Ideas for structuring your career talk

You’ve been invited to give a presentation at a conference about your career. You have been chosen because of your particular profession, area of specialisation, track record of achievement.

What are you going to say?

One temptation is to give a talk based on a chronology of events. This is an abridged autobiography that covers all the details you consider important.

The talk is comprehensive. It creates a detailed picture of having done a huge volume of interesting assignments.

But is this the only way to organise your story? And is it the best way?

If you have been walking the planet for a few decades this version of events can be overwhelming for an audience. They may well be impressed that you have accomplished so much, but will it have the desired impact?

And there is the nub of the issue. Have you figured out what your purpose is for this presentation?

Your purpose will be based on what you know about the context of your talk (why you have been asked to present and the theme of the meeting/conference) and what you know about the audience. Is the audience informed about your profession? Are they likely to be uninformed? Do they want a snapshot? Do they want to know about the highlights?

This information will then guide your purpose. Your purpose might be some combination of informing, persuading, entertaining, educating.

Being clear about your purpose will then guide your speech structure. A detailed chronology may not educate, persuade, entertain or even inform.

So how else could you structure your presentation? Here are 12 questions to guide your content selection:

  1. Why did I get into this career in the first place?
  2. What keeps me motivated?
  3. What have been the highlights of my career?
  4. Who has helped me along the way?
  5. What have I learnt along the way?
  6. Why should others enter this career?
  7. What are some of the myths or misperceptions about this career?
  8. What was awful at the time but I can laugh about it now?
  9. What are the range of pathways to enter this career?
  10. What are some of the challenges I have faced?
  11. How do you balance the various components of your life?
  12. What are my main contributions?

Thinking through these questions will help you come up with a structure that is more relevant, is purpose-built, and likely more engaging than a detailed chronology.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.