5 Tips for Getting Accepted to Speak at Conferences

Over the past 11 years I’ve submitted and reviewed hundreds of conference session submissions. Along the way I’ve discovered some things that can really make the difference and set a submission apart. Here are my five tips for getting accepted to speak at conferences:

  1. Make the title clear, concise, and engaging
    Your title should make it clear what the session will be about but also be ten words or less. For instance, I recently used this title:
    Reinvent your App Dev Lifecycle with Continuous Delivery on Heroku
    The title is not bad but doesn’t clearly convey what the session is about. A better title might have been:
    Ship Software Faster with Continuous Delivery on Heroku
    Or maybe a more engaging option:
    Deploy to Prod 100 Times a Day with Heroku Pipelines
    Great titles take time to come up with. So spend some time trying a bunch of things but avoid the click-bait titles.
  2. Start the abstract with a problem or controversial statement
    Do not start an abstract with things like “This session will” because that won’t grab the reader’s attention. Make a bold statement and start with why. In a recent submission of mine for a session titled “Distributed Commit Logs with Apache Kafka” I began the abstract with this sentence:
    Apache Kafka was created at LinkedIn as a resilient and scalable distributed commit log providing a traditional publish / subscribe interface.
    Boring! A better opener would be:
    There is now pressure in enterprises to integrate massive amounts of data across silos, in real-time, and without data loss. This session will introduce Apache Kafka …
    That better sets up the “why” and is more attention grabbing.
  3. Make the abstract about the content & attendee, not you
    If possible write the abstract in third-person by saying things like “Demos and live-coding will be used…” since this form maintains the focus on the content. If it is necessary to reference a person, make that person the attendee instead of you. Say “You will learn” instead of “I will show” to reinforce that you are giving the session for the benefit of the attendees.
  4. Clearly describe what attendees will take away from the session
    Many session abstracts seem like random thoughts. This insinuates that the session will also be mostly gibberish with no real point. Make sure the abstract clearly identifies what the attendee has to gain from going to the session. Here is a line from one of my recent abstracts about moving from Monoliths to Microservices:
    This talk will use code examples and real-world experiences to explain why moving to Functional Programming makes it easier to embrace Microservices.
    This clearly tells the reader what they will walk away with. Although this could have been improved by more clearly saying that attendees will not just walk away with the “why” but also the “how” (which was inferred but not directly stated).
    Keep the length of the abstract to around 4 sentences, no bullet points, and probably just a single paragraph. No one wants to read more than that when they are skimming through a bunch of abstracts.
  5. Like a resume, make it professional
    This is the most important tip of all… When wading through a sea of abstracts, the ones that are the first to get canned are those that have spelling mistakes, grammatical errors, and lack professionalism. Proofreading and peer-reviews of your abstracts will make a huge difference in your potential to be accepted.
    A common mistake I see with many abstracts is incorrect capitalization for product names. This is a huge red flag for me when I’m reviewing abstracts. For instance, it is “JavaScript” not “Javascript” and “Salesforce” not “SalesForce” — make sure you double check any product names you use.
    If an abstract lacks quality and polish then I expect the actual session will be no different. Like a resume, spend the extra time to make your session submissions professional and you will easily stand out against most of the others.

I hope that helps you get accepted at a future conference!