How To Choose A Topic For Speaking

“The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.” observed Academy Award winning movie producer George Jessel. I think there is some truth to that for many of us.

As a regular speaker at conferences, SQLSaturdays, and other organizations, I’m often asked about public speaking. Some ask about preparation. Others ask about getting started. The most common question is about selecting a topic. That’s one question I can’t answer; I can only share how I do it.

Sharing Your Experiences

Let’s start with the mindset. The way I approach selecting a topic is to first remind myself that I’m not claiming to be an expert in the topic. In fact, I don’t claim to be an expert in anything, really. I don’t pretend to know everything about a subject.

When I speak, my goal is simple – to share my experiences and hopefully help someone else who’s about to go through something similar. Whether it’s troubleshooting a poorly performing server or helping to coach a new technical manager, I want to give them the benefit of my trials and observations. This takes the pressure off of me.

Selecting Potential Topics

As I think about potential topics, I usually consider a few things. First, I look for topics that I’m already pretty familiar with but would like to learn even more. Most every session I give requires me to do research. Preparing to teach something is the best way to really learn it. So, if you’re going to have to do some research, it may as well be in something that interests you, something you’d like to learn more about.

I also look for topics that are underserved in the community. Or put another way, I seek topics that have broad appeal but haven’t been done over and over again by other speakers. These topics aren’t necessarily obvious at first, but if you persist you can usually identify a few.

Finally, I tend to favor entry-level to mid-level topics. Sure, there’s a lot of glory in providing the very high end sessions, but the vast majority of attendees will not be ready for that depth of content. There’s a great need for entry-level to mid-level sessions. This goes back to the prior point: if other speakers tend to gravitate toward the high-end sessions, the mid-level sessions may be underserved in the community.

Creating An Abstract

Once you’ve selected a topic, the next step is to write the abstract.

Creating an abstract is an art. You’ve got to give people a reason to come to your session (or the program committee a reason to select your session for the conference). Stating just the facts about the session in a dry way won’t do that. Make it catchy. Make it compelling.

The title is the first impression they’ll get so you’ll want to put some thought into crafting a good title for your session. Consider titles like:

  • From Zero to Replication in 30 Minutes
  • The Four Pillars of Performance Tuning
  • Manage Your Calendar Or Someone Else Will

The body of the abstract supports and clarifies the title. I usually start with a description of the problem and then talk about the information I’ll convey in the session to help solve the problem.

A Sample Abstract

Consider this real-world abstract that I’ve delivered many times at conferences and Lunch & Learns.

Say Goodbye to Boring Meetings
Ever been in a meeting that drones on and on? It starts late, runs long, and doesn’t really accomplish anything. It’s a complete waste of everyone’s time. Worse yet, since nothing was resolved you’ll have to have a follow up meeting. Argh!

In this session you’ll learn some of the keys to conducting an effective meeting. You’ll gain practical tips for making your meetings more productive and dramatically improving one of the most inefficient parts of your day. You’ll also learn how to help improve meetings your don’t run.

Submitting the Abstract

Once you’ve created the abstract, share it was a few people that you trust to provide candid feedback. Ask them for help with refining your draft to a polished and professional form. Then you can submit it to the local user group, SQLSaturday, Lunch & Learn, or conference.

For More Information

A couple of years ago, I shared my experiences with and techniques for creating presentations in an article I wrote for Simple-Talk.

So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start speaking.

Got any other tips that I’ve missed? I’d love to hear from you with your tips for selecting a topic.

32 Responses to How To Choose A Topic For Speaking

  1. Pingback: What I am reading in 2011- week two | JohnSterrett.com

  2. Pingback: How Should I Present? | StraightPath Consulting's SQL Server Blog

  3. Pingback: My devLINK Abstracts « WebbTech Solutions

  4. Pingback: Weekly Challenges – 1/9/11 « SQL Feather and Quill

  5. 貿協 says:

    excellent issues altogether, you just received a logo new reader.
    What might you suggest about your publish that you made some days ago?

    Any sure?

  6. 網路設計 says:

    Excellent keen analytical eye just for fine detail and can anticipate complications just before they will happen.

  7. 參展 says:

    I have a notable analytical eye just for fine detail and may anticipate troubles
    just before these people occur.

  8. 辦公家具 says:

    This post is really a fastidious one it helps new the web viewers, who
    are wishing for blogging.

  9. SEO says:

    I have a keen analytical eyesight pertaining to details and may foresee problems prior to they happen.

  10. SEO says:

    I like to disseminate information that will I have accumulated through the calendar year
    to assist enhance group efficiency.

  11. 辦公椅 says:

    Hi there are using WordPress for your blog platform? I’m new to the blog
    world but I’m trying to get started and create my own. Do you need any coding knowledge
    to make your own blog? Any help would be really appreciated!

  12. You ought to take part in a contest for one of the greatest websites on the web.
    I most certainly will recommend this blog!

  13. I used to be able to find good info from
    your blog posts.

  14. What’s up mates, how is everything, and what you desire to say regarding this paragraph, in my view its
    in fact amazing in support of me.

  15. Pingback: flintstones bring back bedrock hack gold

  16. Hi there to every body, it’s my first go to see of this website; this weblog includes amazing
    and in fact fine material for visitors.

  17. Bridgeport Conservatories, a CKH Market sectors firm, happily gives a outstanding SunSuites Sunroom product that solves the
    particular limitations connected with typical patio
    housing manufacturing.

  18. My question now is, should I upgrade to an iPhone
    3GS. Yes! jailbreak is an easy and safe too. Many people simply choose to give the telephone to
    a technician and let them do the work .

  19. Transgender adults are not a new theory or issues in society.

    I did many TVCs, editorials and even went on to acting.
    For Breaking Online Poker News Check out Poker – News – Boy.

  20. Su lección, es que se puede aprender mucho de los fracasos.
    Una de sus oraciones “Alimenta al pobre y hazte rico alimenta al rico y hazte pobre”.

  21. pest says:

    I’m a self-admitted lover of nature and natural gardening.
    When you have a pest problem, you could be exposing yourself to diseases or possible damage
    to your home. The black widow and the brown recluse can each deliver a dose
    of poison that may result in symptoms ranging from a painful bite to nausea,
    dizziness, abdominal pain and even respiratory difficulties.

  22. They signify a special occasion and are thus made in accordance with the theme of the occasion and carry a relevant message.
    Cocoa powder is cocoa solids minus the cocoa fat
    or cocoa butter. Angel food cake mix may not work right as it
    includes whipped egg whites.

  23. I read this post completely on the topic of the comparison of newest and earlier technologies,
    it’s remarkable article.

  24. I visit everyday a few sites and websites to
    read content, but this webpage gives feature based articles.

  25. If you get people to do so, I can assure you that your campaign wiol be effective.
    It’s basically a marketing tool, to give you “a taste” of what the actual filter is aall about.
    Especially for such people, itt is essential that they make thejr
    choices wisely and only afte doing proper research to make sur the search iis highly productive.

  26. As a homeowner, you will have maintenance and other related costs to keep your drain system running efficiently.
    There is considerable expense involved with installing a septic tank.
    Tiny video cameras are sometimes used to probe intricate pipes to pinpoint hidden leaks and problems.

  27. Chun says:

    About The – Author: Harris – Noah is an expert author on pet products related topics and currently
    workingfor. It is necessary to wisely choose carpets to be placed in a room so that they can add color, style and warmth.

    Nitrogen-deficient grass invites the growth of moss.

  28. Salvador says:

    Most common capacities are 5000 litres, 10000 litres, and
    20000 litres. It is necessary to wisely choose
    carpets to be placed in a room so that they can add color, style and warmth.
    In fact, there would be plenty of surplus water to irrigate the
    garden or sell to other consumers.

  29. Aw, this was a really nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to make a really good article… but
    what can I say… I procrastinate a whole lot and never seem to get anything done.

  30. The website will also serve as a portal for all things
    convention related, from a countdown clock to information on logistics, credentials,
    media walkthroughs and housing. That means you literally can make money 24 hours a day.
    I discovered the way to make money on the internet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 37 other followers