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, reader, 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.

Passion

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 technical ability, writing React code well in Vim is a spectrum ranging from barely-getting-it-done to ninja 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 the most important trait of a good talk.

Familiarity

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 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 listener beyond that level into unfamiliar ground.

Freshness

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

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ecosystem is constantly changing, and any techniques I haven’t validated or re-validated recently will likely be outdated.

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

Conclusion

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