Tech conferences offer a great opportunity to boost your career. Companies are always looking for great people, and nothing looks better than you teaching the audience about something that you love.
JSConf Budapest had an open CFP (call for presentations) that gave us the opportunity to go through more than a hundred proposals. It was tough to narrow it down to the few ‘lucky’ ones who got the opportunity to speak at the conference - and by being lucky, I mean sending excellent proposals.
What Can You Gain from Writing a Conference Proposal
No one started as an expert. Do you know the feeling that the more you learn, the less you know? It is a sign that you are on the right track. The best way to move forward is teaching what you already know.
Teaching gives a different way of approach about the things you know. You can gain a better understanding of a subject by explaining it to other people and take your knowledge to the next level.
And one more thing: we want to hear from you. No one else is more qualified to talk about your opinion and knowledge than you.
How Did We Select the Talks for JSConf Budapest
Our method was blind rating, and dividing the proposals into three categories: “meh”, “yay”, and “MUST HAVE”. I want to help you get into the "MUST HAVE" category.
Blind rating is typical for tech conferences as the organizers don’t want to be influenced by subjective feelings. We did that with the proposals at JSConf Budapest too. This method made us focus on the content of the talks.
Sales isn’t just about knocking on doors that people don’t want to open. With a conference proposal, it is about convincing people to spend 30 minutes listening to you.
There is a decision behind this whole thing, in the head of those who will spend their time looking at the conference's website. People are already busy doing their everyday stuff: what would make them stop for a moment and listen to your talk?
Choosing the Topic
Relevant subject means relevant in context. "10 Steps to Writing a Perfect Angular App" sounds great at a local meetup; but it probably won’t achieve the same success at an international tech conference that’s about pushing the limits and exploring new stuff.
Being unique is a good thing. If you explain why you think that your perspective is different about a topic, you have your chance to get selected even if countless others have chosen the same topic.
Don’t pick a topic just to get on stage. Enthusiasm can fix many things, but without that, even the world’s best talk would make the audience fall asleep. Or worse, if your future boss is at the conference, you could ruin every chance to get that job you always wanted.
Google Trends is an excellent tool to help you choose the main topic. Let’s say you want to speak at AwesomeConf that is about the newest tech trends. You have found a list of topics on the conference’s website, and you are familiar with two of them: microservices and monolithic architectures. You entered both terms into Google Trends, and to get relevant data, filtered the results to the Computer & Electronics category.
Monolithic has quite a heavy traffic, but the trend is decreasing over the years. You could get accepted with a talk in the “yay” category, but we are aiming for the “MUST HAVE”!
Let’s take a look at microservices: skyrocketing out of nowhere! Just perfect for the AwesomeConf attendees.
Get a general image about the audience. Who will be there? Newbie programmers, or hardcore developers? Startup CTOs or executives from billion-dollar firms? As you would speak in front of these people, you probably should write a different kind of proposal for them.
Think about them as a friend you want to convince to come to the conference. What can they gain? What would you tell them? Just write down your thoughts, and voila, you already have your first draft.
Don’t try to make it perfect - think about it as the material to build your real proposal.
Editing Your First Draft
Use ‘we’ and ‘you’ in the proposal. You are the one who gives the talk, but it’s about the audience. Think about what’s in it for them and describe that benefit.
Get into the ‘why’ of your topic. It’s good that you will talk about X, but why is X relevant? Give a reason for the audience to care, and they will listen.
But avoid being pitchy. You shouldn’t sell your whole company in a paragraph, just prove your point that your talk is awesome. Instead of saying “it’s awesome” prove it by explaining why it is great in your proposal.
You don’t have to explain that you are an expert, but if you have a background on the subject, feel free to mention it.
If you don’t want to give away “too much” in the description, you can just ask some questions you want to answer. “How to do X” works great, but only after you have explained why should the audience care about X.
Avoid the Most Common Mistakes
If they have a format or word count, do it that way. Writing an 1000 character mini-essay is an easy way to disqualify yourself if the requirements were 500 characters.
Grammar is a must. When you are on stage, people don’t care if you spell something wrong but make that few lines error-free. Grammarly is a nice tool for that if English is not your native language. Just paste your draft here and you can fix the most mistakes with a few clicks, even with the free version.
Feel free to submit more than one proposal, if you have more than one topic you’d like to discuss. More proposals mean higher chances to get picked (if they are well-written). Just don’t send it in one pack.
Ask your friends and/or colleagues to review your proposal before you submit it. It’s a great way to get some honest opinions that you can use to improve the style and fix some mistakes that you might didn’t even notice.
Remove words and sentences that aren't necessary. People always look for ways to save time - making them read a paragraph that could be explained with a single sentence is not a good way to keep them reading. A great way to do this to read the sentences one by one, and ask yourself: “Do I want to go to the conference because of this?” If the answer is no, remove that sentence.
A Successful Example
I wanted to show you an example that got an opportunity for Mikael Brevik to get on stage:
Let us bring back the days where we could write declarative representations of how we want our UI components to work. We should be able to read our code from top to bottom and intuitively know what the output will be, just like the good old HTML, but with the power of functional programming.
He started with giving a little background for the story, and a reason for the readers to care. No sales language or unnecessary sentences anywhere.
In this talk we'll explore bringing functional programming into views. Instead of moving logic to markup through weird DSLs we bring expressive views into the programming language. We'll see how to create a UI where we have composable, pure and referentially transparent components; components with no side-effects and predictable output. We couple this with immutable data and components with single responsibilities, and we can get a fast and smart way to build UIs with a unidirectional flow and a simpler static mental model.
He then takes us for a ride: we can imagine that his talk starts, and then he teaches us to create the UI, we will couple it with other components, and we will have the awesome result of all this. He describes this goal that we can achieve something cool if we decide to go to the conference.
Submitting the Conference Proposal
Submitting your talk early gives you an unfair advantage over last minute submitters. Paying attention to the deadline is a smart way to get some extra feedback from the organizers. Organizers don’t like getting “Did I get in?” emails, but they are happy to give you feedback and a chance to improve your proposal. If you submit in the last minute, you won’t get that chance.
Also, it doesn’t make your talk feel like if it was assembled in the last minute, and it implies that you really want to give that talk.
In the end, don't worry if your talk wasn't selected. There are a lot of conferences, and chances to show what you know and help others learn.
The first JSConf in the region begins on 14th May. Watch the talks for free right from your couch.
Follow the Live Stream on JSConfBP.com (beginning on Thursday morning CEST)