Finding something worth talking about

"I don’t know what I’d talk about," people often tell me when I encourage them to think of topics for conferences and events. "I don’t know what to write about," they say when I encourage them to blog. "I’m not an expert. I don’t know anything."

I get that imposter feeling as much as anyone else. I wonder what I know and why people are interested. I worry that the next presentation, the next article is when I’ll be unmasked as just another newbie. Sometimes I think that my enthusiasm is the main reason why people listen, because they already know everything I’m saying. I hate wasting time by not adding anything new.

You might recognize these things as reasons that stop you from standing up and speaking. Before you can think of improving your presentation skills or even becoming comfortable in front of the crowd, you need to find your _why_–your reason to speak, something worth talking about.

I struggle with this every time I see a call for participation or come across a conference I want to attend. These questions are helpful:

  • Who will be at the event, and who do I want to get into my session? This gives me an idea of the audience.
  • What do they care about that I also care about? If I can’t find something that I’m passionate about and the audience is probably interested in, then it’s not worth presenting. I’d like to avoid presenting on things I don’t particularly care about, and no one’s going to listen if I’m passionate about something and I can’t show people what’s in it for them. If I can find something we all care about, though, then it’s easy to go forward.
  • How can I help them? What can I do to save them time or help them work more effectively? If I spent a lot of time learning about something, I can save lots of people time by summarizing what I’ve learned, pointing out good ways to do things, and helping people avoid the pitfalls.
  • What do I want to learn more about? Teaching helps me learn something new or deepen my knowledge of something I’ve learned. Every presentation should stretch me at least a little, even if it covers similar ground as a previous presentation. Each presentation is a good excuse to learn. I’ll often submit stretch presentations where I know maybe half of the material, and this helps me learn even more in the process of preparing the presentation.

The next time an opportunity to share comes up–a call for participation, an educational community meeting–ask yourself:

  • Who will be at the event?
  • What do they care about that you also care about?
  • How can you help them?
  • What do you want to learn more about?

Chances are that you’ll find something you want to share. Good luck and have fun!