Brainstorming Topics for Presentations

The larger the set of topics you consider, the stronger the strongest topic will tend to be. You need to consider a large number of topics for your presentation. I generally recommend that my students consider around 100 topics for each presentation they give in my classes. Coming up with 100 topics might seem difficult at first, but going in with a plan makes it much easier. Here are some tips to help you come up with that initial list of 100 topics:

  1. Write your topic ideas as a full-sentence claim
  2. Break brainstorming up into manageable chunks
  3. Ask friends, family, classmates, tutors, and others for help
  4. Write down every idea no matter how bad it is
  5. Use ideas you have already written down as fuel

Write your topic ideas as a full-sentence claim

A full-sentence claim is a complete sentence which says something that can be supported with evidence. Compare the difference between “King Kamehameha” and “King Kamehameha united the Hawaiian islands.” Coming up with a full-sentence claim will help you realize that there are actually several interesting topics within that broad category. It is much easier to brainstorm and compare specific topics than broad categories that only summarizes your topic area.

Break it up into manageable chunks

Sure, it is possible to come up with 100 good ideas in one sitting, but coming up with ideas starts to get pretty hard after awhile. It is a lot easier if you plan on coming up with a smaller number of ideas in several sessions. Writing down just 15 ideas at each meal for 2 days gets you almost the whole way to 100.

Ask friends, family, classmates, tutors, and others for help

Brainstorming is easier in groups because you can be inspired by ideas that other people have. Asking for help with ideas for a topic is a great strategy. If the people that you are speaking with are similar to your target audience, it can also help you consider what topics your audience might find interesting. Plus, it gives you an excuse to call and ask your mom for her ideas, and moms love feeling like they helped.

Write down every idea no matter how bad it is

Hey! You thought of it (or someone helping you did), so give credit where credit is due! (Plus, are you really going to be the person that didn’t write down that idea your mom gave you?) Remember, evaluating the topics you write down comes later. If your goal in brainstorming is to come up with 100 ideas to evaluate later, then in addition to 1 good idea you also need to find 99 bad ones. Brainstorming is easy if you aren’t afraid to write down a bunch of terrible ideas. You are going to throw out most of your ideas at the end of this process anyway. Don’t worry! Even if you think an idea is terrible now, that terrible idea may prove useful later when you are having trouble coming up with anything at all and you will be glad you wrote it down.

Use ideas you have already written down as fuel

There is no requirement for every idea you write down to be totally original. One way to help kick your brain into gear is to build on some of the other things that you have written down. A particularly useful mnemonic to help you figure out how to do this is SCAMPER1. SCAMPER is a general purpose technique to improve brainstorming. The letters in SCAMPER stand for:

  • Substitute
  • Combine
  • Adapt
  • Modify
  • Put to another use
  • Eliminate
  • Reverse

  1. Eberle, B. (1996). Scamper: Creative games and activities for imagination development. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press. ^