English & EAL

Choosing a 'WOW' Topic for your VCE Oral Presentation

Lisa Tran

January 23, 2020

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The LSG criteria that will ensure you find an interesting topic!

Step 1: Select a topic that has appeared in the media since 1 September of the previous year

Getting started on this first part can be tricky, especially if you want to choose something a bit more original or fresh.

In any case, the first thing you need is an event. An event in the VCE English context is anything that happens which also generates opinionated media coverage—so, it’s not just an event but it has to be an event that people have published opinions about, and they have to have been published since September 1.

You might wonder why we don’t go to the issue straight away. Here’s a hypothetical to illustrate: if you asked me to name an issue, the best I could probably come up with off the top of my head is climate change. However, if you asked me to name an event, I’d pretty easily recall the Australian bushfires—something much more concrete which a) has generated specific and passionate opinions in the media; and b) can easily be linked to a wider issue such as climate change.

So where do you find an event? If you can’t think of a particularly interesting one right away, you could always try Wikipedia. Seriously, Wikipedia very helpfully has pages of things that happened in specific years in specific countries, so “2019 in Australia” might well be a starting point. The ABC news archive is also really helpful since you can pick dates or periods of time and see a good mix of news events from then.

I wouldn’t underestimate your own memory here either. Maybe you attended the School Strike for Climate and/or you feel vaguely disappointed in the government. Maybe there was something else happening in the news you remember (even though it is often about the environment these days). It doesn’t have to be from the news though—maybe there was a movie or TV show you watched recently that you have thoughts about. You could really do a speech on any of these, as long as you suspect there might be recent, opinionated media coverage.

Only once you have an event should you look for an issue. This will be a specific debate that comes out of the event, and can usually be framed as a “whether-or-not” question. The bushfires, for example, might generate debate around whether or not the Australian government is doing enough to combat climate change, whether or not Scott Morrison has fulfilled his duties as Prime Minister, whether or not it’s appropriate to discuss policy already when people are still grieving. All of these issues are going to be more current and more focused than just ‘climate change’, so pick one that resonates for your speech. In the next couple of sections, I’ll offer you a list of 2019-20 issue-debate breakdowns (i.e. topic ideas!).

Most importantly, choose an event/issue that is interesting for you. You’re the one who’s going to deal most intimately with this event/issue - you’ll have to research multiple sources, come up with a contention and arguments, write the essay, present the essay - so make it easier for yourself because you’re going to be spending a lot of time completing all these steps. Besides, an inherently interesting topic means that you’ll showcase your opinions in an authentic way, which is incredibly important when it comes to presentation time.

Step 2: Filter out the boring events/issues

“Your aim of this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.”  
-The VCAA English Study Design

Next, you’ll need use this test to see whether or not your topic will stand up to the test of being ‘interesting’ enough for your audience. My first question to you is: who is your audience?

Is it your classroom and teacher? Is it a handful of teachers? If you don’t know, stop right now and find out. Only continue to the next question once you’re 100% certain of your audience.

Once you know who your audience is, ask yourself: Does this event and issue relate to my audience?

This question matters because “your aim of this entire Oral Presentation SAC is to persuade your audience to agree with your contention (whatever that may be) based off the issue you’ve selected.” This means that what you say to your audience and how they respond to your speech matters. Even if your assessor isn’t counting exactly how many people are still listening to your speech at the end, everyone knows a powerful speech when they’re in the presence of one - it hooks the audience from start to end - and an assessor, consciously or subconsciously, cannot deny that the collective attentiveness of the room has an influence on their marking of your Oral Presentation.

That’s why you should choose a topic that your audience can relate to. This is just my personal opinion, but I don’t find a speech on the Adani Coalmine (broad issue = climate change) as interesting and engaging as School Strike For The Climate (broad issue = climate change). That’s not to say that I’m for or against the Adani Coal Mine, but I know that if I’m speaking to a crowd of 17-18 years olds, the School Strike For The Climate would be a better choice because it’s going to hit a lot closer to home (1) (perhaps some of those in your audience - including yourself - have attended one of those strikes).

To extrapolate this idea further, I try to avoid topics that have too many unfamiliar words for my audience. For example, I recall one year when one of my students decided to take a stance on pain medications and that they should be restricted to only over-the-counter in pharmacies. Have I lost you already with the ‘over-the-counter’? Yeah, I have no doubt that some of you are unfamiliar with that word (don’t stress, I didn’t know it either when I was in school). On top of this phrase, she used words like ‘Schedule A’, ‘Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme’, ‘Medicare rebate’, ‘opioids', ‘subsidised’, and other words that aren’t part of the usual vocabulary of her audience. I’d take heed because in order to captivate the audience’s attention, they need to understand what you’re talking about. As soon as there’s something they don’t understand, it becomes much harder for them to follow your speech, and before you know it, Sarah, the class sleeper is taking her afternoon snooze and the others are struggling to keep their eyes open! Having said all that, if you have an equivalent jargon-heavy topic like pain medications that really does interest you, then go for it. Just bear in mind that you’ll need to explain any new vocabulary during your speech to keep your audience’s attention.

Keen to learn more? My How To Write A Killer Oral Presentation eBook continues on this same path, covering the next steps in your Oral Presentation journey!

  • Access a step-by-step guide on how to write your Oral Presentation with simple, easy-to-follow advice
  • Read and analyse sample A+ Oral Presentations with EVERY speech annotated and broken down on HOW and WHY students achieved A+ so you reach your goal
  • Learn how to stand out from other students with advice on your speech delivery

Sounds like something that'd help you? I think so too! Access the full eBook by clicking here!

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