Dealing with presentation block

Every so often, I have to come up with a presentation topic. This is what happens when you know people who organize events and people know that you don’t mind speaking in public. Sometimes I even volunteer for this, and then I wonder why I do.

I rarely have a specific topic in mind when I say yes. I trust that something interesting will come up, and I’m curious about what it will be. Then I end up in situations where I’ve promised to give a talk and I’m trying to figure out what it is.

There are a few ways I approach this challenge when I have to come up with a talk quickly:

  • A. Pin down the one key thing I want people to remember or act on, and then build a talk around that.
  • B. Brainstorm a catchy title and talk description. Trust that my brain’s going to figure out a good way to justify it.
  • C. Ask people what they want to learn from me.
  • D. Flip through my blog posts and look for something worth fleshing out further.
  • E. Think about the kinds of follow-up conversations I want to have. Work backwards to determine what I need to present in order to spark people’s curiosity.
  • F. Ask the organizers.
  • G. Peek at other people’s talk descriptions. Plan something that complements what’s out there.
  • H. Write and write and write until something comes loose.

Other helpful thoughts:

  • I’m not expected to change anyone’s life or worldview in five minutes or sixty minutes. If I spark curiosity in five people, that’s already a win.
  • Constraints help with creativity.
  • It should be something I want to learn more about, so that I grow in the process of creating the presentation whether or not anyone actually attends. In-person and online participation becomes icing on the cake.

Next week, I’ll be talking to a mostly-designer crowd. Sketchnotes are an obvious choice, but I don’t want to do just a basic “You should draw your notes and here’s how” presentation — there’s plenty of that on the Net. I’m curious about the deliberate study of sketchnotes that I’ve been doing by building the sketchnoteindex.com . I’d love to see if I can convince sketchnoters to share their notes with me and everyone else to build indexes like these for their own interests.

There might be a talk there somewhere.

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