Article Category: Speechwriting

Toastmasters Speech 7: Research Your Topic


Toastmasters Speech 7: Research Your Topic

Imagine that you are writing your next great speech. As you scour your mind for the fact that will clinch your case, you will discover one of two things: either you know it, or you don’t.

Most of the time, you won’t know every piece of information you need to make a compelling argument, but you can find it.

The seventh Toastmasters speech project encourages you to go beyond your own knowledge and opinions, and fill in the gaps with various forms of research.

This article of the Toastmasters Speech Series examines the primary goals of this project, provides tips and techniques, and links to numerous sample speeches.

Why is This Speech Important?

  1. The Ice Breaker
  2. Organize Your Speech
  3. Get to the Point
  4. How To Say It
  5. Your Body Speaks
  6. Vocal Variety
  7. Research Your Topic
  8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids (coming next)
  9. Persuade with Power
  10. Inspire Your Audience

The objectives for this speech project are to conduct appropriate research and then incorporate this research into your speech to provide support for your key arguments.

Tips and Techniques

1. Don’t know what to research? Anticipate audience questions.

As you take your speech from an idea to an outline, and then to a rough draft, ask yourself the following question: “If I delivered this speech as is, what question would my audience have?” If you don’t have the answer (due to your subject expertise), then you’ve got to research it. Then, once you incorporate this new research into your speech, ask yourself the question again. Repeat a few times until you’ve covered the key questions.

2. Use websites, but use them wisely.

There’s a wealth of information out there, and you’d be stupid not to utilize it.

But don’t be lazy when choosing your sources. I’m a huge fan of Wikipedia and I have used it for early speech research. However, I wouldn’t always trust my reputation as a speaker on the information provided by an encyclopedia that anyone can edit. Instead, look for primary sources. For example:

The quality of your source matters. (See this article about speaking ethos.)

3. Don’t use only websites.

Don’t include statistics just because they are jaw-dropping. Include them because they improve the strength of your argument.

Sure, the Internet has lots of answers, but not all of them. You might also try:

  • Books, newspapers, magazines, etc.
  • Go to the business, the attraction, the town hall meeting, the park, the beach, the mall, or whatever location allows you to gather first-hand knowledge.
  • Interview an expert, whether in-person, on the phone, or via email.
  • Conduct a survey yourself.

You will raise your credibility by going beyond the “easy” or “expected” source (the web).

4. Keep it relevant.

Remember the lesson learned in speech 3: every element of your speech must reinforce your purpose.

Don’t include statistics just because they are jaw-dropping. Include them because they improve the strength of your argument.

Similarly, don’t include quotations from a famous person or source with the intent of name-dropping. Include them because they express one of your arguments more succinctly than you could otherwise express it.

5. Cite your sources.

As mentioned in a previous article about improving your persuasiveness:

A statistic may be accurate, but without citing a source, your audience may dismiss it. By citing a source, you tip the scale towards believability.

6. Provide necessary context.

Facts, statistics, quotations, and whatever else you discover in your research can rarely be presented all alone. In most cases, you’ll need to wrap your research by providing some context, and explaining the relevance.

For example, suppose that your research tells you that a certain exercise burns 800 calories of energy. Depending on the knowledge of your audience, this may be a meaningless number. To give it meaning, you have to provide the context. e.g. 800 calories is one third of the recommended daily caloric intake. (Note that this value depends on gender, weight, etc. Choose a value which is representative of your audience… or provide a range of values.)

7. Don’t cram too much in.

Avoid the temptation to just collect an array of statistics and then spew them at your audience, one after the other. Your speech should be supported by your research; it should not be the research.

But what if you have more research than you can reasonably fit…?

8. Surprise your audience with a handout.

In your speech, you only have time to refer to the most relevant research. But a great way to follow up your speech (all speeches, but especially for this project) is to provide additional research on a handout. A single page is often enough. It’s a good place to list websites or other sources, or any other information which leads your audience towards your call-to-action.

Your speech should be supported by your research; it should not be the research.

What I Did for Speech 7

I researched options for cutting the fuel costs for your car, and presented these to my audience.

I included the following research in my speech:

  • A chart showing gas prices for a 3-year period (on gasbuddy.com). I presented this as a chart early in the talk to illustrate how drastic the overall change has been to set the context for my talk.
  • The sum of federal, provincial, and local (transit) taxes that are included in the gas price. (Where I live, taxes add up to one third of the total price!)
  • The range of fuel efficiency among different classes of vehicles (a factor of six between a Toyota Prius hybrid and a Dodge Ram truck), and also between vehicles in the same class (varies from five to forty percent).
  • The fuel efficiency difference between a vehicle which is properly maintained, and one which is not (up to 13%).
  • The fuel costs associated with running your air conditioning rather than opening your windows (up to 10%, depending on your speed).
  • Fuel savings from driving style (up to 25%) e.g. maintaining a steady speed rather than constantly speeding and braking.
  • Fuel savings from streamlining your car (up to 5%) by removing roof racks or heavy items from the trunk.
  • Fuel savings from buying at the “right” time of day (up to 5%).

Most of my research was done on various government, automotive, and consumer websites. I presented the sources as part of my talk. (Unfortunately, the links are dead now.)

For the “time of day” research, I compiled this myself by recording the price difference at the same gas station every day for one month when I drove by it several times per day (to and from work, etc.) On average, the gas was 5% cheaper in the evening relative to the morning price.

To make the research more meaningful, I also presented the dollar savings which could be realized for an average commuter in Greater Vancouver, where I live. ($632 a year!)

Toastmasters Speech 7 Examples

  1. The Ice Breaker
  2. Organize Your Speech
  3. Get to the Point
  4. How To Say It
  5. Your Body Speaks
  6. Vocal Variety
  7. Research Your Topic
  8. Get Comfortable with Visual Aids (coming next)
  9. Persuade with Power
  10. Inspire Your Audience

Here are a few sample video speeches which may provide inspiration for you. As you watch them, ask yourself which elements of the speech were likely researched, how well was this researched material presented, and did it support the speaker’s arguments?

  • Sugar Blues by Kelly Cornell
    • Note how the speaker makes numbers more meaningful by comparing them to other values. Also, she uses teaspoons to aid understandability rather than the less commonly known grams. e.g.
      • Average American consumes more than 100 pounds of sugar every year, compared to 8 pounds of broccoli.
      • Lemon poppyseed Clif Bar has 21 grams of sugar (5 teaspoons).
        Chocolate glazed cake donut (Dunkin donuts) has 14 grams (3 teaspoons).
        16 ounce Starbucks frappucino has 44 grams of sugar (10 teaspoons). “That’s like eating 3 donuts!”
    • Although the speaker cites the USDA as the source for the 10 teaspoons/day recommendation, no other sources are cited through the speech. For example, who says Americans consume more than 100 pounds of sugar a year? Since the speaker is an authority herself (she is a nutrition counselor), citing her sources isn’t critical, but it would be good.

Next in the Toastmasters Speech Series

The next article in this series will examine Speech 8: Get Comfortable with Visual Aids.

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