Deciding what to talk about

conferencesspeakingfirst timer Sun 16 October 2016

The previous post in this series covered what length of talk is good for first-time speakers. In this post we'll look at the topic. You want to give a talk at a Perl conference or workshop, but you're not sure what to talk about. Again, I asked a number of experienced (and regular) speakers, how do they come up with topics?

Paul Fenwick (PJF) said:

They're literally whatever I'm enthusiastic about at the time. Which is a problem, because I might be enthusiastic about something when the CFPs are open, but not enthusiastic six months down the track when the conference is happening.

I have extra special love for conferences that offer me speaking slots that I can fill in "closer to the conference date".

Stevan Little (STEVAN):

Depends on the type of talk. If I have been invited to speak, I will try to think of something situationally appropriate. If it is a technical talk it is typically about whatever I happen to be working on at the moment.

John Anderson (GENEHACK):

I'm not sure I actually have a process for that.

One impetus has been when I've had the same general conversation with different people multiple times and it seems like there's something worth saying to a lot of people in that.

Another is when I'm in the process of learning something new and want to make sure that I really have a good understanding of it.

I've given some talks because I'd made some cool thing (or some thing that I thought was a cool thing) and I wanted to tell people about it and get them to use it.

And of course sometimes a man just feels like strapping on a kilt, slapping on a wig, and doing a lightning talk that's wall-to-wall Perl community in-jokes, just because.

VM Brasseur (@vmbrasseur):

I collect them all year. There's a Talks list in my task tracking system. Whenever I come across a topic which I think might make a good talk topic some time, I immediately add it to the list along with any relevant notes or thoughts. Most of them will never be used, but having them collected in one spot makes it so much easier whenever it's time to propose talks to a conference. I can just skim the list and see which topic(s) would be good for that event.

Curtis Poe (OVID):

I generally focus on things I'm passionate about. Usually I'll be working on something else and an inspiration will just strike me and I go from there.


There are a few questions I ask, in no particular order:

Damian Conway (DCONWAY):

I mostly talk about ideas sparked from my daily reading, or actual tasks and problems that I'm working on at the time.

I think it's critical to be talking about something to which you're currently devoting interest and effort. That way you're always speaking about a topic in which you're competent and about which you're passionate: two essential prerequisites for giving a compelling presentation.

Rik Signes (RJBS):

I just talk about what I think is interesting, especially if I think it's not widely-enough understood. I have lots of ideas for talks. Lots! The problem is that most of them don't survive much consideration. I think about them for a while, and realize that they might be a fun conversation or a blog post, maybe, but not a 50 minute talks.

I skimmed over some past talks, to come up with a list of talk types, which might help you with inspiration:

Whatever you come up with, as several people said:

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