How to Find Ideas for Your Talks

Posted on by Rachel in advent speaker tips.

There will be days when you feel all out of ideas.

Sometimes there are things that you are simply burning to talk about, however if you are a frequent speaker, there will be days when you feel all out of ideas. In this post I’ll describe some of the ways I think up ideas for new presentations.

What are the hot topics?

Within your industry there are probably things which are the topic of the moment. These are likely to be something that conferences will want to cover in some way. The problem with these topics is that you wont be the only person to submit a proposal to speak on them.

If you are the foremost expert in that area, then you have a head start. Otherwise, you need to think of a unique angle on the subject, something where you have real experience to share. I speak about technology, and while it is a perfectly valid thing to do to simply train people on a technology, there will be more people who can do that. If you have a case study of how you used the technology, can show what worked well and where the pitfalls are, that is likely to be far more interesting as the things you have learned could save audience members a great deal of time.

Popular articles you have published

If you have written a blog post, article or even a tweet which became popular, that is a good topic to consider when writing a new talk. If the piece generated a lot of discussion, it demonstrates that this is a subject people are interested in. If you have managed to capture any of that discussion and the questions people asked, so much the better. You can write your talk to answer these points. I quite frequently “test out” ideas in blog posts, to see if the subject is something that interests other people as much as me. If applying to a call for papers you can even reference the original post, and the interest it raised, to show how people are keen to know more on the subject.

Things other people have published

Have you read something recently that you wanted to respond to? Seen a talk where you felt you could offer the logical next step? These can be great jumping off points and also give you a way to frame your talk. A counter-argument, delivered in a positive way, can be an excellent way to get people thinking about both sides of a situation. Make sure when building on the work of someone else that you properly credit the original writer or speaker, otherwise rather than building on that work you are in danger of looking as if you are trying to steal their thunder. By not crediting you also do your audience a disservice as they then don’t know where to find the original material as a basis for their learning.

Questions asked after previous talks

A goldmine of ideas for me, are questions asked after my previous talks. Given that most of us speak around one particular subject or related themes, sometimes someone will ask a question which is related to the point of your talk but not covered. In these questions are often ideas for future talks, especially if more than one person has a similar question.

Researching outside of your subject area

It can be interesting to look outside of your own narrow field of reference. Do other industries have similar problems, how do they deal with them? This is a particularly good approach if you have experience of another industry to draw on. It’s likely that you will see the connections very clearly, but they would not be so obvious to someone without a foot in both camps. This gives you a unique take on your subject.

Have somewhere to keep ideas

I’m a writer and speaker and I have an ideas file into which I note down ideas for things that I might write or speak about. I tend not to worry whether they are a talk or article initially. These might come out of a conversation with someone, questions after a talk, a blog post I have read, or something that I have done as part of my work which I think is broadly interesting. My file is a simple list in my to do list application, you could use Trello, OneNote, EverNote or any other application which allows you to store ideas and related information.

Over time I often add to ideas. I might see a second blog post raising the same question, or another person raises the issue with me. Eventually these ideas turn into something that I think is the basis of some kind of output - be that a talk, article or both. I then pull it out and start work on it. Ideas will rarely come while you are sat at your computer trying to think up an idea, so building a habit of collecting these things will pay dividends.

Advent speaker tips: this is part of a series of tips for public speakers that we’re posting throughout advent. Check back daily during December for more.

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