Coming up with a talk

Everyone has something valuable to share


Congratulations! You have taken the very first step on your speaking journey. You have considered giving a talk!

Everyone in the community has something valuable to share, whether they are aware of it or not. It’s really hard to recognise that you have topics, experiences and ideas that can be presented that are valuable to others.

In this blog, we will go through some of the ways in which you can come up with a great idea. There are a few different ways to find something that YOU can talk about with confidence and enjoy working on.

Nothing is easy until you know it

Think about something you do on nearly a daily basis. As a developer this might be using source control. If you’re a manager, maybe it’s doing a 1-2-1.

Now think back to what it was like when you didn’t know how to do it and had to learn it.

It’s easy to dismiss something you know as “easy”, but once upon a time it was new to you. There are people out there who still haven’t learnt about that thing, who would find your guidance valuable.

Your experience of learning and what you have been exposed to is unique. Don’t dismiss your hard gained knowledge.

What do you get excited about?

Have you ever been talking about something related to your work, started with a flippant comment then 20 minutes later found you were still talking? Ever fallen into a tirade or rant about a topic? Or just got that excited you can’t stop talking?

In that case, it sounds like you have a topic that you can easily share your ideas about. It’s a talk that almost writes itself, it just needs a bit of structure around it.

I often walk and talk with my other half. We have a coffee together, and talk, and this produces a list of ideas that at some point I might want to make into content. Keep a list that’s easy to carry and add to - a notebook, a list on your phone. This you can refer to when you need that awesome talk idea.

A guide on something you’ve learnt about.

Have you learnt something at home or at work that you think other people should learn? Maybe you struggled for resources to help you when you needed them. It doesn’t have to be innovative, new or incredibly useful. You just needed to enjoy it or think someone else might find value in knowing how to do this thing.

Create a “how-to”-guide style talk. This can be as high-level or in-depth as you like. Walk your audience through how, why, and what to watch out for.

What can be gained from your experience?

This may be a victorious tale or a tale of woe. We’ve certainly all experienced both.

Whether the topic is highly technical, process or work skills based, we can all learn from each other’s experience. You’ve gone through the struggle or done something fantastically well - help others solve their problems by hearing about your story.

Warning: Try avoid going too niche with this. Stick to problems that people understand, can apply or will find interesting.

Using pressure as a motivator.

This style isn’t for everyone and does involve a considerable amount of work, effort and time.

Is there something you want to learn about, but are struggling with a reason to work on it or the drive to put the effort in? Well, there’s nothing quite like knowing you are going to be asked questions on the topic in front of a room full of strangers to make you want to know that topic inside and out!

You can apply to a meetup or a conference with this topic idea - once it gets accepted, you have a very real deadline to learn about that topic in.

The empowering speech.

Some speakers do a great job of rallying troops. Inspiring everyone to go out, learn and improve on themselves.

Do you see yourself as that person who can do an empowering monologue, like the main character in that favourite film of yours? Help to inspire your tech warriors to take to their keyboards and type! Do you see yourself writing a keynote one day? This style of topic might be up your street.

If this is for you, what change do you want to see in our industry? How would you motivate people to make that change?

These are but a few ways in which you can find your inspiration. There are many more, just find the right one for you.

Narrowing down the list.

You’ve probably got a list of ideas now. How do you narrow it down?

  • Bullet point rough one-line summaries of what you might talk about.

  • Find a victim who will be brutally honest with you or someone that is great for sparking ideas off.

  • Take that person for drink or snack and talk through the ideas with them

If you find that you have spent 20 minutes getting excited and discussing a particular topic — you probably have the passion to pull off a great talk on that subject and if you are passionate and can share that enthusiasm, you’ve already started on the road to success.