Thursday, March 26, 2015

I Want to Speak. What Topics Are Best?

We know that community conferences like That Conference and Codemash fulfill multiple roles in a technology community.  They provide networking opportunities, sure.  But they also provide educational sessions for people to learn new technologies, transition between technologies, or enhance their knowledge within their own skill set.

It's easy to figure that the topics at a conference run the gamut of all possible talks, and that you should just speak about what you know.  To first order, that's sort of true.  But not all topics are created equal, and I thought I'd share what I've found most useful, when attending conferences.

For me, conference talks fill that space between blogs about technology, and books. They're the perfect hybrid of dynamic, up-to-the minute content that books don't have, coupled with the story-telling dynamic presentation format that blogs just can't quite reach, most of the time.  Books work well as references.  Blogs work well as permalink content that can be searched on the web for little bits of esoteric information and deep dives.

If that's the space that conference talks generally fill, then what topics to I find most useful? The topics I look for as an attendee are those talks that
  • Help people get started
  • Help people transition
  • Help people improve
If you're a prospective speaker and are thinking of submitting a talk, here are some ideas that fit the bill:

Introduction to "X"

Obviously, this talk is to help people get started.  In an introduction, you start people with the basics: what open problem this X technology or platform solves, why X is a better solution to those problems than other solutions proposed in the industry, how to get started.  In this type of talk, it's more of a survey designed to help people completely new to this technology, or maybe new to technology in general.  Advanced features and deep dives are unnecessary, and you won't get extremely detailed questions, so this type of talk may favor the new speaker.

"X" for the "Y" Dev

This type of talk is very similar to the Introduction to "X" talk described above, but it has a much more targeted focus: help someone transition from an existing technology to a new one.  Every technology has its way of looking at things and those memes are not obvious.  It's easy to write C# that looks like Fortran.  

These talks tend to have titles like "F# for the C# Developer : Learning to Funtional After Objecting All Your Life" or "TDD for the PHP Developer... Really!"  The point of these talks is still introduction, so the talk can't dive deep into the target technology, and you spend a great deal of time arguing by analogy from one language/platform to the other.  This type of talk favors the speaker that has made such a transition in the past and has good handle on what it takes to be successful with the new technology.

New Features in "X"

Technology changes all the time.  If you happen to be working with the next version of some product, there are people that need your guidance.  These types of talks help people grow in their current skill set.  You can assume a base knowledge for your audience, and sometimes get into really cool demos, as new features are generally put in to have a bit of a "whiz-bang" factor.  Here, you also have the ability to take a deep dive or two.

Top "N" Lists

This format can feel pretty tired, but I personally like seeing these talks.  These are talks like "The 5 Best Underused Features in Angular" or "9 Stories from the TDD Front Lines".  What I like is that while the presentation is centered on one particular topic or technology, you can tell quite a few disparate stories without the need for segue.  It's the presentation equivalent of a book of short stories, and if one doesn't really appeal to you, you wait five minutes and see if the next one does.  Also, some of the items can be beginner topics, and some can be advanced, so you can have a fairly diverse audience.

Real-World "X"

Probably my favorite type of topic.  If you are a frequent practitioner of any particular technology, you've run into situations where things didn't work out the way they did in the demos (Entity Framework? I'm looking at you!).  Your experience in the real world can save your audience time and bring some realism to a topic beyond the hype of the company that promotes it.

Remember, Call for Speakers for That Conference opens soon.  If you want to come out and share your experience, maybe one of these topics is right for you!

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