Conference Speaker? Here’s 7 Tips for Getting Accepted

I’ve been speaking regularly at technical conferences for a few years. People ask me for tips on how to get accepted to speak at conferences. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

Tip 1: Choose topic breadth based on conference breadth

The broader the conference, the broader your topics should be. At broad conferences, lean toward introductory. Conference organizers at broad events want to assure every slot has something approachable, so the more advanced or niche you go, the lower your chances of getting picked.

For example, an exploration of Angular’s digest loop is too narrow for a broad developer conference, but might be a great fit for an Angular conference. If I’m speaking at JSConf, I’m going to have to go very niche to get accepted. A talk on “Intro to ES6” would go nowhere.

Broad conferences favor broad topics. Niche conferences favor niche topics. Submit accordingly.

Tip 2: Submit Multiple Sessions

I submit around 3-5 sessions. Many conferences, require 2 from each speaker to keep costs down, especially international conferences that cover flights and hotel. So if you submit only 2 or 3 sessions, your chances go way down.

Tip 3: Focus On Why, Not How

There’s a long list of ways to learn these days. Books, blogs, video, in-person mentoring and so on. Conferences offer a unique opportunity to get people excited. You won’t teach anyone much in one hour, but you can certainly sell the why. So embrace what makes conferences great, and focus your session abstracts on teaching why, not how. I explore this further in Conferences are for Why, Not How.

Tip 4: Build a Following

Think like a conference organizer. Given two otherwise equal submissions, the person who has a greater reach to help promote the conference and sell tickets will get selected. Blog, tweet, contribute to open source, and post videos online to grow a following.

Tip 5: Choose a Specialty

Decide what your specialty is, and do everything you can to make that clear to others. Make it the topic of your blogging, tweeting, conference talks, bio, etc. Paint a clear picture that you’re an expert in x. When I think of John Papa, SPAs, JavaScript, and Angular instantly come to mind. That’s not by accident. John is also a great example that specialties can change regularly since he was formerly known for specializing in Silverlight, Knockout, and various other technologies.

Tip 6: Do Post-Session Retrospectives

I started this habit a year ago and it has been tremendously valuable. At the end of my session, I ask for a few volunteers to hang out for 5 minutes afterward to discuss the session. I ask questions like this:

  • Do you have a suggestion for a better title?
  • Did you get what you expected?
  • Is there something I missed?
  • What should I cut?
  • Any annoying, misleading, inaccurate statements?

This feedback will help improve both your abstracts and your delivery.

Tip 7: Get Your Abstracts Reviewed By Others

Your abstract is a sales pitch. So it needs to be compelling and unique. Have a few people review your abstracts. Offer to do the same in return. There are services for doing so as well.

Wrap Up

That’s it. I still get rejected, but these techniques radically increased my acceptance rate. In fact, over the last couple years I’ve started getting increasingly frequent personal invitations to speak. The final stage of success is when you can start saying “Hell Yeah, or No.”


Cory House is the author of “Building Applications with React and Flux”, “Clean Code: Writing Code for Humans” and other courses on Pluralsight. He trains software developers internationally on software practices like front-end development and clean coding, is a Microsoft MVP, and founder of outlierdeveloper.com.

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