by Allison Pollard
How do I submit to speak at conferences?
At some point, you may wish to speak at a conference or other event that has an open call for topics. Writing a submission that gets picked can be tricky. Part of it is your ability to craft a clear proposal that resonates. The other part of it is luck, as organizers receive many, many submissions to comb through and make tough decisions on what the final program will include. Don’t be afraid of rejection when you first submit proposals—we’ve all been there. The same talk can be rejected by one event and accepted by another. Remember that it’s not personal. Most of us ask for help when we’re writing up a new conference topic. Keep trying—you can do this.
Many events ask for a title, a short abstract that will be later posted in the program, the target audience and learning outcomes, an outline or notes for the reviewers to understand more about the presentation, and your bio and speaking history. All of these elements help the selection committee envision how your topic would be interesting to attendees and equip them with models, practices, or skills to be more effective in their work.
By volunteering to be a reviewer for conferences like Agile 20XX, you can learn firsthand what makes a submission stand out. Notice which titles catch your attention and make you want to read more. Pay attention to the abstracts that clearly paint the problem they’ll be addressing, what the session will include, and what the takeaways will be. Read the notes to reviewers and see which ones are easiest to follow the flow of the topic, and imagine how the presentation will unfold with the audience. Looking at selected presentations from previous events can also provide a reference of what “good” looks like.
Writing a great submission is an iterative process. We might ask folks in our local agile user groups about our topic and what they would want to know to refine our learning outcomes. If we’ve already delivered a presentation to the group, we may ask for their feedback to adjust our activities and timings for the outline. Positive comments and testimonials from previous attendees can be nice to include in your submission too. Many of us share drafts of titles and abstracts with friends and coworkers to get feedback. You may also get feedback from reviewers, typically after selections have been made.
Ultimately, let your “you-ness” shine in your submission. You are the one with the passion for this topic, and you’re sharing your experience to help others. Your personality can attract your ideal audience, so feel free to mention your hobbies or outside activities in your bio.