Provoking thought

What’s your story?

Ideas on deciding what to speak or write about

Whenever I read an article, or watch a talk, I ask myself: why are you telling me this? Why not anybody else? What makes you the best person — ideally in the world — to tell the story that you’re telling?

In some cases the answer is clear: if you are a member of TC39, you are the perfect person to speak about new features you just designed to be part of the next version of JavaScript. If you just came out of a failed start-up and have some lessons learned — you’re the perfect person to share them. They’re unique, they’re about what you do — nobody else is more qualified.

The key here is the relation between you and the topic you’re writing or speaking about.

I will be direct with you. I’m not very interested in reading article #423 on new features in Java 10, or a talk on new features in JavaScript that is effectively a summary of something I could read on MDN. Repeating a list of features, perhaps with some code examples doesn’t do it for me. If you ever wondered why your article about your favorite 3 new features of insert language here didn't change the world — there's your answer.

That is, unless you were able to offer a unique new perspective on them: why do they matter from your view? Do you have experience using those features worth sharing, some pitfalls to avoid?

Where is the YOU in what you write or speak about?

To be clear — I don’t mean this in a discouraging way. I’m not suggesting there’s nothing that makes you unique — in fact, for sure there is.

Trust me. I’m a doctor.

Here are some sources of uniqueness, ranked from easy to hard to discover:

  1. Your experience — I’m sure you worked on interesting technical challenges, large scale, start-ups, built a SOAP layer on top of COBOL. Everybody has a unique set of experiences (assuming you’ve actually done something during your career already), so you just have to explore what is relatively uncommon, and can help other people. You can also develop additional experience by having hobby projects, in case your job doesn’t give you much (if that’s the case — incidentally — I’m hiring).
  2. Your style — perhaps you are a funny one, or perhaps you are great at story telling. Engaging your audience during a talk, or in an article is not easy, but it does have impact. Your content may be great, but if you cannot present it… Luckily, these are, at least to an extent, learnable skills. You can read books or take courses on how to tell stories, and how to be a better presenter. On being funny, perhaps too, but if you’re not a naturally-born-funny-person I wouldn’t invest into this too deeply.
  3. Your why — people respond better to people with charisma, which is highly correlated to being driven; to having a higher purpose. Some people have this naturally, others have to dig — personally, I’m still digging. The classic talk on this topic is from Simon Sinek, who also wrote a book on how to find your “why”.

Note that this list is also ranked in terms of impact. If you have a unique experience to share — cool! If you can do so in a unique way — wow! If this experience is presented in an engaging way and is a part of some bigger mission — I will follow you (on twitter — don’t worry).

Anybody can put words on the Internets. Meet-ups and conference everywhere will give you a stage to say whatever you have to say. There is opportunity. So tell us…

What’s your story?