I doing a lot of speaking at conferences and one of the challenges is choosing a topic. Here are some tips for how I choose a topic.
1. Target You A Year Ago
What is something you wish someone had taught you a year ago (or two years, or five years)? This is a great topic for a talk. I see people fall into two big traps when they are brainstorming like this, they tell themselves:
- this topic is too small (there isn’t enough information for a whole talk)
- I don’t know enough about this topic to present on it
I have never seen a talk that was too tightly focused, hold on to these “small” ideas. In regards to your knowledge on the subject, no one expects you to present on it right now with no preparation. I learn a ton when I’m prepping a talk and you will too.
2. Go Deep, Not Wide
As I mentioned, I’ve never seen a talk that was too tightly focused. I have seen many talks that were too large in scope. I would much prefer a deep dive into a single topic rather than an overview.
Don’t give me an overview of 4 different plugins that create custom fields, pick your favorite and teach me about it. Even better, pick one use case for a custom field and walk me through the steps of creating it and using it on your website.
Don’t try to cover everything about the new block based WordPress editor (Gutenberg), instead tell me about one block type and how to use all of its features (e.g. the image block).
Rather than running through the five SOLID Principles of Object-Oriented Programming, choose one and cover it thoroughly.
One of my favorite talks I’ve given is on WordPress filters. Typically WordPress filters and actions are presented together (and often even that is considered too narrow a focus) but I found I had plenty of information going deep with filters.
3. Find an Analogy
When we learn something new, it is helpful if we can associate the new information with existing information we already know (sometimes called scaffolding). Analogies are a great way to associate new information with old information. Some examples of analogies I’ve used in my own presentations:
- A DNS record is like an entry in a phone book
- Using Composer is like borrowing books from the library
- Patch files are like a move in a game of correspondence chess
- A WordPress filter hook is like a cut-out in a pipe
Find an analogy you can revisit throughout your presentation and you’ll have a huge head start on creating a memorable presentation.
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