Thoughts on Conference Submissions

The last week I’ve been in Oslo, Norway where I had the pleasure of being on the NDC Sydney 2019 Agenda committee and speaking at the conference.

Whilst I’ve had a fair bit of experience creating agendas via DDD Melbourne and user groups it was very interesting to see how a large commercial (and one of my two fav Australian conferences along with Web Directions) handles putting an agenda together.

Opinions are mine and mine alone
I should probably start of by saying what follows is my opinion and may not reflect that of other agenda committee members or NDC organizers.

The agenda we proposed will also be reviewed by NDC organizers before speakers are informed so is likely to change a bit (and no I wont tell you who got in etc you’ll have to wait until the official emails!).

With that out the way there are a few things I wanted to talk about and things you can do to maximize your chances of getting in.

NDC

Sometimes you may do everything right and not get in
First up don’t be put off if you are declined from a conference.

NDC Sydney 2019 received over 800 submissions and there are a lot less spots. This means many people are not going to be successful and includes some well-known names.

You not getting in isn’t necessarily (but might be!) a reflection of your speaking abilities, how your talks went previously or your topic it is simply impossible to squeeze everyone in.

There was more than enough awesome content to fill multiple conferences.

What can you do to maximize your chance of speaking well I have a few thoughts but the main thing I’d encourage you to do is simply keep submitting!

Commercial conferences need to make money
Whilst it would be wonderful for a conference to be able to support every speaker and topic a commercial conference is significantly different to a community event such as DDD Melbourne and needs to attract customers.

Whilst these are not the only drivers having well known great speakers and interesting topics will likely equal more customers

Have a think about your subject – would you or your colleagues pay to see the talk you are proposing?

If the answer is no then your talk may be better placed in a local user group.

Choose a great title
Major conferences get many submissions and the title is the first thing the agenda committee sees.

A good title is interesting, enough to draw the reader in for a deeper look or makes it obvious what the session is about and I guess in an ideal world all of the above.

Also avoid cliché titles such as Make SAP great again (it’s probably not possible), in the trenches with Silverlight etc as these titles suck.

Write a clear & concise abstract that describes what your session is about
With many sessions to review you want to make the agenda committee’s job easy.

Some session summaries were like mini novels and despite all the text it was still difficult to work out what the presenter wanted to actually talking about!

Writing a good abstract is hard (as is concise writing) and needs practice. Get someone else to read your abstract does it make sense?

Also avoid swearing (many of us enjoy a good swear but this isn’t the place for it) and slang as it may not make sense to the reader.

Tag your session correctly
If a conference asks you what category your session fits in please don’t tag it with every subject.

Most sessions have 1 or 2 primary categories they fit in.

Categories are one way of ensuring a distribution of subjects in a conference and if you tag your session with everything it just makes more work.

Proofread and spelling
Just do it, there’s tools to help and if you are crap at this stuff get a friend or colleague to help.

Review pre-booked speakers at conference
If you can see a conference has a well-known expert, author or contributor to a library, language or framework talking you probably don’t want to be submitting a what’s new in X or introduction to Y talk on the same subject.

Whilst some subjects will warrant multiple talks guess who the general public would rather hear from a) the author of a framework/library or b) an unknown speaker?

Having said this it is certainly not impossible to speak about the same topic as a big name speaker (we accepted sessions that did on popular subjects) but you’ll probably need want something unique to make your session relevant.

Avoid intro level talks unless its something very new
If it’s a subject that has been around for a while and is well understood I think you’d be better avoiding an intro-level talk for a commercial conference.

Attendees will likely be familiar with what you will discuss or can quickly learn about it and it wont draw people to the conference.

Well known speakers can however probably revisit any topic they want as will still draw a crowd but if you are reading this article this probably is not you (yet!).

Consider the conference you are submitting to
NDC has a wide range of development talks with probably a lean towards the Microsoft platform. A talk on very niche subjects of say Perl may be better suited else where.

Consider avoiding personal story/philosophy style talks
Whilst you may have some awesome stuff to say unless you are well known or have a particularly interesting story to tell the general audience we may not be that excited about how your cat gave you a different perspective on Angular (I’d love to hear over a beer however).

Some subjects are going to be a harder sell
Its no surprise that the development world has trends and there are some subjects that just aren’t that popular right now.

Something that is very niche such as run SQL Server on custom Finish Alpine Linux kernel reverse proxy docker container on Google cloud is probably only going to be relevant to a few people so likely wont get in.

Other subjects such as old JavaScript libraries or stuff that has fallen out of favour will also be a harder (but not impossible) sell.

Make it easy for us to find your past talks
You do have past-talks right?

A commercial conference likes to see a speakers history so they have some assurance you will do a good talk.

If you have no history then you are a risk which is a shame as you may be awesome and have lots to say!

There’s an easy way to deal with this and that’s to go and talk at various user groups and meetups and do talks.

Practice is also going to make you a better speaker full stop.

Expecting a commercial conference to take a chance on you if you have no history of speaking is a bit of an ask – but does happen.

We do look in detail into short listed speakers, try and find a quick look at videos of previous talks etc so make them easy to find!

Summary
For those of you that wont be successful this time to NDC Sydney please don’t be put off -keep submitting talks, talk at your local user group & DDD events and try again next year.

I’m really excited about the agenda we have for NDC Sydney 2019 and (I’m biased) but its seriously the best ever!