Lachie’s 7 step guide to writing a winning tech conference CFP

What’s the winning formula for writing a tech conference CFP you ask? This is a question that has been playing on my mind recently and I thought I would take the time to share what I have learned over the years. This is by no means perfect and is simply my subjective point of view. My hope is that you find it useful.

Why should I listen to Lachie?

Right about now you’re probably asking yourself. “Why should I listen to Lachie?” Fact is, you’re right, you don’t have to listen to me at all but I feel that this information is important to share. A little background about myself, I’ve been on the tech conference scene for about 5 years now. During that time I have delivered over 30 presentations including keynotes and have also served on selection committees of some of the largest tech conferences in the industry. I also spend time reviewing CFPs for community members before they click submit. All that to say, this is my experience. Feel free to take it or leave it.

How do I write an effective tech conference CFP?

Let’s get into why you are all here. “How do I write an effective tech conference CFP?”

First I want to plant an idea that you need to keep in your front brain when writing a CFP - Who will be reading this? There are two main personas at play here:

  • Selection Commitee
  • Possible Attendees

Truth is that your CFP, once selected, is instantly placed on the schedule as-is. That makes it important not only for selection but also for attendance.

Lachie’s 7 steps to writing a winning tech conference CFP

Make the title POP!

This might seem obvious but you influence the readers mind by framing what they are about to read. Be creative but not too clever, overdoing it could make the reader shy away. This is also important for live attendance. Think of all those titles on a screen with an attendee trying to choose. All you have is the title.

It’s all about the first sentence

You only really have the first sentence to have the reader commit to reading the rest. At the very least, you need to shape their expectations. Crafting that first sentence is key. Helping the reader answer “Why should I keep reading?” is what you need to target.

Tell a story

Create a narrative around sharing an experience rather than just laying out fact. People relate to and appreciate story telling. Take the reader on a journey with you.

Target a persona

Readers want to understand. “Is this for me?” Shape the narrative around a persona. Is this for a developer or an operator for example. Making it relatable to the reader frames the content and also the narrative arc.

Less is more

This is by far the most important. If you cannot tell the reader what you are going to share and the takeaways in 3 to 6 sentences, then chances are you won’t be able to do it in a 30m presentation. Don’t try to be wordy just because the CFP has a word limit. Just sayin’.

Tangible Takeaways

Something the reader always wants to answer is “If I’m going to spend 30 odd minutes on this presentation, what am I going to leave with?” Will you enable the attendee to be equipped to do the same thing when they return home? Make it tangible. Architecture diagrams, sample code, repositories are just some ways you could do this.

Callout advantages for the live audience

To encourage attendance on the actual day, leave snippets of things that only the live audience will have access to. Like any live event, you want to provide access to something the folks at home, or on Youtube don’t.

Examples

Here are some example of CFPs I’ve submitted that were selected over the years that I believe follow a similar formula.

Wrap up

So there you have it. That’s the little nugget of wisdom I wanted to share. I’m very interested in what you all have to say and if you feel like I missed anything — let me know. Please remember — following all these steps will not guarantee acceptance. Gracefully accepting rejections is a less fun, but no less important skill. It is worth nothing that I’ve had many submissions not-accepted over the years. Good luck and happy CFPing!