If you’re stuck for inspiration for a conference presentation topic or an angle to make it interesting here are some thoughts to get your creative juices flowing.
If you’ve done something new, original, or complex, then people will always want to learn how they can do it. These kinds of presentations are best when they follow an actual case study and then boil it down into a set of repeatable principles or steps.
A variation on this might be involving the audience by getting them to contribute ideas or apply the principles to one or more problems.
What UXers can learn from…
For foundational topics a by-the-numbers ‘How to…’ presentation won’t excite reviewers. But even experienced practitioners know foundational topics are important and need to be revisited.
One way to make them fresh and inspiring is by looking at the topic through someone else’s eyes. These often turn out to be the most entertaining and useful presentations at conference.
Good examples are Ian Fenn’s presentation ‘UX the Bill Hicks Way’ or Eva Kaniasty’s ‘Sun Tzu and the art of UX Influence’.
What would the most extreme example look like? The most difficult test participant? The most challenging brief? The easiest checkout process? The worst website? Taking things to the extreme often shows what you have to do to make things better today.
Jared Spool’s keynote at IA Summit 2011 ‘The most valuable UX Person in the World’ (in which he examined how other professions measure ‘who’s the best’ and what that meant for typical UX professionals) was a great example of getting useful conclusions from looking at extreme cases.
Think of an area of UX. What are the assumptions we all work on (especially the ones we don’t even notice we are making)? Write as many down as possible. What would happen if we challenged those ideas?
Similar to ‘Challenge assumptions’ - think of a situation, and think of what someone would normally do. What would happen if you did the opposite?
Pick one aspect of a subject and examine it in depth. One of my favourite presentation topics last year was Brooke Baldwin’s on reading body language in user testing. She originally intended to write a wide-ranging presentation on all aspects of moderation, but by picking just one aspect, she was able to spend time exploring it with her audience and delivering some deeper insights. It was also highly original – I’ve not seen that topic discussed in detail before at a conference. Don’t feel you need to show off your breadth of knowledge on a topic. Try picking a narrow area and go deep.
Another point of view
Seeing the world from someone else’s point of view helps you notice new and important things. We get a lot of proposals on ‘how to run a user test’ but none, that I’m aware of, have ever asked participants ‘what’s it like to be invited to and to take part in a user test?’. Imagine what you could learn about any subject if you listened to someone whose voice isn’t normally heard. Interested in medical usability - what do patients think? Want to know about usability in agile? What do developers think?
My greatest mistake
Jen McGinn pointed out to me that audiences admire presenters who are honest, not perfect (see Bill Hicks above). The most interesting case studies are the ones where things go wrong, where you’d do it all differently if you did it again, where you changed your opinion or where you found that what worked in the past no longer worked. Many of our favourite heroes, from If you can help people see the warning signs and avoid the same mistakes, they’ll be grateful.
Grab a coffee
Sit down with a colleague or friend and talk through some of the issues that you find interesting. Remember to listen more than you talk. Somewhere in there you’ll find a topic that interests you. The themes and keywords for this year’s UPA conference tracks might provide you with some inspiration:
Culture – team/corporate
Corporate UX maturity
Processes and Tools
Working with dispersed teams
Working within software development processes
Open jams/coaches corner
Usability and Research
Methodology and Practice
IA, Design, IxD techniques
Practical tips for practitioners
Case study of methodology
Above all, pick what you love
You’ll be thinking, writing and talking about your topic repeatedly over the coming months. Make sure it’s something you love.