Lightning Talk
About: Call for Proposals

by Markus Tacker

Lightning Talk: About: Call for Proposals

At this year's Global Diversity CFP Day I gave a lightning talk about Call for Proposals. You can watch the recording here. The slides are available here.

Below is are the main talking points I cover


Structure of a Proposal

In order to prepare a good proposal we need to look at what conference organizers expect from a submission.

These are the elements that you need to prepare:

Speaker Profile

You might think that only what you talk about matters, but it is actually the other way around. Conference organizers create a space to network, and the time around the talks is actually where most attendees will see the value in. It matters very much to find a diverse set of speakers and that is why you should not miss out the oportunity to answer the question: Why should I talk to you?.

A good speaker profile should have:

  • less than 100 words
  • be written in third person (conference organizers will copy&paste this to their website)
  • have a mix of background information on your experience and interesting trivia about you

Here is how my speaker profile looks like (92 words, 596 characters):

Markus is a coder by heart and an organizational hacker by passion. As a software crafter he uses his 20+ years of experience working as a software developer, consultant, coach, mentor, and founder to build cloud-based solutions for the Internet of Things using JavaScript. His professional career has been greatly influenced by taking an active role in communities, whether as a participant, contributor, initiator, or speaker. He especially enjoys the diverse and deep discussion of the Software Craft Community. He lives in Trondheim, Norway and enjoys plowing through deep snow on snowshoes.

Abstract

A great abstract distilles down the main takeaway of your talk into a very short form. It takes a lot of work to remove the unneccessary fluff from the text and highlight what the main takeaway of your talk is.

Part of the abstract is the title which also needs to be an eye-catcher.

Remember, your proposal can be one of hundreds so you need to catch the attention of the conference committee member within a few seconds.

In your abstract

  • make the title 100 characters or less
  • fit the main idea in a tweet 280 characters

On many submission forms there is often not much more space for the abstract. 500 characters is still safe, and if you absolutely cannot fit your idea in a tweet, prepare multiple variants of the abstract.

Here is how my abstract looks like (title has 63 characters, text has 288 characters):

Integration testing a cloud-native application with JavaScript
In this talk I will take you through the challenge of testing a cloud-native application. I will cover the challenges when developing solutions on top of serverless components which you cannot run on your own machine and how I designed a BDD driven approach to run the integration tests.

Notes

Once you have prepared this abstract, basically all conferences allow for to provide additional notes. This is your opportunity to provide more context to your abstract and also a second chance to highlight the most important aspects of your talk. This is also a good place to provide more background information on why you are passionate to share this talk.

The notes for my submissions look like this:

In my current project at Nordic Semiconductor I am building a RESTful API for interacting with the next generation of IoT devices. This solution is build on top of AWS using serverless components. Not only the implementation of the business logic is done in JavaScript, but I have developed the entire CI/CD solution in JavaScript. In this talk I will cover the challenges when developing solutions on top of serverless components which you cannot run on your own machine and how I designed a BDD driven approach to run the integration tests, because I absolutely love tests. It showcases that JavaScript can be used in a truly full-stack manner today and that we can cover Development, DevOps and Testing with the one language we love. I am also really passionate about showcasing the BDD approach to testing which is in my opinion a fantastic way to drive test and at the same time have a living documentation.

5 key learnings

I see conferences which have started to explicitely ask for it, but in my experience providing this list in the notes is really helpful for the conference committee. Explain in 5 bullet points what your audience will take away from your talk, the most important one first.

  1. The first key learning is easy, rephrase your abstract and you are done.
  2. I spoke about this because it really helps to understand the topic.
  3. This is also important, but might not apply everywhere.
  4. If you were really listening this is a cool bit to remember.
  5. Stretch goal!

Here is the real example from my talk:

  1. How the cloud native test-pyramid looks like
  2. Infrastructure as code is key, because configuration of cloud-native services are part of the solution
  3. how BDD can be used to write re-usable test instructions
  4. to write tests that behave like real users (retry if failed multiple times) instead of programming shortcuts, because this will give better information to system design
  5. use “real” test doubles backed by queues to monitor outcome of test cases

Keywords

The SEO for talks is mainly used to cluster talk submission for the commitee, but some websites also publish them for the attendees to filter talks. They are not used that often, but you should prepare 5-10 keywords in advance.

These are the keywords for my talk:

JavaScript IoT BDD Serverless AWS

Where to find CfPs

Once you have your proposal ready it is time to submit it. The most important place to find out about Call for Proposals is Twitter. Follow conferences and speakers because this will be the first place were you will learn about new announcements.

There are also sites that aggregate CfPs and provide a list and a regular email about new CfPs. Check out:

Submitting

Once start submitting remember that you will receive rejections, and quite a lot of them. It's hard to give a ratio, because it depends on your talk and which conferences you select, but getting 9 out of 10 submissions rejected is totally normal. So oversubmit!

Another reason for that is that it is hard to plan month ahead. Some CfP end more than half a year in advance. It is impossible to know whether you will be actually able to attend. You always will be asked after your proposal has been accepted to confirm your attendence. This typically happens at a time where it is easier to plan ahead and figure out those conflicts. Don't feel bad to turn down an opportunity to talk, the conference will not have a hard time finding a replacement, especially if you decline right away.

It helps to track your submissions, I use a Trello board to keep an overview. Because you also do not want to submit to the same conference twice…

#paytospeak

I also need to mention #paytospeak here, because it's important to understand that we as speakers are actively hindering the diversification of the speaking community if we accept speaking opportunities for which we pay the expenses out of our own pockets.

If you are not getting reimburst for your expenses as a speaker there is a high chance that you are benefiting off someone who cannot afford to attend.

There are two great blog posts on this topics which I highly recommend you to read:

Code of Conducts

If you apply to a conference I highly encourage you to check out their Code of Conduct. Having no is a red flag, but having a single-paragraph one mit even be worse.

There are Code of Conducts, like

“Don’t be a jerk.”

and there are good Code of Conducts because they are

  • concrete, so it is clear to everyone what inacceptable behaviour is
  • enforcible, so there are clear guidelines on what will happen in case something happens
  • and everyone has of the staff has been trained on how to handle incidents

A good example is the JSConf Code of Conduct.

Now, go and become a speaker!

You can find more resources on public speaking here:

I am also always happy to help. Feel free to reach out to me! If I can help you with your talk proposal, send me a Google Doc!