How to find something interesting to share at a conference — and how to pitch it to me

Trust me, you have something to share

Lots of people tell me they’d like to try speaking at a conference, but don’t think they have anything interesting to share. Every time, within five or ten minutes we’ve found at least one really useful thing they could talk about — if not several.

  1. Think back to a year ago. What do you know now that you wish you’d known then? There’s your talk. There will absolutely be people in the audience who are where you were a year ago.
    This does not need to be ground-breaking. Share how you’ve taken a technique or method from someone else and made it work, and what you learned in doing that which wasn’t obvious from the stuff you’d read or heard.
  1. What advice are you often asked for or do you often give to people you work with? There’ll be lots of other people keen to learn from you too, and lots more people who have exactly the same questions.
  2. What issues do you talk about most with your peers and what tips and advice do you share with them, or have you found most useful? There will be lots more people just like you at the event who will be in a similar position and will value your perspective. If nothing else it’s always reassuring to learn we’re not the only ones finding something hard!

It doesn’t have to be for everyone

These are multi-track conferences. That means your session doesn’t have to be suitable for everybody. If it’s not right for someone they can just go to one of the two or three other sessions that are on at the same time.

Types of session

For both conferences I’m looking for:

  1. solid tutorials on core skills
  2. case studies
  • how to apply and adapt a technique to work in the ‘real world’
  • what you learned about a particular kind of user, design problem or technology, and how it’s applicable to other people and organisations
  • how doing all this great user-centred digital service design-y stuff has made an impact on your end-users or your organisation’s bottom line. Stuff people can point to with their bosses to say “look! I am not a crazy person! This stuff actually works!”

Writing your proposal

Eventually your session description will end up in the programme, but right now I and my fellow session reviewers are your audience. So write your proposal for us — you can always amend it later for participants.

  • Will anyone be interested?
  • Will they learn something useful?
  • Does this person know what they are talking about?
  1. Don’t be coy! Clever titles and ‘I’ll share my top 3 secret tips’ might work in the programme, but when blind reviewing your submission the more detail you can give me the better. Be specific. I want to know what those top 3 tips actually are.
  2. It doesn’t have to be most perfectly crafted marketing copy. Just be really clear, coherent and straightforward about what you’ll cover.
  3. Try writing “People will learn:” and then follow it with 3 to 5 bullet points that simply set out what people will take away from the session. Keep it practical and clear.
  4. If you find yourself writing something that sounds a bit like “people will learn how awesome I / my agency / my product is and why they should pay me all the money” then you have a sales pitch, not a conference session. We’ll probably pass.
  5. You can always revise the description before it’s published if you worry the description is too long or gives too much away that you want to save for your Big Reveal.
  6. Longer is better than shorter. Unlike some events we don’t have any word limit on the long form of your session description. We want as much detail as you can give us about what you’ll talk about. While I don’t hugely appreciate wading through a 1000 word case study, that’s better than getting a single paragraph.

Picking a session type and length

The following is a bit specific to the session types offered by the UX, Service Design and Agile conferences run by Software Acumen, but may be relevant to other events as well.

  • 45 minutes
  • 60 minutes
  • 90 minutes
  • 3 hours (150 minutes, with a half hour break)

Submit your ideas!

UX in the City Manchester



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Sophie Dennis

Sophie Dennis


User-centred digital strategy • Embedding UX in agile • Freelance/contract UX lead @NHSDigital @cxpartners @DWPDigital @LandRegGov. Devon exile in Yorkshire.