Jake Worth

How I Talk: Finding An Idea

August 18, 2017

I’m writing a blog post series about preparing technical talks; the introduction is available here.

Today, I’ll be covering the first part of my process: finding an idea.

Here’s a great primer on why you have ideas worth listening to:

Let’s move into the tough question: what ideas lead to great talks? My strongest talks share the following traits:

  1. I’m passionate about the idea
  2. I know the subject well (and can master it in the allotted time)
  3. I’ve practiced the subject professionally in the recent past

To lend context, I’ll take a case study from the talk I’m preparing for next month’s Vim Chicago and React Chicago Meetups, React.js + Vim.


I love Vim; learning this 25-year-old text editor changed my career. I went all-in on Vim three years ago and have translated my passion into organizing the Vim Chicago Meetup. And, I also love React.js. React is my tool of choice for the frontend.

Like any language or framework, creating React.js code in Vim has layers of efficiency ranging from barely-getting-it-done to flow state.

It takes work to build your Vim into the perfect React.js development environment. Writing React.js code professionally means that I seek that perfection. What mappings, plugins, and workflow hacks can I use to get there? It’s a subject that I care about, and that’s is the most important trait of a good talk.


An idea that’s explored in Speaking.io is that aspirational talks, i.e.– “I want to know about this subject, so I’ll sign up for a talk and learn it by the deadline”– can backfire. I’ve heard this idea humorously referred to as Talk Driven Development, and if it works for you, great.

I have to start with a solid base of understanding. I need to already be at least at the same level of the average listener. Only then do I have a chance at pushing myself and that listner beyond that level into unfamiliar ground.


For passion to translate to an interesting talk, I need to have done the work recently. You can tell when somebody is speaking about an idea that’s fresh in their mind.

The ideas also have to be relevant to a developer working in the world right now. In the case of React.js + Vim, the JavaScript ecosystem is constantly changing, and any techniques I haven’t validated or re-validated recently will likely be obsolete.

Another benefit of talking about recent completed work is that I’ve usually had time to recognize the things I could have done better. With perspective, I can integrate these lessons into the talk.


Talks are entertainment, and with the right passion, familiarity, and freshness, I hope to produce something worth listening to.

The next post in this series covers an important subject, brainstorming.

Jake Worth

I'm Jake Worth, a developer at Hashrocket based in Chicago. Blog About Now