December 3, 20200 mins read
Public speaking is a great privilege and I’m humbled every I am offered a speaking position. It’s a great way to connect with folks and inspire other humans with your mission and the values you live by.
A while back, I created a tiny website to curate a list of public speaking tips. Here’s a nugget of wisdom to get us rolling:
On a more serious note, though…
I often peer-review conference talk abstracts and advise friends and colleagues about their conference talk abstracts. I am no stranger to conference CFP rejections myself but being a member of several communities and public speaking engagements for the last 6 years, I’m happy to share some of what I learned.
As a JSHeroes Ambassador, I realize this might come out as a biased opinion but JSHeroes is probably one of the best conferences around that is run by a community. I seldom participate in program committees for conferences such as Voxxed Days Frontend which means I have read a decent amount of CFPs to form an opinion of how people write abstracts, and what works (at least for me).
I’m sure you’re passionate about speaking, just as I am, so here’s a rundown of 10 tips for getting that Call For Papers (CFP) proposal accepted into a conference.
1. Key takeaways
Why should I come to hear your talk? Why is it important for me?
As an attendee, think about “what’s in it for me?”. What is the audience going to learn? Elegantly describe in the abstract the overall key takeaways for your attendees.
2. Abstract length
Aim to be concise and target for a single paragraph of anything between 3 to 6 sentences.
I often read CFPs that are too short. More than often though, I get to read CFPs that are really long (3 paragraphs of 4-5 sentences each)—that’s a lot. Unless the conference event submission form had specifically asked to elaborate on the talk, its structure, and so on, this is a very long abstract for anyone to read.
3. What are the pain points?
Mentioning one or more takeaways is important, but opening the abstract with a problem-statement is really strong and captivating. What are some pain points that your target audience struggles with? What’s the biggest challenge that they can resonate with? Open your abstract with that.
4. Speaker’s bio
Even though this isn’t part of the actual CFP abstract content itself, your own speaker biography is a reference for your authority or your experience with the topic you want to present.
Having said that, if you’re doing a React-related talk but you didn’t write React yourself, it doesn’t mean that you’re not an authority, or if you’re doing a Node.js talk about performance but you’re not Matteo Collina, then you’re not an authority. That’s not what I mean.
What I’d like to highlight is that if you’re doing a talk about React hooks, for example, have your short biography center around your work in this area. Are you a frontend lead? Are you specializing in a frontend infrastructure architecture for your team? Mention it.
5. Be a professional
Being professional also means that you know how to articulate your messages and to avoid dismissing or punching other technologies, or tools, which is never a good way to lift yourself up.
It may sound obvious but I highly recommend you iterate several times on writing the abstract until you are satisfied with the result.
I often end up writing several versions of a conference abstract. I’d sometimes start off with a long one that has two paragraphs and then write another one below it shorter. I’ll try to trim it down and focus on the most important parts for the reader and for the core message of my talk.
7. Title first, survey them later
First, come up with a title—it’ll make you think “what is this topic about?”, “what am I even talking about at this conference?”. Then write down different variations of the title. Leave them as they are. Write the abstract and go back to the titles and ask yourself “which one is most inviting and descriptive of what I want to talk about?”.
Titles can be fun—it’s a great way to spark interest in the talk and to further read the abstract to get more information about what this is all about. When worded correctly, titles become very memorable.
8. Review with peers
It is easy to fall into the tunneled-vision trap by writing the abstract yourself and not getting any feedback for it. I completely relate to the embarrassment of sharing your CFP with others but it is something I highly recommend doing. When you share it with a trusted peer or colleagues and friends, you know you’ll get actionable feedback from people who care about you and will also serve the audience’s perspective.
9. Lead with the interesting gist
The first line or two of your abstract should be “the capture”—he story or a problem-statement that pulls the reader in with curiosity to read further and ultimately make the decision to join your talk.
Avoid fluff in your abstract intro. Minimize the background story to the tidbits of a few words that add the insight and takeaways, and dive straight into the interesting bits of your talk.
10. Submit more and submit often
The essence of this rule is to submit more than one talk to a conference and submit those talks to several conferences. This implies that you have more than one topic you are passionate to speak about, and if so then definitely submit two talks. More than that is stretching it and only spams the program committee.
Also, don’t hold your breath for a specific conference. Instead, submit your talks to other conferences that are of interest and align with your values and community orientation.
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