14.3 Guidelines for Selecting an Informative Speech Topic
Pick a Specific or Focused Topic
Perhaps one of the biggest and most common misconceptions students have about informative speech topics is that the topic needs to be broad in order to fill the time requirements for the speech. It is not uncommon for a student to propose an informative speech topic such as “To inform my audience about the history of music.” How is that topic even possible? When does the history of music even begin? The thinking here is that this speech will be easy to research and write since there is so much information available. But the opposite is actually true. A topic this broad makes doing research even harder.
Let’s consider the example of a student who proposes the topic “To inform my audience about the Civil War.” The Civil War was, conservatively speaking, four years long, resulted in over 750,000 casualties, and arguably changed the course of human history. So to think that it is possible to cover all of that in five to seven minutes is unrealistic. Also, a typical college library has hundreds of books dealing with the Civil War. How will you choose which ones are best suited to use for your speech?
The better approach in this case is to be as specific as possible. A revised specific purpose for this speech might be something like “To inform my audience about the Gettysburg Address.” This topic is much more compact (the Gettysburg Address is only a few minutes long), and doing research will now be exponentially easier—although you will still find hundreds of sources on it. Or, an even more specific topic would be like the one in the outline at the end of this chapter: “To inform my classmates of the specific places in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, that are considered haunted.”
Instead of looking through all the books in your campus library on the Civil War, searching through the library’s databases and catalog for material on the Gettysburg Address will yield a much more manageable number of books and articles. It may sound counterintuitive, but selecting a speech topic that is very specifically focused will make the research and writing phases of the informative speech much easier.
Avoid Faux or Fake Informative Speech Topics
Sometimes students think that because something sounds like an informative speech topic, it is one. This happens a lot with political issues that are usually partisan in nature. Some students may feel that the speech topic “To inform my audience why William Henry Harrison was a bad president” sounds factual, but really this is an opinion. Similarly, a number of topics that include conspiracy and paranormal subject matter are usually mistaken for good informative topics as well.
It is not uncommon for a student to propose the topic “To inform my audience about the existence of extraterrestrials,” thinking it is a good topic. After all, there is plenty of evidence to support the claim, right? There are pictures of unidentified objects in the sky that people claim are from outer space, there are people who claim to have seen extraterrestrials, and most powerful of all, there are people who say that they have been abducted by aliens and taken into space.
The problem here, as you have probably already guessed, is that these facts are not irrefutable. Not every single person who sees something unknown in the sky will agree it is an alien spacecraft, and there can be little doubt that not everyone who claims to have been abducted by a UFO is telling the truth. This isn’t to say that you can’t still do an informative speech on alien sites. For example, two viable options are “To inform my audience about the SETI Project” or “To inform my audience of the origin of the Area 51 conspiracy.” However, these types of speeches can quickly devolve into opinion if you aren’t careful, which would then make them persuasive speeches. Even if you start by trying to be objective, unless you can present each side equally, it will end up becoming a persuasive speech. Additionally, when a speaker picks such a topic, it is often because of a latent desire to persuade the audience about them.