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Produce a Great Tech Talk by Asking Yourself (and Answering!) These Questions

Members of the Gilt engineering team give lots of technical presentations at meetups, conferences, our in-house gatherings, and online. How do we make sure that our content is “tech” enough to interest experienced engineers? And how do we confidently tell the most compelling stories possible? With these concerns in mind, I’ve created this list of questions to ask while planning and preparing a tech talk. All of you engineers out there in Greater Internetlandia might find it useful as you work on your own presentations:

  • Which technology/technologies will you discuss in this talk?

  • Which technology or aspect of technology will be the primary focus: a language, a framework, a problem, a methodology, or a combination of technologies working together? (Or “other”? If “other” is your answer, please define)

  • How would you title and summarize your topic so that, if you saw it advertised on a random events listing page, you would regard it as a “must-attend” talk? (If it’s not a “must-attend” yet, keep working!)

  • Will this topic be of obvious interest to engineers? What type of engineers? Please be as precise as possible in describing type (for example, “experienced generalist engineers who lean front-end,” “front-end mobile UX engineers,” “back-end engineers who work on big data initiatives involving X, Y and Z technologies,” etc.”)

  • Have you done online research to make sure that no one in the area has given a substantially similar talk in the last 3-6 months? (If someone has already given a similar talk, one option is to take an opposing view; another is to highlight subtopics that the past presenter(s) didn’t discuss)

  • From a technical POV, what is the most novel/exciting aspect of the content you’re providing? And from an implementation POV, what makes your approach remarkable? (In related: What about this topic personally excites and inspires you?)

  • Does your presentation offer a solution to a commonly held technical problem? What about your proposed solution is novel/different from what you’ve seen discussed in other, similar talks/blog posts/tech lit? (Put another way: Does your presentation offer a way to work better/more efficiently/more creatively?)

  • The format that would make this talk most compelling would be (choose one): “how-to,” “explainer,” “argument/opinion,” “case study/narrative,“ "comparison,” "demonstration”

  • Will your talk include a live demo? And what will your samples of code demonstrate or reveal?

  • What notable outside sources–widely discussed technical articles, others’ presentations that have gone viral, quotes by well-known technologists–can your cite in order to place your talk in the broader context of what’s currently “hot” in the engineering community?

  • What are the resources you need to start and complete your talk: research help? guidance with structure? help creating visuals?

  • Who else on your team would you like to bring in to provide objective, constructive criticism, brainstorming help, and feedback? (Pick 1-2 members of your team + 1-2 engineers whose work isn’t directly related to your talk’s content)

Feel free to share your feedback by emailing lapple at gilt dot com. And if you have tips of your own, send them my way–you’ll receive a byline here + a link to your Twitter feed, website or other choice online property that you own.

Gilt 340 Gilt Tech 287 tech evangelism 3 how-to 17 presentations 42 advice 3 creating a technical talk 1