Five questions you can ask to discover the topic for your next talk

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The act of getting out there can literally transform careers and I would encourage everyone working in tech to give it a go. It can transform your life and career. We organise a group called Aspiring Speakers that helps encourage and inspire new speakers, as well as connect to mentors and offer speaking opportunities so I spend a lot of time working with developers on the hurdles that make it a challenge to get started.

One of the most common sticking points I’ve come across is knowing what to speak about. We ask all our new members what’s stopping them from speaking, trying to figure out a topic is one of the most frequently mentioned obstacles.

I was recently speaking to Simon Maple, Java Champion, 20-year conference veteran and a hugely respected public speaker and our conversation led to an idea of something that may help. Simon was discussing how we are all on different learning paths, we are all slightly further of that journey than some others. Which means everyone always has something to teach someone else, you just have to realise that there is an audience for your knowledge.

Simon said you should never underestimate how much you know compared to other people. There are plenty of things you will know that the next person won’t. He made this clearer when he spoke about how often you will be casually chatting to someone, and they will say “Oh, I didn’t know that!” These are the exact things that can make great topics for talks.

Our discussion led to ideas about how you can discover what those things are. In essence, how do you ‘know what you know’ that others may not?

Simon said that the first areas to focus on are the things where you can see clear gains over a previous version of yourself.

So the first two are questions you can ask yourself:

Question one: What are you able to do now that you wouldn’t have been able to do 3 months ago?

Question two: What can you recall a clear eureka moment or breakthrough on?

Secondly, you should look at areas that you’ve helped other people with, or areas in which others consider you their go-to person. You should ask peers, mentors, managers or even friends these three questions:

Question three: “What do you personally think I’m great at?”

Question four: “What do you think I could teach you or teach others?”

Question five: “What have I taught you, or helped you see differently?”

You may get responses like “I think you’re really strong on X” that you have never considered yourself to be good at and would never have thought about using as a talk topic but it might inspire an amazing talk.

The only other piece of advice to bear in mind is to always speak about something you care about and are deeply interested in. This is something that has been said by almost everyone I’ve interviewed about speaking. It makes it easier to do the necessary research to create a great talk and your passion will always shine through on the day.

I’ve written previously about various other things I’ve learned from experts: https://medium.com/dev-genius/11-things-ive-learned-from-the-experts-about-how-to-choose-topics-to-talk-about-for-beginners-6c4a1bf6a348 and given my own short talk about, at one of our LJC events https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k0W8SvlfIM8&t=38m53s .

If you’d like to find out more about our Aspiring Speakers group, taking a look at some of the journeys and benefits our members have had recently might be a good place to start. You can check those out here http://meetamentor.co.uk/aspiring-speakers-feedback-and-testimonials/.

Founder of RecWorks (Tech Recruitment), Tech Career Hacker, Java User Group Founder (LJC), London CTOs Organiser, Mentor Match-Maker

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