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.

Related Articles:

Personal branding thru social networking for software developers

Developing your personal brand

The many benefits of speaking at conferences

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Peer effects and software developers

Anyone who knows me knows that I love soccer/football. And this month is special as the UEFA EURO 2012 Championships started on June 8 and runs until July 1. This tournament will decide which national team is the best in Europe. So needless to say I am enjoying myself immensely. (In case you are wondering on who I am cheering for see my Windows Phone 7 app Forza Azzurri).

With this tournament there has been some insightful writing on the state of the game in Europe. One writer who consistently publishes excellent work is Simon Kuper. A writer for the Financial Times he has a passion for soccer and he publishes pieces on the economics of soccer. Yesterday Kuper posted a piece on the site eZonomics by ING entitled Did you know … Why the German women’s football team is all-conquering in Europe? In this article Kuper talks about the idea of peer effects.This is defined as the idea of catching the habits of people around you. He uses an analogy of the German women’s football team and how they have excelled by modelling their behaviour on that of the German men’s football team.

This idea got me wondering about our profession of software development. As software or web developers we cannot help but look around and see what other people are doing all the time. As constant technology users we notice good and bad design – when an app, internet site or piece of desktop software functions correctly and when it could have been made better.

This idea of peer effects translates to other methods of learning for developers. We are looking for better ways to accomplish our tasks quicker or more elegantly. We attend user groups, conferences and hackathons, follow Twitter streams for new information regarding our preferred software languages and search through code repositories like GitHub, CodePlex or Google Code to see what others are building, how they did it and how it might benefit us.

All of these tasks help us become better developers and all of these are due in part to peer effects.

Publicizing yourself on the web

This post is Day #12 in a series called Personal Branding for Software Developers.

For the final article in this series I want to talk about how you can go about getting some publicity for yourself as a developer and for your site. This notoriety can come in handy as you develop your personal brand and start to bring together all the pieces of your social networking strategy.

Throughout this series I have talked about many different ways to develop a personal brand and how to promote yourself through various social media outlets. However, as I discussed in my previous article I mentioned the need to have a uniform look to the information you present on these sites.

This idea is called Identity Consolidation and in this linked article I talk about using the HTML attribute tag of “rel=me”. When you reference your profile on another site from a site you already own then this attribute tells the search engine that you are the same person and it should link the two together. This way you have connected your profiles and in doing so the search engine can confidently say this is the same person. This can come in handy when you have a common name. Refer to the article above on how to implement this.

As part of the identity consolidation process you want to take an active role in managing your presence on the web. A good plan of action is to Google yourself every month or two to make sure that your information is correct.

Another way to promote yourself, and your blog especially, is to use the webmaster publishing tools provided for website publishers by Google and Bing.

These SEO tools allow you to submit sitemaps of your sites so that they can be indexed by their search engine crawlers. Note though that you need to have accounts with both Google and Microsoft to be able to use these tools. As well, you need to have access to the HTML of the sites you wish to index as you need to place code snippets on there.

A site that ranks highly in Google page rank technology is Technorati and thus it is a good idea to create an account with them as well. I suggest you use your full name so that you can use this as another outlet to publicize yourself. When you create your profile you can add links to your Twitter, Google+ and Facebook profiles, as well as add a biography. The best feature though is that Technorati allows you to claim a blog. To do this you will need to place a piece of code on your site so that Technorati can assign the blog to you. Once the claim process is complete your site will be listed in their directories and your posts can be read by their legions of readers. A complete profile will look something like mine.

UPDATE: Technorati discontinued their blog directory in 2014. See this link for more information.

As well, think of other sites where you have a public profile that you can leverage. Do you have accounts at Meetup, GitHub, CodePlex or Stack Overflow that you could flesh out? A lot of these sites allow you to add your Twitter handle and other social media sites to your profile. If you are an active user you may gain new Twitter followers because of your work there. The latter three sites are very important for programmers as they allow us to build a portfolio of work for all future job interviews. They demonstrate that we are passionate about our work and are willing to share it in an open-source way.

This completes my series on personal branding thru social networking for software developers. I thank you for reading the articles and I hope they can help you on your way to developing an extraordinary personal brand.

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.

Expanding your personal network

This post is Day #10 in a series called Personal Branding for Software Developers.

In my last article I talked about speaking at conferences as a way to do social networking without the aid of digital tools. In this one I want to expand on that and touch on the subject of personal networking.

Before social media all networking was done face to face. The advent of the Chamber of Commerce was to help business owners meet other business owners so they could network to develop connections. These people could form friendships through their mutual associations. These personal networks could then be drawn upon when people needed help in various areas.

Business owners still do face-to-face networking although not as much these days. While some groups still put on breakfast meetings or lunches, a lot of people have put their efforts into online communities.

For software developers I still think there is a benefit to having a personal network that you can meet in person. These people can eventually become online friends but the people you meet in person are generally more likely to go the extra mile for you online if they have known you in person first.

One way to meet other developers and to create your in-person network is to attend user group meetings. If you live in a large enough city or close to one you can generally find a user group that deals with your software language or interest. Meetup.com is an excellent resource to find user groups in your area. You can also ramp up your networking by volunteering with a group. As a last resort if you cannot find a group then you can always start one. Taking the lead shows initiative on your resume and it is a guaranteed way to meet all kinds of people since you are the face of the group.

Another way to network in person is to attend IT-related functions in your city. Some business or technology groups will sometimes have technology forums so that local businesses can showcase what they are working on. There might also be conferences going in in your immediate area. If you also have a college or university nearby that offers degrees in IT they are also an excellent resource as they sometimes offer free lectures and functions.

A final way to network with others is to attain an MVP credential from various software companies like Microsoft or Telerik. These companies’ recognize active users in their communities. These could be people who give lectures or who help solve problems on their forums. By being active in this way you are developing a following as someone who knows about the product and who is willing to help. Additional personal networking also occurs as these companies have yearly conferences where all the MVPs attend in person so they can meet and learn about new technologies.

In conclusion you can see that personal networking also plays a part in developing your personal brand. By meeting people in person and then continuing the conversation online you are developing a stable personal network that can be used for years to come.

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.

Related Articles:

10 tips on submitting a conference session proposal

Getting the most from your about.me page

This post is Day #8 in a series called Personal Branding for Software Developers.

In my article yesterday on Google+ I mentioned that I liked the site because it allowed me to list all my social media summaries in one spot. While Google+ is new to the world of social networking there is a site that has been around since 2009 that offers the same service.

About.me is a spot where you can create a one page profile to link all your websites and social networking identities. The service has trusted relationships with Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn among others so that when people click on your links they will see your latest updates within your about.me page. They can then navigate to your profile on the specific site if they want to see the rest of your updates.

To sign up for your account visit the site. You can pick your own URL and I highly recommend you use the name you used on all your other accounts as you want to keep your personal brand consistent across all platforms. You also want to use your name as it will be easy to remember by people when you tell them you have an about.me profile. They could easily append your name to the end of the site URL to find you.

Once your site is created you can then add content. The nice thing is that about.me is as much visual as it is content based. The background of your page can be any large image. People generally list images of themselves as their background. However you can use some graphic or general scenic shot if you desire. My site uses a shot of me atop Diamond Head in Oahu, Hawaii.

Next you want to add your biography. You want to give a general sense of who you are so that when people come to this site they have a brief introduction to you. As well, both the picture and the biography also offer the visitor the reassurance they are on the right page. If you have passed this page URL to someone who you met briefly or have only talked to through email this is especially helpful. It is not a problem with someone with my last name but when you get a name like “John Smith” about.me returns six pages of results.

The last major section to fill out is Services. This is where you can add links to your various online identities. When you click “Add A Service” you can select from a large number sites. This will create a reciprocal link between the two sites and add a logo to your page. When users click the logo they can preview your identity on that site.

When you click “Add A Service” you can also choose “Add A URL”. This will allow you to add a link to a website that is not listed as a service. This is an excellent way to link to personal websites and other developer sites
like GitHub, Stack Overflow and CodePlex that can flesh out your profile.

As you can see about.me is a quick and easy way to create a one-page personalized website. You can share this link and a visitor has a page where they can see your picture, get a quick bio and then select a link to any of your social media sites. It essentially acts as a clearing house for all your identities on the web.