Preparing a Technical Session Part 1: Picking a Topic

So you’ve decided or perhaps were told to do a technical presentation. If this is something that’s new for you then you may be going through a variety of emotions. You may start excited in anticipation of the event but quickly that changes to anxiety when you realize all the work that’s ahead of you.

Delivering a presentation regardless of the subject matter can be a challenge. Even if you’re a seasoned speaker there’s several steps that lead to you completing a successful presentation.

In this blog series on preparing a technical session I’ll cover the following steps:

  1. Picking a Topic
  2. Coming up with a Title
  3. Writing an Abstract
  4. Building the PowerPoint
  5. Building the Demos
  6. Delivering the Presentation

While discussing these I’ll be sharing not only how I personally go through this process but also feedback I’ve gathered from peers. The good news is with more experience these steps will likely flow more naturally for you and with hopefully less stress.

My goal is to help guide those that are new to presenting through the process, help them understand what to expect and hopefully help grow a larger pool of speakers at events. 

Picking a Topic

When you submit to a major conference deciding the topic to focus on is your first step to getting started. This step is clearly critical because the idea that you come up with will impact the rest of your preparation. If you’re in need of a topic and have the equivalent to “writer’s block” then here are some tips to help you’re brainstorming process.

Talk About Your Passion

Have you ever been assigned a presentation topic that you’re not really passionate about? This may happen more in a corporate environment when you’re given a topic that just has to be covered with co-workers. When you’re not excited about a topic then it can often show in your preparation and delivery of the content.

If you are passionate about a topic then more likely write a more compelling abstract, be more proactive about content development and even deliver the information in a way that connects better with the audience. Now keep in mind some people may not be passionate about the same things you are so try not to be offended when others don’t share your excitement about a topic.

Present On What You Know

This seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many new speakers pick topics that are completely out of their comfort zone. If you’re a new presenter then this whole process may be foreign to you already so don’t add any extra pressure on your self to learn a completely new topic. Now, having said that I do see some experienced presenters occasionally pick topics that maybe aren’t necessarily completely new to them but are certainly going to challenge them to learn a few new skills. So in short if you’re new at this pick a topic you know well and if you’ve been doing this for a number of years then do what works for you!

Use Things You’ve Done At Work

Give yourself some credit. You’re smart and pretty good at what you do! I bet you’ve come up with some pretty inventive ways of solving problems while at work. Why not share some of the design patterns you’ve used to help others?

Don’t worry I’m not suggesting that do anything that would hurt your company and potentially cause you to lose your job. I bet any problem you experience at work are the same kind of problems that others are experiencing. Why can’t you take your solution and generalize the details, including the data, so it shouldn’t matter what your place of business is. The other benefit is these topics are often the most popular because they’re based on real world problem solving. My number one goal when I attend a session is to figure out how I can use what I just learned when I get back to the office. What better way to solve that then by showing problems you’ve actually solved at work.

Is Anyone Else Interested?

If you’re debating whether or not a topic would get much interest then ask? Take to social media with a poll of topics you’re thinking about presenting on and see what people like best. Not only are you getting valuable information back but you’re also doing a little early promoting for your session.

Journal Topic Ideas

Ideas can come at any moment. If you’re not prepared than you could have a stroke of brilliance and before you know if you’ve forgotten it. Be prepared and keep a pen and paper handy, or if you’re living in this decade sign up for Evernote or OneNote and log your topic ideas in a digital journal.

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