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"But what should I speak about?"

Posted by netrix
Published on 23 October 2022

Our train the trainer courses have been delivered the length and breadth of the UK, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. If you're looking to jump ahead in your training career, our train the trainer courses will spur your development.

When training school children, as I occasionally do, the irony is never lost on me that there are times when I have to work very hard to hold their attention and stop them from chatting away with each other. Then, when it is time for them to prepare a short speech, the same children say they have nothing to talk about.

So maybe the real question is:

'How can I use what I talk about in any way to create something that would appeal to an audience?'

Personal interests or hobbies, what we did over the weekend, our families, regular or special events, general observations about life and work, or even the occasional random, sparkling thought that pops into our heads.

Good subject matter is anything that can appeal on two levels:

1. By sharing a human perspective (so that members of the audience can empathize with the subject on a personal level)

2. In the process uncovering a deeper truth or broader principle (so that the audience makes connections with the subject matter on a universal level).

This is why endless personal success stories about struggle and ultimate achievement continue to have their appeal, because:

  • we can empathize with the struggle on a personal level and
  • learn life's lessons with the speaker on a universal level.

(And there in a nutshell you also have the basic plot of most 'blockbuster' or 'romcom' films.)

Our problem, is that when preparing for a presentation we often sabotage ourselves before we even start because we feel unable to come up with something 'significant' to say.

Be reassured: most brilliant things have already been said!

Therefore rather than looking for 'something significant to say', just start by 'saying something' and then search for a 'significance' in what you say that may work on either or both of those two levels.

Let us imagine that I am interested in the history of the railways in the UK!

Of course, the history of the railway may be very interesting in itself, especially if the audience is mechanically, technically, or historically minded.

But even so, a list of dates, locomotive specifications, passenger numbers, and branch lines - however informative - may still not engage the listener on either the personal or universal level.

So how can I appeal on a personal level?

By connecting on an emotional level:

  • I may be able to communicate my enthusiasm for the railway in a way that touches on everyone's sense of enthusiasm for their own particular subject
  • I could explain the effect the expansion of the railways had on the daily lives of ordinary people
  • I could highlight the resulting upheaval in personal lives and help the audience relate that to their own issues with change.

How could I appeal on a universal level?

By making connections on a more intellectual level:

  • Maybe the introduction of the railways could be shown to parallel the introduction of other new ideas that we have experienced
  • I could give specific modern examples of migrant workers who are also engaged in dangerous construction projects without any proper rights or protection
  • Or I could try to relate the subject to a current issue...

For instance, as I am writing this, the UK government is proposing to increase regulation on 'payday loan' companies.

A financial expert has just come on the radio to comment that the loan industry is simply going through a typical evolutionary path for many social innovations: from someone's bright idea to unregulated practice, excess, and abuse, through to legislation being introduced to protect the vulnerable or unprotected individual from exploitation.

Again - are there parallels I can draw to the early days of the railway?

As speakers, we may have to search long and hard to find a subject that is guaranteed to appeal to a particular audience. 

It's simpler to start by looking at situations, thoughts, and interests that are immediately around us, and use them as the seeds to develop material to relate to people on both a personal and a universal level.

Our train the trainer courses have been delivered the length and breadth of the UK, Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa. If you're looking to jump ahead in your training career, our train the trainer courses will spur your development.

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  • "An exceptionally useful day's training, delivered in a positive and personanable manner, very enjoyable and significant food for thought. Thank You."

    Diane Wilson - DCI Notts Police
  • "The anxiety is gone - now that I understand it. Not only can I make a presentation - I feel I have so much to give now. It's quite a transformation."

    John Eden
  • "Since attending the course, I feel like a completely different person; more confident, relaxed and easy going. I gave a speech at work last week and it went so so well."

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hm treasury
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