Thursday, August 29, 2019

Bag of Candy - A Conference Talk Design

Having listened to conference talks in scale, and discussed potential conference talks in bigger scale, I've come to explain people that the most impactful conference talks are ones that make you do something.

They could be giving you an idea with motivation so powerful that you remember their version of it when the time of implementing that is right. At least you'd go back to office mildly pushing for a change, until you again accept that the organization isn't moving anywhere on your ask.

They could be giving you guidance of how to do something well, with quality. And when you return to office, you will do things differently just because you now know how to do it better.

For creating a program for a conference, the hard part is that people don't often suggest either of these kinds. They suggest all kinds of other talks:

  • "I read a book and now I want to talk about it" 
  • "We build test automation for 3 years and I want to talk about it"
  • "I lived a great life with many turns and I want to talk about it"
The problem with the first it is not directly rooted in experiences of doing the thing. Thinking the thing isn't doing the thing.

The problem with the two others are that they are "life stories", experiences that are framed through fast forwarding a life rather than starting with conclusions from that life. I think of these talks as "bag of candy". 

A Bag of Candy -talk is one where the main character of the story is the main message. It's like a bag of candy with all kinds of goodies: some hard ones, some soft ones, some black licorice ones (the best kind!), some fruity ones and even some sour ones. We all love different kinds of things, so there's a little bit of something for everyone. Everything in the talk is an invitation to start a discussion, but it leaves very little learning to the listener. You did not learn how to properly enjoy the black licorice, you just heard some way it is awesome. 

What if we would frame our talks around that one kind of candy, and illustrate the greatness of that with our experiences and stories. What if the audience left with a compelling idea of releasing daily, scaling tests like the speaker does, or being mindful in day to day job to do better instead of more. Just mentioning this idea does not stick. To make ideas stick, we need to walk our listeners to those ideas with us, illustrating from multiple directions. 

I choose one candy talks over bag of candy talks. Which ones do you prefer?