10 tips on submitting a conference session proposal

Conférence NWX2012

CC Image courtesy zigazou76 on Flickr

I have been seeing a lot of calls for speakers to submit their abstracts to various conferences lately. This got me wondering what it takes to get a session proposal accepted. Is it that the session content is cutting edge or is there something more to it than that? So I scoured the web for the best tips and compiled them here.

Your first question though might be where I do I learn about conventions looking for speakers? Well, since I work in the .NET stack I am only tracking conferences looking for speakers on .NET or Microsoft products. To find these I closely monitor Speak.NET. This is a group that finds and rebroadcasts calls for speakers on all things Microsoft. You can follow Speak.NET through Twitter @SpeakNET or through their Google group SPEAK.NET. Note though that to access this group you must sign up to be a member through your Google account. If you are new to Google Groups you can get more information through their Support Page. Finally, many of the posts are duplicated between the Twitter feed and the Google group so checking in with one or the other should be sufficient to keep you abreast of all the current announcements.

So, now, here is my list of what I found makes for a good conference proposal:

Read the speaker guidelines

A sure-fire way to not get your proposal accepted is to do something they have asked you not to do. Take five minutes to read the instructions they wrote for all submissions, including yours.

Get it in early

Most symposiums announce their call for speakers weeks before they open the floodgates for proposals. This should give you plenty of time to think about whether you want to even to give a talk at that particular seminar and if so to come up with a good topic. By submitting early you are showing the conference organizers that you want to be a part of the speaking line-up. As well, some conferences assign spots as the proposals come in so waiting to the end means a smaller chance of acceptance.

However, even if you missed the initial call for speakers most conferences give people about two weeks to get a submission in. That being said try not wait until the final day as that could leave a bad impression with the people selecting the speakers.

Having a good title

You want to make sure the title is descriptive enough to grab everyone’s attention. A title like “LightSwitch Development 101” is not as exciting as a title that says “Develop a complete LightSwitch app in 20 minutes”. You also want to make sure that any non-native English speaking attendees can understand your title and session abstract easily enough.

Make sure you can deliver on what you promise

Regarding the point above, if you say you can deliver a LightSwitch application in 20 minutes make sure you can or you will lose the audience. They will then discount the rest of your presentation or worse, tell others not attend any future presentations which could be disastrous if you have several planned for the same conference.

Having the right amount of material for your allotted time

You want to make sure you can cover your topic in the amount of time you have been given. If you give a high-level overview you may find you don’t have enough material. On the other hand if you try to cover every aspect of your topic you might find you are rushing through your slides with only five minutes left. Make sure you can go at a decent pace with some time left for questions at the end.

Don’t do a sales pitch

If you are presenting a topic that relies on a certain technology then make sure it is not a sales pitch. Tell the organizers that you are including the product to assist in your talk but not to be the focus of it.

And don’t think about doing a bait and switch either. Meaning don’t tell the organizers that you will not be focusing on the product and then once it is accepted make your entire presentation an overt sales pitch. You will only burn your reputation for future talks.

Having a good session description

A well-written session description has two goals – 1) entice the conference organizers into accepting your abstract, and 2) get attendees into the seats (since most conferences will use your submitted description within their promotional materials). To do this you want to show you are passionate about the topic you are presenting. If you have a passion for teaching the technology then people will want to hear what you have to say.

You must give people a reason to come and hear you speak instead of one of the other sessions you are competing with in your time slot. What you want to do is tell people how your talk will benefit them in their day-to-day work and to give them information they can use immediately. Returning to the LightSwitch example above you could add a statement like “Developing a simple CRUD application with LightSwitch will reduce development times by 50%!” People reading that can see an instant benefit. As I said before though make sure you can back up your claims.

Also, try to be very specific in what your session is going to cover. Do not think you can submit a high-level overview of the topic as your description. Conference selection committees want to know specifics about what you plan to talk about. Are you doing a case study, a live-coding demo, delving into a certain area only? Tell them this in your pitch.

Finally, try to make the description concise. Eliminate any unneeded words and sentences. This makes it easier for the conference organizers to remember your abstract when it comes to making their selections. It also helps attendees make their choices as they can quickly understand what your talk is about.

Complete the entire abstract portion of the form

The organizers have created the form specifically to gather certain types of information they will need to make their choices. Leaving portions of it blank shows them that you did not take the process seriously and this can cast your proposal in a negative light.

Make sure you fill out your biographical information in full

Give the conference planning committee every pertinent detail about yourself that you can. Write a compelling bio and tell them what makes you qualified to speak on the topic. This is especially important if you are not a well-known speaker or if you are travelling to a conference outside of your normal speaking circles. It also allows you to differentiate yourself from others speakers.

If the form includes areas for various social media accounts like Twitter and LinkedIn then fill them in. If not then include them in your bio. You want to demonstrate to attendees that you are open to continuing the discussion after your presentation is over.

As well, make sure you have links to your developer’s blog and your previous presentation videos including any YouTube screencasts you may have done. If you do not have a developer’s blog read my article on how Creating a developer’s blog can benefit you. If you have done presentations in the past push your slide decks to SlideShare and mention those links to the selection committee. Finally, you can also include any URLs to sites that contain information you are planning to use in your presentation as this shows that you have given your topic some in-depth thought.

Check over your session abstracts and bio thoroughly for errors

When submitting your session proposals you are competing against everyone else for a spot on the speaker’s list. The conference organizers want to know you are not going to waste a spot by giving a shoddy presentation. So attention to detail here is crucial. Make sure you double check your entire submission over several times for grammatical and spelling mistakes. Better yet have a friend read it over to make sure that the topic sounds compelling and that your submission is tip top.

So these are the top 10 items I found in my research. If you are a conference organizer or a seasoned speaker and you have other useful tips then please leave a comment below as I would love to read them.

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Personal branding thru social networking for software developers

Developing your personal brand

The many benefits of speaking at conferences

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Establish a uniform look for all your social media profiles

This post is Day #11 in a series called Personal Branding for Software Developers.

In this article I want to touch on a couple of simple things you can do when you are creating your social networking profiles. Specifically, to make sure all of the information that you share across all your sites is the same everywhere. You need to do this to avoid confusion and to create a unified web presence.

I have touched on the idea in past articles that whatever I wrote about myself on my various social networking profiles I always wrote in a text editor. This was done because it allowed me to compose in a familiar environment and I could use the various review tools to make sure everything was correct. I also did this because whatever I wrote I then set aside for a day or two. After this length of time mistakes would jump out at me and any missing information I needed to add could be done easily. Only once I was happy with my composition did I post it.

However, this format also served me well when I created my biography. Most social networking sites have areas where you can insert biographical information about yourself. This is generally in paragraph form but you can also use point form as well. By composing one biography well, you can then insert the same information – or shortened versions of it if space is at a premium – on every site where you have a profile. By doing so you are creating a uniform look for yourself.

This does not just apply to the biography but also to your headline. My current LinkedIn headline reads: “Senior Software Developer at Alvarnet Corporation | .NET Consultant | Web Developer | Windows Phone 7 Apps Maker.” I spent some time on composing that so I could include all of the keywords important to me. I have since used the same headline – or versions of it – on all my other social media profiles.

As well, I have used the same name – Ken, not Kenneth or Kenny – and the same photo across all of my sites as well. Again, a uniform look means when people see me on one site they know I am the same person from the other sites. My name is pretty unique so people can identify me easily enough but if you are a John Smith or some other common name your uniform look becomes even more important. Using the same headline reassures people that this John Smith is the SharePoint expert I am looking for and not a different one.

A uniform look means you can control the information people learn about you and you create a unified web presence in your social networking circles.

The many benefits of speaking at conferences

This post is Day #9 in a series called Personal Branding for Software Developers.

Up until this point my articles in this series have focused on using digital social networking tools to help you build your personal brand. However, the next two articles will focus on the more traditional face-to-face social networking that was prevalent before the advent of computers and the internet. I am talking specifically about conferences and personal networking.

I am sure many readers have attended conferences in the past. They could be general IT conferences or ones specific to software developers. Generally most people tend to stick with whom they came with. They go to the same presentations, eat together and don’t mingle too much with the other attendees. However, conferences are an excellent way to get your brand out there. You just need to be in front of the audience and not within it.

Speaking at conferences is an ideal way to further your personal brand. You gain exposure as an expert in your field to many people at once. You have an audience that you can connect with and many of these people will only be hearing of you for the first time. If you make an impact on them the likelihood is that these people will tweet or blog about your presentation.

Any publicity you gain from people talking about you is excellent. It means you will gain new followers on Twitter and your blog. This will only increase your visibility and further establish yourself as an expert in your field. This could mean that you are asked to speak at more conferences. As your profile grows you could find yourself authoring books. It is also an excellent way to gain more business. It could even lead to a promotion or a new job.

Some people will only want to travel to conferences if it is paid for by their employer. While some conferences will reimburse expenses for speakers most will not and instead provide speakers free entry into the conference. So you must determine if the expense is worth it to you. At larger IT conferences the exposure in free advertising you gain as a speaker can be worth more than the cost of your travel expenses.

Another benefit to speaking at conferences is that you have the opportunity to share your knowledge. You can provide a unique insight into a problem that many people are experiencing. They are coming to your session because of what you have to say. That is nice feeling to have. As well, by speaking it is reinforcing your knowledge of the subject since there is no way to learn something than to teach it to others.

After you have made your presentation you can still gain exposure from it using two social media tools. You can share your slide deck on SlideShare – a free service where people can view and download PowerPoint slide presentations. This is another online tool that can help build your personal brand since you could promote your SlideShare profile along with your other social media sites. And as I mentioned in my talk on LinkedIn you can also add a SlideShare widget to your LinkedIn profile to promote your presentations. A second way to publicize your presentations can be if you decide to videotape them and then upload them to YouTube so that people can watch them without having attended the conference.

I would encourage everyone to think about presenting at a conference. (A list of upcoming conferences can always be found on Lanyrd.) It will allow you to announce your personal brand to a large audience. It also means as a presenter you are more likely to interact with conference attendees on a more personal level. And this interaction could open new doors for you and your career.

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10 tips on submitting a conference session proposal

Using Google+ as a placeholder service

This post is Day #7 in a series called Personal Branding for Software Developers.

Google+ or Google Plus or G+ was launched in the fall of 2011 as an attempt to rival the hold that Facebook has over users. The premise is the same as Facebook in that it will allow you to create a profile and then link that profile to other Google+ users. You can then use these networks to share information and keep abreast of what other people are doing.

Google+ has gained a fast following in the short time it has been active. It already has over 90 million users but lags behind the over 800 million users of Facebook. However, the launch of Google+ brought some innovations that Facebook has scrambled to replicate. This includes the idea of “Circles” which allows you to categorize people and only post updates to these people. As we saw in my previous article on Facebook I made the decision to separate my Facebook account from my Twitter and LinkedIn accounts so that I could keep my private and professional lives separate. Conceivably with Google+ you would not have to do that.

The new site also offers “hangouts” which allows for group video chatting with up to 10 people at a time. They also have a +1 button where you can recommend websites or specific pages on the internet. This is akin to Facebook’s Like button but instead it follows you around the internet. There are many other features offered by Google+.

An account id is offered free to anyone who has a Google account or a Gmail account. If you already have one of these accounts then your Google+ profile is waiting for you. If not then it will be available once you create your Google account.

The benefit of a Google account is obvious. Because it is so tightly integrated into Google your identity is easily shared with its search engine. Doing a quick search on my name in Google I can see that my Google+ account is the fourth item returned. People can see my account on the first page of search results and get information about me immediately.

This all being said I am not a Google+ user. The reason being is most of the people I know on Facebook have not migrated to using the site. That does not mean I will not use it in future but for now it is an empty placeholder. However, I did fill out my profile on the About page and added links to all my social media identities. The reason being is that when people browse to this page I have a free service where I can aggregate all my links so that people can find my other active sites.

As you can see I believe in using all the social networking sites I can to create my personal brand and to promote it.

LinkedIn as your new digital resume

This post is Day #5 in a series called Personal Branding for Software Developers.

The rise to prominence of LinkedIn as the tool of choice for people looking to switch jobs and careers is no coincidence. In the current economy where everyone must do more with less, human resource workers are searching for viable candidates rather than spending big bucks at sites like Monster.com and Dice.com to post a call for resumes. By spending time on LinkedIn they can filter through thousands of resumes instantly and find a suitable group of candidates to contact.

Now before we get down to building our LinkedIn site we need to describe what LinkedIn is and is not. I have often heard LinkedIn described as Facebook for grownups or Facebook for your career. Both of these are fairly accurate but it is also so much more than that. I would describe it as a virtual resume service and networking interface for professionals all wrapped into one site. It is a place where you can create a profile, establish your credentials, develop a viable network of colleagues and expose your professional life to the world.

Some people might be asking themselves why they would want to do this. If they are not on Facebook why would they want to be on LinkedIn? The main reason I would say to join is to get exposure for yourself. You need to get your name out there. When you do a Google search for people their LinkedIn profile is often the first item in the list. This is an excellent place for a recruiter to begin their background research on you.

To get started with LinkedIn browse to the LinkedIn site. You can register yourself here. Because this is going to reflect you in your professional life you want your profile to be perfect. It will take a fair bit of time to develop your profile so that it is reflective of who you are. There are many sections to fill out and I recommend that you take the time to fill them out in length. I often composed my information beforehand in Microsoft Word and only transferred it to my LinkedIn account once I was happy with it.

The goal of filling out your profile is to achieve 100% completeness. Keep in mind that according to LinkedIn users with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn. A complete profile used to be a lot more difficult as you would need to fill out your various sections and have three recommendations from others. LinkedIn in recently made changes to what 100% complete means. I would recommend you put as much info on your profile as you are comfortable doing. Also keep in mind that LinkedIn does have privacy controls that will allow you to filter what people can see.

However, if you are not comfortable with putting everything on the site then I would focus on putting keywords or descriptors in the following sections: Headline, Summary, Position Titles and Position Descriptions. By adding keywords to these areas you increase your chances of being found within LinkedIn when a search is done. Finally I would add a professional looking headshot to your profile.

As software developers another section I would think about filling out is the Projects section. This area allows you to toot your own horn about personal projects that you have been working on. This could be links to websites you built, apps in a mobile marketplace that people can download or open source projects you contributed to. It could also be a link to your GitHub repository. This section acts as a portfolio of the work you have done over the years.

Once your profile is established you then want to develop your network. You can do this two different ways – searching manually for people you know or by importing your email contacts into the site. Importing through your email is a good first step since you can get the majority of people at once. You will basically be sending them an invitation to join your network and confirm that they know you. You can then add other connections manually through a search.

A question I often see being asked is who should I network with? With this there are two schools of thought – anyone you can and only the select few you want. Some people say your network list should include anyone you have ever met – even in passing. This way you build your network and increase your chances of landing your next opportunity. I think this strategy works well for people in sales and especially people like realtors. My opinion is that software developers should keep it to people you know really well. You want that referral for your next job to come from people who can vouch for you. I heard one person say they only add people that they had dinner with. You can implement a similar set of criteria for yourself as to how you will add people.

One of the neat things about LinkedIn is that other users can write recommendations about you. These were essential to completing your profile not too long ago. However, they still carry some weight with people looking to hire. A recommendation is someone going on the record to salute you for the work you did for them or with them. They generally describe the work you did and how well you did it. It can give you an edge over others if you have a lot of them or if they come from high profile people.

Finally, I want to end with a list of some of the tips I have found helped me in the year that I have been on LinkedIn:

  1. Your LinkedIn public profile address will be a lot of letters and numbers. Within the Settings area you can replace your current address with your name. This is called a vanity URL. So instead of having a link like linkedin.com/pub/ken-cenerelli/##/##/#?# I changed my link to https://www.linkedin.com/in/kencenerelli. This way I have a distinctive URL to promote myself. I could include this link on a business card or send it to prospective employers. It also makes for a clean URL within the Google search engine.
  2. You can make a connection between Twitter and LinkedIn within your page settings. This will allow you to post status updates to your LinkedIn profile page using the #in hashtag. This is a handy thing to have so that you can create some symbiosis between your sites. For more information on this see my previous article on Using Twitter to promote your blog and your personal brand.
  3. Contributing to conversations in the Answers section will also raise your profile. It shows your expertise in various areas and that you are willing to take the time to help others.
  4. LinkedIn has groups for all kinds of interests. Joining one or several in the areas of your interests will also allow you to connect with like-minded people. This can lead to more contacts for you network and also help establish you as an expert.
  5. Use Applications within your pages. Applications are like widgets that you can embed in your page to add more dynamic content. Within my site I have a widget that pulls in my SlideShare files. There is also an Amazon widget where you can mention books that you are reading or have read. You can also write a recommendation on the book.
  6. Within the Additional Information area of your profile you can add links to three external sites you may have. I recommend you take advantage of this. As well, replace the default names of Personal Website, Blog, etc. with the name of the actual site. This will create awareness of your personal site/blog name. Also add your Twitter handle there as well.

With this article I have only begun to scratch the surface of what can be done with LinkedIn. I suggest you Google articles on how to improve and then optimize your LinkedIn profile. By putting in a little bit of effort now it might pay off big later on in terms of landing your dream job.

Personal Branding for Software Developers

Welcome to personal branding for software developers! In this series of articles I am going to talk about how to develop a personal brand using social networking tools that is tailored towards software developers.

Over the next 12 days I am going to publish articles on the following topics:

Day #1: Personal branding thru social networking for software developers
Day #2: Developing your personal brand
Day #3: Creating a developer’s blog
Day #4: Using Twitter to promote your blog and your personal brand
Day #5: LinkedIn as your new digital resume
Day #6: Facebook – for personal or professional contacts?
Day #7: Using Google+ as a placeholder service
Day #8: Getting the most from your about.me page
Day #9: The many benefits of speaking at conferences
Day #10: Expanding your personal network
Day #11: Establish a uniform look for all your social media profiles
Day #12: Publicizing yourself on the web

I hope to publish one a day to this blog. Please follow along as I chart the creation of a personal brand.

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LinkedIn changes rules for a 100% complete profile

LinkedIn recently made some changes to their criterion as to what it means to have a 100% complete profile.

Under the old system your profile was complete if you had the following filled out: profile summary, specialties, current position, two past positions, education, profile photo, and at least three recommendations.

With the new system you now need the following: profile photo, a list all the jobs or positions you’ve held, five or more skills on your profile, profile summary, industry and postal code, education, and 50 or more connections.

These changes to profile completeness should make it easier for people to finish their profile. And keep in mind that according to LinkedIn “users with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn.”

They also say “adding a profile photo makes your profile 7x more likely to be found in searches. And that having your 2 most recent positions makes your profile 12x more likely to be found.”

LinkedIn also announced that “the Profile will put more emphasis on Skills and Expertise. This means you can showcase your areas of expertise to easily connect with people that have similar skills or with companies looking for subject matter experts.”

The complete news release can be read here.