4 Strategies for Picking a Conference Talk Topic

November 2, 2022

As the organizer for MagnoliaJS and as a conference speaker, the two questions I get asked most often from people wanting to get into conference speaking are "what should I talk about?" and "how do I pick a conference talk topic?" The only I answer I can really give is the typical senior dev answer... it depends. Here are a few things to consider when deciding on a conference talk.

You could talk about something you're comfortable with.

I'd recommend talking about something you've already been working with and are at least somewhat knowledgable about. Agreeing to give a conference talk is already nerve-wracking without having to learn a new skill or technology to give the talk.

Or you could talk about something completely new!

On the other hand, agreeing to talk about something you're not very comfortable with can push you to learn more about that topic, if that's what motivates you! If you've been excited to try a new JavaScript framework but haven't quite had the time to devote to it, submitting a Call for Papers (CFP, also could stand for Call for Proposals) about it gives you the perfect excuse to build something with it!

(Please don't do this if it will cause you too much stress! ❤️)

You could talk about something you're passionate about.

Giving a conference talk on something that gets you excited will make preparing and giving the talk so much easier. The audience will be able to sense your enthusiasm and help energize you throughout the talk.

Do you love CSS? Give a talk about animations, grid vs flex, or whatever cool thing you've learned CSS can do!

Are you excited about accessibility? Talk about how to make sites more accessible!

Do you enjoy mentoring others? Talk about how to be a better mentor or mentee!

Talk about your experiences.

Not every tech conference talk has to be a technical talk. In fact, I believe I learn far more from the ones that aren't technical! You could talk about how you got into tech or things you've learned from video games that translate well into development or career skills.

The hardest part about speaking at conferences is picking a topic (and the 20 minutes before you get on stage when you're wondering why you agreed to do this 😅). Hopefully this post has given you some ideas for your first CFP. If you've got one in mind, MagnoliaJS's CFP is open now!

Some of the topics covered in this post were given at MagnoliaJS 2022. All of the talks are on YouTube so go check them out!

Cover image from unDraw.