This year, I signed up to be a part of the PyCon Program Committee — a group of people who evaluate and select talks for the annual Python programming conference — to review the proposals submitted for PyCon 2018. The experience provided insights into a lot of things I was unaware of (or confused about) previously. I think these insights can be valuable to other developers who want to speak at PyCon, so here goes!
3 myths about speaking at PyCon
#1: I can only talk about coding in Python (or at least something technical).
You can talk about anything that might be valuable to a Python developer, and it does not have to be coding! Last year (2017), there were great talks about:
- Mentoring (“Dial M For Mentor”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wc1krFb5ifQ)
- Interviewing (“Rants and Ruminations From A Job Applicant After 100 CS Job Interviews in Silicon Valley”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uzz5AaCWMps)
- Documentation (“How documentation works, and how to make it work for your project”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=azf6yzuJt54)
- Code review (“Constructive Code Review”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iNG1a--SIlk)
Also, read this in relation to community talks: http://www.njl.us/essays/pycon-apology/.
# 2: I have to be an experienced public speaker.
Your talk will be selected on its own merits. You don’t have to have experience in public speaking. However, it will be immensely helpful to you if you get some, so:
- Practice at home. Take a video of yourself, watch it, then take another video.
- Practice at your local Python meetups.
Public speakers were not born this way!
#3: People that review the proposals are special.
The program committee is open to anyone who wants to serve. You would only have to sign up for the mailing list: https://mail.python.org/mailman/listinfo/pycon-pc.
Now, hopefully, you’re convinced that you can (and want to!) submit a PyCon proposal! There’s a ton of useful information on submitting a talk at the main PyCon page: https://us.pycon.org/2018/speaking/talks/.
Definitely read the sample proposal - it will give you a very good idea on how you should structure yours.
I found these two articles to be extremely helpful:
- “How to Get Your Talk Into PyCon”: http://www.njl.us/essays/pycon-talks/, written by Ned Jackson Lovely, chair of the talk selection committee for 2016 and 2017.
- “The PyCon Talk Process”: http://www.njl.us/essays/pycon-process/, same author. This is especially useful, because it lists the criteria on which your proposal will be evaluated!
When submitting a proposal, try and avoid these:
3 common proposal mistakes
#1: “OMG, submissions are open! I have to submit something! This moment!”
It’s only been a few days since the initial review started, but I’ve already seen a lot of proposals that barely have any information in their description, and a very sparse outline. Yes, you can iterate on your submission, and the reviewers will be given an updated version to re-evaluate. But you really do not want to create this kind of a first impression. Take a few days, or weeks. You will still have a couple of months to polish it up — don’t just throw something together for the sake of submitting now.
#2: “I have plenty of time before the deadline. I’ll submit the proposal at the last possible moment.”
This is the reverse of #1. I understand procrastination and perfectionism (you have no idea how well). But consider this:
- Many people procrastinate. The reviewers will have a huge inflow of proposals in the last week before the deadline. They may not be able to read the submission very closely. They may grade the submission based on an incorrect idea of what it’s talking about.
- If submitting very close to the deadline, there will not be enough time to receive the feedback from reviewers and improve the proposal.
#3: “My subject is so great that I don’t need to fill in the outline.”
I’ve seen a few proposals with no outline whatsoever. In one, the author specifically said “I will not waste my time writing an outline until my talk is accepted.” Well… why do you expect it to be accepted, if it does not fit the explicit requirements?
Now, go ahead and submit that proposal that you’ve put a lot of thought and hard work in!