How do you choose the one idea worth sharing in your speech?

I was training a new cohort of graduate students at Miami University who signed up for our presentation skills class. The objective was to practice narrowing their complex ideas into a short, TED-like talk.  But like most graduate students, they had an array of things they wanted to talk about. As we shifted from our training class to discovering what ONE IDEA each person wanted to share, many speakers got stuck.

Several stopped themselves and said, “I can’t share that idea in 5 minutes— it’s too complicated.”

Others found themselves drawing a blank— they didn’t even know where to begin.

Some were stuck between multiple ideas and didn’t know what to choose.

When I coached each speaker and asked questions, all I had to do was listen to the tone of their voice and notice the look in their eye. It was crystal clear what they were really passionate about. It always is.

But what do you do if you don’t have a coach to guide you?

I have 3 PUBLIC SPEAKING TIPS that can help you hone in on your one idea:


In the early stages of choosing the idea you want to share, it’s important avoid self-imposed limits— I call these the “buts.”  “But the audience won’t be able to understand.”  “But I don’t have time to explain it.” “But no one will care.” If you come down with a case of the “buts,” it’s time to ask better questions. “What context would the audience need to understand?” “What part of this idea could I share in the time allowed?” “What might help the audience care?” Questions like these help release limitations.


When I’m coaching one-on-one, I often ask clients to tell me about when they first got interested in a topic. I ask where they were, what they were thinking and feeling. These stories reveal passion and can help clarify what you really want to share with an audience. And later, these same stories could be useful in making your talk more personal.

TIP #3: Give yourself some SPACE

If you have a lot of ideas and just can’t decide what to do, or you keep hitting a wall, it helps to stop working so hard to figure it out. Take a walk. Sleep on it. Listen to some music. In other words, let your subconscious do the work. Be ready for the answer to come to you when you least expect it— often in the shower.

Remember, you have ideas worth sharing. Sometimes the biggest trick is getting out of your own way.

If your organization needs to improve TED-style presentations, storytelling competency and public speaking impact, contact us to learn how we can help in 2019.