When we’re assigned to deliver a presentation, teachers often ask us to pick the topic ourselves. Answering the question What should I talk about? or What are the most interesting topics? can be as tough as preparing and delivering the presentation itself.

So what makes an interesting topic? What are the elements that your chosen subject should have in order to captivate the audience?

I believe that any good speaker can capture the audience’s attention no matter what the topic he’s addressing. It’s all about making people understand what’s so fascinating about your talk. Still, some times we want to focus our attention on a topic that is motivating and adapted to the circumstances.

Anatomy of Interesting Topics

Whatever topic you choose, make sure it has all of these 3 characteristics: reach, novelty and a twist.

Reach means that the topic is not super specific, in the sense that a lot of people can relate to it. Be careful about presenting advance physics concepts to an audience mainly interested in Geology. You could, however, deliver a presentation convincing geologists of how important quantum physics is in their own field.

Novelty refers to the innovation side of your talk. Make sure you present something they never heard about, or at least never heard from your specific perspective. Captivating an audience is also about having an unique voice and not settling for common points of view.

Adding a twist to your topic is another way of making it interesting. Introduce a personal anecdote, tell a story, crack a joke, combine two completely unrelated topics (Quantum Physics According to Scooby Doo) and so on.

A few examples or topics obeying to these 3 rules are the ones which:

  • Explain a complex or frequently misunderstood concept from your field in layman terms. E.g. The Internet of Things and How It’s Affecting Us Daily or What is Quantum Mechanics?
  • Raise awareness towards a global issue, whether it’s in Healthcare, Environment or Social Sciences. E.g. What can we all do to prevent cancer? orHow is our waste affecting the oceans?
  • Tell a story from your life that impacted it like no other. We all have exciting episodes to share with audiences, just make sure they involve danger, surprise, change, fear, sadness, loss or happiness. What have your life taught you?
  • Write a stand up comedy piece or just try to study an existing one and make people laugh. Comedy is a vehicle for change and, while it gets people laughing, it sometimes carries deep messages.
  • Report a recent project you’ve been working on to the audience. Are you a painter? Talk about your passion for painting and the techniques you use to create your art. Are you a scientist? Describe how you got into it and what you’re working on right now.

The Best Types of Presentations

I was part of the audience of a lot of presentations, but I was also on stage a lot of times too. From my experience, the most interesting presentations do one of the following:
  • Share experiences, in form of a story, report or case study
  • Offer value, in the form of knowledge, a service/product, a new insight
  • Disrupt, i.e. challenge the general opinion about a subject

Share experiences

This is the modern equivalent to siting around a campfire telling stories about the last hunts. Humans have been doing this for the last few thousands of years. So it’s safe to say that it’s a proven strategy to engage an audience.
In this category, I’d include presentations about projects, adventures, experiments, successes and failures. Explain your motivation behind what you did. What resources did you use? How did you get them? What went wrong, what went right? Would you do it all over again?
A few suggestions for presentation titles:
  • Building a Robot in 90 Days – How We Did It
  • What I Learned From my Research Project
  • Around the World in 80 Days – What We Learned From It
  • Recycling Program in Our School – Did It Do Any Good?
  • Applying Kanban in Our Daily Team Activities
Share what’s going on with your life with the audience

Offer value

Another great type of presentation that easily attracts and engages an audience is the one that offers something of value. It may be knowledge – think a great lecture or an intro to working with Agile – or it may be a pitch of a project, product or service.
If you’re looking for any topic to speak about because you’re out of ideas, this is probably the easiest. We all know more about some topics than the general population – it’s up to us as speakers to frame it from an interesting point of view.
On the other hand, it’s also important to find the value in our own projects when it’s time to present them in front of a jury, teachers or stakeholders. Pitches come into play here.
  • How can Understanding Quantum Physics Change your Life
  • How To Increase Your Productivity In 10 Minutes
  • Learn How To Study Better and More Efficiently
  • Our App Can Save Your Business Money
  • 5 Mistakes You’re Making When Presenting
Harness the power of communicating knowledge

Disrupt

Perhaps my favorite type of presentation, the one when a speaker introduces an idea with which most people would disagree, but after presenting compelling evidence, people leave their seats reconsidering their original position.
Al Gore is an example of a disrupting presenter. As far as I’m concerned, before watching his movie, An Inconvenient Truth, I didn’t care about environmental issues at all – I didn’t even know they were an issue. After a well-paced and well-written presentation, a lot of people changed their minds.
The key with these presentations is to know exactly where you stand in the argument and to present credible and compelling evidence supporting your claim. A few examples (regardless of my opinion on the subject):
  • Apple Products Are a Waste of Money
  • Most Terrorism Comes from the West
  • FC Porto is the Best Football Club of All Time
  • Spending Time on Quora is a Waste of Time
  • Smartphones Are Destroying Social Contact
Get the idea?
 
John Ramos

Author John Ramos

A medical student, entrepreneur and Science enthusiast. When outside the gym, hospital or conference halls, John does his best to keep TheStudentPower.com up and running.

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