Developing Talk Ideas

As a conference organizer, I’m always in speaker recruitment mode. Engaging presentations are the life blood of conferences and stimulate the most important part of a conference–the attendee discussion outside of scheduled sessions.

I don’t know what to talk about.

conference speakerOne comment that I hear from potential speakers is that they don’t know what to talk about. Sometimes this comes from an engineer that has never done a conference talk and sometimes from a speaker that has presented a few times covering all of the obvious (to them) topics.

If this situation applies to you: You’d like present, but feel at a loss for a topic, here is my advice:

watch videos

Start watching videos of other presenters. You know where to find them. Here is the C++Now video channel, the Meeting C++ channel, the CppCon channel, the Pacific++ channel, and, well, all of the C++ videos on YouTube.

But don’t just passively watch them. Watch them taking notes. Make a note about:

  • everything that you find interesting and want to go investigate.

If a talk touches on a feature or idea that is new to you or is used in a new way, you may want to play with it to learn more about it and see how it works in your domain.

You might come up with something that no one has every done before. Even if what you find isn’t completely new, if it was new to you, it is likely to be new to many in your audience.

  • everything that you think that you could explain better or provide better examples or use cases.

conference speakerThis is where presentation skills are so important. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a talk, after which, if you’d ask me, “What new fact did you learn?” I might be hard pressed to say what was new, but I feel like I understood the topic better because of how well it was presented.

Saying the same thing that others have said, but better, is worth doing. C++ is complicated enough that, for most topics, most of us won’t absorb every detail on the first presentation.

Just repeating someone else’s talk with better examples isn’t going to be very compelling, but offering a better way of thinking about a topic and combining topics to provide better comparison or contrast, yields value to your audience.

  • everything that you disagree with.

If you feel like you have a better solution or approach than what is currently being presented as conventional wisdom, then you’ll be passionate about your presentation and passion can be the difference between a good presentation and a great one. Perhaps you have a lightning talk duel in your future.

Interested is interesting.

Look at your notes. Do you have a list of ideas that sound interesting to you? If you are interested, your audience probably is as well. Interested is interesting.

Are you seeing patterns? Perhaps you are developing a fresh perspective. If it is a point of view that make more sense to you, it is likely that your audience will appreciate your insights.

Do you have something you want to rant about? I think I’ve got five minutes in our program schedule for you.

the best way to develop C++ presentation ideas is to be engaged with the C++ community.

Hate videos? You can use this approach without watching a single video. Instead, you can listen to CppCast or read any of the many C++ blogs. Because the insight that I’m sharing is that the best way to develop presentation ideas is to be engaged with the community. The ideas that are exciting the rest of the community are going to spark something in you as well.

Good luck and I’ll see you on stage!