So you want to start conference speaking? Start with an idea

3 min readPublished January 05, 2020Updated May 02, 2022

This is the first post in a series on getting started as a conference speaker. This post focuses on how to choose an idea for your talk. Links to other posts in the series can be found at the end of this post.

This may seem obvious, but before you can start applying to speak at conferences, you need to have an idea for what you want to speak about. This step often scares people away from becoming a conference speaker. You may think that conference speakers are smart, experienced people who have Ideas to Share. But conference speakers are just like you.

You are 110% qualified to be a conference speaker because everyone has a perspective to share. Whether you’ve been doing the thing (coding, managing, researching, whatever!) for decades or you’re just getting started in your field, your unique perspective is valuable to an audience.

When trying to think of an idea for a conference talk, the trick is to find something that you’re passionate about. We’ve all seen talks where the speaker is bored or their company is making them speak. Those sessions are never fun. You want to make sure that you find something that you will enjoy spending 40 hours thinking about and preparing to speak about. If you hate diving deep into the internals of a language, don’t submit to give a talk explaining memory management in that language.

Here are some starter ideas that can help get your brain cogs turning and find a topic you're interested in.

Today I learned

Share something interesting that you learned recently, no matter how “basic” you think it is. There are definitely other people out there who haven’t encountered it and could use your talk.

How to...

In a similar vein, do you have an interesting solution that you found to a common problem? Or an interesting problem with a tried and true solution? Share that with the community.

I hated it so I automated it

Are there manual processes that we all waste too much time doing? Did you create some really fun workflows using Git hooks? Talking about interesting tooling makes for great talks.

Take something intimidating and make it understandable

Is there a topic that always sounds scary but you know can be broken down in an easy to understand way? Is there something that you always feel intimidated by and want to learn more about? Find a concept that you think is interesting and break it down so that others can understand it in 45 minutes. I did this with my “Fun, Friendly Computer Science” talk, and it was one of the most enjoyable talks I’ve ever prepped.

Let me tell you a story…

Grab the audience with a narrative that makes them want to hear the ending. Did you have a nightmare production outage? Was there a work conflict that was draining you and making you want to quit your job? Was there a problem that your company had been struggling to solve for months? Walk the audience through the problem and how the team arrived at a solution. Story talks are not only enjoyable to listen to but they are often the most memorable.

Coming up with an idea for a talk is often the hardest step in becoming a conference speaker. So congratulations! You are almost there! Once you have an idea that you are passionate about and excited to share with an audience, you are ready to create an abstract to pitch it to conference organizers.

Find related posts:Public speaking

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