speech, you need to focus on themes that are of pressing interest, worry or concern to the people you want to cultivate as clients. Choosing a topic is not about what you want to say; it’s about what the audience wants to know.

To be most effective, you need a topic that the attendees won’t find elsewhere, but that will affect them.

Suppose you’ve been invited to present at a conference to the retail sector. You will need to find a topic that is of interest to retailers. If the conference is in the United States, one topic that might be of interest is accessibility.

You are likely to know this is a topic of interest because you’ve heard that an increasing number of law firms are visiting retail locations, looking for violations of handicapped-access regulations, and initiating lawsuits. It could be something as detailed as the slope of the parking lot exceeding allowable limits under the legislation.

So your presentation might talk about how retailers can make sure that their premises are in compliance with accessibility regulations.

How do you find the right topics? Read the trade media of your potential clients, follow their LinkedIn groups and talk with people in the know. Your speech topic is much more likely to be accepted, and your speech better attended, if it addresses a real pain point for your intended clients.


2. Pick a topic where you have recognized credibility.

Again, imagine you’re attending a conference, and you see an interesting topic. However, the two-sentence bio of the presenter indicates that she or he is hopelessly unqualified to discuss that topic. As a result, chances are good you’ll decide to be someplace else at that time – maybe even catching up on your email.

What this means is that you need to choose a topic on which you can speak with credibility.

As engineers advance in their careers, they typically become narrower in their expertise, to the point that they know more and more about less and less. This will make you more attractive to both conference organizers and attendees – up to a point.

So, to get offered the speaking engagement and to get people to choose your presentation over another (or over email), you need to show that you have undeniable expertise in the subject matter you plan to present.

That expert credibility can be demonstrated three possible ways:

  • Your academic qualifications – university degrees such as an MSc or PhD.
  • Your professional designations – such as Project Management Professional (PMP) or Professional Engineer (P. Eng.), and the field in which you hold these designations.
  • Your work experience – which can include a list or testimonials from clients you’ve worked with in the past.


3. Your topic must meet your own business objectives.

To share a story, I recently found myself in front of an audience in Cleveland, Ohio, addressing a topic that I knew was relevant to the audience (since they’d shown up), and on which I could offer useful expertise (since nobody walked out).

However, I was only there because I’d previously committed myself to speaking. Although the topic and audience met my business objectives six months earlier when I first booked the conference, the topic no longer matched my current business purpose.

I still did the presentation, and enjoyed seeing my audience grasp concepts they’d had trouble with earlier. My speech was still good from their point of view.

But this highlights the need to pick topics that match your business purpose.

Be sure that any speech or presentation you give will, if it goes well, help you to obtain the kind of work you really want to do.

Also ensure that the people in your audience are those whom you really want as clients. Otherwise, you won’t be meeting your business purpose, and if your audience thinks your heart isn’t in it, you won’t be serving them effectively, either.

To sum up: your speech topic must be one that’s of pressing interest to the people you want to reach, it must be on a topic where you have recognized expertise and credibility, and it should be on a topic that serves your business purpose.

To learn more on this subject, download a free infographic, “4 Reasons You Didn’t Get That Speaking Gig” here.


About the Author

Carl Friesen
Carl Friesen has a background in Journalism, an MBA in Marketing, and experience in sales and business development. For the past 15 years, he has helped his business professional clients publish content that demonstrates their expertise in niche markets.

He is founder of Thought Leadership Resources, which provides educational materials to help professionals such as engineers, lawyers, consultants and architects learn how to get noticed and stand out as thought-leaders. To learn more, visit

To enrol in a free weekly resource offering insights into demonstrating thought leadership, click here.

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