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How to find the topic of the technical presentation

A few subjective tips that will help you choose the topic of the next workshop or presentation quickly and without pain.

A young woman giving a presentation for a group of a dozen or so people in the room.

Photo from ngGirls workshop in Warsaw.

Why is it worth it?

When I started my career in IT, I asked one of my mentors why he devotes his time to conducting workshops and lectures and sharing knowledge with others. The answer I heard inspires me to this day:

β€œWhat separates good programmers from the great ones is that the first ones are well-versed in technical issues, can solve problems and take care of their development. Others also share their knowledge and help others to develop”.

I strongly believe that the free flow of knowledge, helping each other and sharing experiences are the things that make IT such a wonderful and unique industry. I also learned a lot from various presentations and I would like to β€œgive” some good to the world. Therefore, I strongly encourage you to share your knowledge with others - e.g. by conducting interesting presentations and workshops. What's more - attending all sorts of events can help you grow your personal brand, get a promotion at work, expand your network of contacts, and even travel more (after all, tech conferences are held all over the world).

Choosing a topic

If the arguments in the previous paragraph have convinced you (and I hope so), you are probably wondering how to start. Contrary to public opinion, it is not that difficult! For most of the people I have spoken to and mentored, the problem is finding the right topic for a speech. What criteria should a good topic meet? It should be:

  • interesting - to attract the attention of the audience,
  • precise - to convey knowledge despite time constraints and to focus on a small area of knowledge so as not to overload the audience with excess knowledge,
  • matched to the audience - we will speak differently to a group of professionals from the same industry and differently to children. From the very beginning, it is worth considering who is the recipient of our message and choose a topic appropriate for a given group.

Once we know what a good topic means, it's time to generate ideas. Personally, I recommend a one-person brainstorming session on this topic. Book 30 minutes in your calendar, during which no one will disturb you. Then get a pen and paper or a computer with your favorite word processor. Start the timer for 20 minutes. Think about 3 areas: things you are interested in, things you have been working on recently and things you want to know more about (I will describe them in more detail in the following paragraphs). For each of them, write down as many ideas and associations as possible. Don't limit yourself and don't scratch any idea at this stage - even if it looks strange at first glance. When the time runs out, start analyzing your saved ideas, taking into account the criteria for a good topic outlined above. Do any of them speak exceptionally to your heart? This is most likely the topic of your next presentation!

Generating ideas

The most important step in coming up with a presentation topic is generating ideas. As I wrote above, I most often use 3 predefined areas here: passion, current work and plans. What exactly do I mean by them? Let's go through each of these areas in turn.

Plush Android and many yellow sticky notes with ideas behind him

As you can see in the picture attached, me and my teddy Android are big fans of using sticky notes to generate ideas, but of course the digital version is also OK.

Things you are fascinated by

Each of us has our own interests. And there is nothing better than true enthusiasts who tell others about their hobbies. Is there something that really fascinates you? Something you love telling your friends about and what you can talk about for hours? What was your last "after hours" project that you couldn't tear yourself away from? What subject on your studies /bootcamp do you remember so much that you would like more people to hear about it? It doesn't have to be purely technical either - think about how you can combine your passion with technology. Maybe you can create your own dance mat and program it in your favorite language? Or to use the passion for yoga to tell programmers what to do to make your back hurt less after a whole day of work? I'm sure you already have some interesting ideas - use them! An additional bonus: the easiest way to talk about things we love, is that preparation and presentation will be a pleasure for you.

Something you have been working on recently

Another area worth focusing on is the things you are currently working on or have recently worked on. Perhaps it is not something as interesting as the things you thought about in the previous paragraph, but most likely you have already done the initial research and implementation of the solution. You also have a good base for a presentation in which you will tell about your specific example: the business goal you want to achieve, the problems you encountered on your way and the ways in which you addressed them, analyzed approaches - their advantages and disadvantages. What would you do differently if you started this project from scratch? What would you like to know beforehand? Help others by answering these questions. In my subjective opinion, presentations describing a specific use case in the real world are one of those presentations with the most listeners. Think of recent interesting examples from work or additional projects and share them with others.

A young woman in a black dress giving a presentation to a small group of women. In the background behind it, there is a slide with the words "What does a programmer's job look like"

A photo from my presentation for the Success University about what a programmer's job looks like. Our experiences from everyday work can interest many people.

Something you want to know more about

The last category of ideas is the least intuitive and requires the most work on your part. I'm sure you have in your head suggestions for things you want to learn more about, frameworks that you intend to learn or tools that you plan to test. A presentation on these topics can be an additional motivation to turn these plans into reality. In addition, there is a good chance that others would like to learn about these topics as well. Thanks to your presentation, they will learn how to start and save some time needed for researching a given tool. I think many great presentations were created thanks to interesting conversations over beer, interesting meetings at meetups or conferences. Take a look at the list of things you want to learn, look at inspirations and notes from recent times. Perhaps that's where the topic of your presentation hid. However, there is one very big risk with this approach - remember that getting to know new things is a long process, and your final conclusions may be different than those planned at the very beginning. In addition, it is important to select the recipients of such content - your topic will most likely be appropriate for a local meetup or meeting at work among people who do not know anything about the topic but definitely do not fit the conference gathering specialists in a given area. Personally, I advise you not to attend any conference or meetup until you have a specific abstract and general plan. Remember that each presentation should be well thought out and properly prepared. However, if you are not chased by deadlines and you can spend some time on research, combine business with pleasure - learn something new, and when you get to know it, share your knowledge with others!

A young woman in a colorful dress with a professional microphone on her ear. Behind it there are fragments of a slide with a CSS class snippet.

Photo from my presentation about accessibility at InfoShare F3 conference in GdaΕ„sk.

Summary

Choosing a good presentation topic is not an easy task, but you will certainly be able to handle it. What to do?

  • Take a piece of paper and a pen in your hand.
  • List things in which you are very interested.
  • List the things you have been working on recently.
  • List things you would like to know more about.
  • Analyse all your saved ideas and think about which one you like best. I am sure that thanks to this simple exercise you will be able to choose the topic of your next presentation!

I keep my fingers crossed for you and for your presentation!

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