Any Topic Can be Interesting if Told Well
Any topic? Yes, I believe any topic can be interesting if told well.
How did I come to such a bold statement? From listening to a number of good speakers talk about a variety of topics – some of which I thought would be boring.
In today’s connected world, we’re lucky to have access to all sorts of information. We see speakers with various styles, various levels of expertise, and discussing various topics.
While I’ve watched many TED talks and Toastmaster International speakers, what convinced me that any topic could be interesting was a fellow Toastmaster, Don. He did this by giveing a speech on fishing.
A different type of fish story
Have you heard about the one that got away? Yes, the classic fish story.
What my fellow Toastmaster told was a different type of tale. One where he was on vacation with family, hired a guide with a boat, and went fishing for the afternoon. Fairly mundane, typical type of vacation tale, right?
Wrong! While the topic was one I had very little interest in hearing (sorry to all of you fishermen, but it’s just not my thing), Don’s story had my complete interest. I even laughed at several points. In the end, Don didn’t catch any fish.
But he hooked me. And he did catch the attention of everyone at the Toastmaster meeting that night.
How did he accomplish this? By using techniques he’d developed as a Toastmaster.
Toastmaster tools & training
By using colorful language to describe the guide, the location, and overall experience he lured us into his story by painting a vivid picture. Don also brought us emotionally into his experience.
Colorful language requires details like sights, sounds, and feelings. Here is an example from his speech which I’ve tried to remember and relay, but which I’ve not done justice.
He cast his rod over the bow of the boat and waited for a bite. Over his shoulder was came a series of splashes. As he looked toward the sounds, he saw what seemed like an entire school of fish jumping out of the water just ten feet off the back of the boat. Before Don could turn back to his own pole, an excited shout came from his brother Tom. He had caught a beautiful 10 pound bass – the largest catch of his life. Standing proudly in the middle of the boat, Tom held up his prize fish, which gleamed and wiggled on the end his line. Don felt like the fist and Tom were taunting him.
For the next thirty minutes, Don’s two companions caught an additional eight fish. Don didn’t even get a nibble. At this point he decided to cast his line of the back of the boat. As soon as Tom cast his fishing line into the spot Don had just abandoned, another large bass took his bait.
Throughout his story he used vocal variety and body language to great effect. When he talked about searching for his fishing spot, he took on a ‘George Washington crossing the Delaware’ type pose. He mimed the act of casting with a fake fishing rod while adding a ‘click’ & ‘whizzz’ sound effect. By peppering these things throughout the story he helped to bring it to life. Don made us feel like we were there with him.
Audience frame of reference
While the technique for telling the tale is important, Don also accomplished his task of entertaining the audience by engaging us.
Don focused on an aspect of his story that all of us could relate to – feeling unlucky. He clearly enjoyed his little ‘fishing adventure’ with his brother. By focusing the story around frustration and feelings of failure Don made it relatable.
It didn’t matter that I’m not interested in fishing because that was just the backdrop for me. If you want to make the topic interesting, as a speaker we must always think about what the audience finds interesting. If Don was speaking to a bunch of fishing fanatics he would have spent more time describing the fishing location, equipment specifics, etc. Since he was speaking to an audience with a broad array of interests and backgrounds, he spun the story more around the human and emotional aspect.
How to find an interesting topic
Many Toastmaster members have difficulty deciding on a topic for their speeches. Often people have asked me for help in finding interesting topics. When I tell them that any topic can be interesting, they don’t want to believe me.
While being a Toastmaster, I’ve heard people speak on an array of topics. I’ve even heard a speech on how eating asparagus can make your urine smell. Talk about a surprising speech topic!
Interesting speeches are made. Not by choosing from a small pool of interesting topics. They are interesting by they way they are focused and the way they are told.
A good storyteller always tells a story the audience wants to hear, not just what the speaker wants to tell. When you can marry both of these together – you have a successful speech on both sides.
I’d be interested in a time where you where able to do this and how your achieved it.