Is Your Conference Proposal Good Enough?

Hi Friends.

So you're thinking about submitting an idea for a conference. Hurray!! Please do -- your ideas are worth sharing and even if you don't think it's very good/original/worthy, no one knows how to present your material the way you do. So go for it!

Now, if you're hoping your idea gets picked, then listen up and listen good. While I can't guarantee that your talk will be selected, I can help you not get outright rejected.

Not only have I spoken at a variety of conferences, but I've also helped conference organizers sort out conference proposals. I've been on teams that have decided who gets to be on stage and who doesn't. So before you hit Submit on your proposal, make sure you keep these in mind:


DO pick a relevant topic to discuss. Be mindful of the conference to which you're submitting a proposal - if it's a local meetup, then chances are your "10 Steps to Writing a Perfect Angular App" will be great. If it's a major, global conference that prides itself on pushing the envelope, your how-to guide will be less successful because writing an Angular app (which has been done countless times in blog posts all over the Internet) isn't pushing the envelope. Maybe it was a year ago, but not this year.

DO tell organizers what you're going to discuss with some detail. We don't need The Great American Conference Proposal, but 100-150 words about your topic is great. I've seen CFP topics that say "EmberJS." That's it. Nothing else. While I'd love to hear more about EmberJS, it's also complex on many fascinating levels. What's so special about your topic? Will it beat out someone else who's eager to talk about Ember's inner complexities, using it at scale, or how it compares to the many other frameworks out there? For all I know, you're going to talk about the cute little hamster mascot. Let me know what you're going to discuss and be specific.

DO submit more than one proposal, if you've got more than one topic you'd like to discuss. I'm not just the "robot" girl - I also like to talk about node, front-end dev, math, and all sorts of other things. Maybe you've got a bunch of ideas, too, that all fit into the theme of a given conference. Shop 'em all! No one loses points for submitting more than one proposal, and by the law of statistics, the more proposals you submit (assuming at least one of them is good), the higher your chances are of getting one picked!

DO ask your friends to review your proposal(s) before you submit them. Ask your colleagues if the topic sounds like something they'd want to see at the conference. Ask your writer friends to review the proposal for typos, clarity, etc. Most importantly, ask yourself if this is a topic that you can prepare for and give an awesome talk about - if you're excited about it, it'll show (and we'll be excited about it, too!)


DO NOT give me 4 proposals in a single CFP. I LOVE that you can talk about many things. But when you tell me that you can talk about A, B, C, and D (and then ask me to choose for you), it makes it nearly impossible for me to know how to categorize your submission. (Yes, it's true. Some conferences have categories. This should come as no surprise.) For larger conferences, organizers have teams specifically focused on individual categories. If your submission has a proposal about frameworks and a proposal about robots, then my choices are to pick the category for you, manually split the proposal into two and then pass them both along, or ignore it altogether. (Note: When categorizing, I'm willing to spend up to 30 seconds on each submission. I'll let you figure out which option I'm going to choose.) Instead, submit four separate proposals! Now you've got me spending 30 seconds on each of your proposals, instead of 30 seconds on your one (overloaded) submission.

DO NOT ask me if your proposal has been picked. I don't know how you found out that I'm on the speaker selection committee, but that's completely irrelevant. I make it a point to be as unbiased as possible while reviewing submissions. Chances are higher that I have no idea what your topic was about, since I don't look at names or bios when reviewing talk topics. The best topics will move forward, and the selected speakers will be notified by the conference organizer. If you bug me about it, it's more likely I'll remember your name with a negative connotation. You deserve better than that, so let's keep the speaker selection process to strictly business, yes?

DO NOT propose a topic that you think will get you on stage but doesn't actually excite you at all. Yes, robots are a crazy hot topic right now. But let's say you don't actually care about robots. Let's also say that you've managed to create an incredible proposal and you get picked. Now it's a week before the conference, and you've procrastinated on your talk because you don't actually give a humdeedum about robots, and you're stuck for something to talk about on stage. Next you're on stage, ill-prepared, and your boss is sitting in the back of the room (or your potential future boss, who you were hoping was going to offer you a job after seeing your talk)... Don't put yourself in this situation. It's not worth it. Pick a topic that excites you, write a proposal that shows that excitement, and submit it to every relevant conference out there. One of them will pick you up (if not more!), I promise.


Curious about what a good conference proposal looks like? Be sure to read this post on by Tiffany Conroy (@theophani), a JSConf EU curator!


For even more (bonus!) DOs and DON'Ts, be sure to read through this post by Chris Williams (@voodootikigod), the JSConf US curator!


This was a PSA from your friendly neighborhood rockbot. Let me know your thoughts below.