An Addendum About Conference Proposals

Over the weekend, Raquel Vélez (@rockbot) authored a fantastic post about if your conference proposal is good enough. You owe it to yourself to go and read through the entire post, take a break, and read it again if you ever plan on OR already do apply to speak at events. Also, you should already have the excellent guides at We Are All Awesome by Tiffany Conroy. Please use these resources, it makes your chances of acceptance multiples better AND makes our life as organizers much easier.

I have been in the thick of conference proposal categorizing, scoring, ranking, and selecting since we closed the CFP for JSConf US 2014, but wanted to add a couple more things onto her list. My perspective and advice comes strictly from my recent and historical experiences, so please take it with a grain of salt (as you should with everything on the Internet). I will upfront admit that my curation process is unique from most events in that I am specifically trying to find unknown talented individuals to present unheard of concepts. That said I have noticed some trends that I don't think are limited just to our curation process and as such through that now was a great time to mention some of them. Please bear in mind, all of these are in supplement to the previously mention lists and recommendations - not replacement.


DO take the time to understand the conference, its goals, and then be sure to tailor your submission to its audience. Blindly submitting conference proposals to events is spammy and easily detectable to a review committee. Most conferences are trying to focus on something, make sure you know what that is and check if your ideas match it OR if they don't but you still believe that audience needs to hear it -- make that known upfront, clearly, and unapologetically. The basic metrics with which organizers (so in this case myself) evaluate the "applicability" of a talk is if the following metrics match:

  • Skill level of audience versus skill level of talk.
  • Technology focus of conference versus technology focus of talk.
  • Content uniqueness versus content that is already available freely on YouTube.

As mentioned, if you are doing something that might be a mismatch from the conference's target, please make it known that it is intentional and thoughtfully done. Do not apologize that it is "different", instead make it known and be proud that it is and that you are wanting to address it. Great examples of these are:

  • Community issues
  • Professional growth and development issues
  • Societal/political issues and methods for change
  • Education

DO provide a detailed, but concise description of your talk. The average length of selected talks for my events is about 120 words. Understandably, this is a delicate balancing act between being too verbose and being not expressive enough. The way I would approach this is to find another person, read the proposal to them, then ask them to tell you what it is about. If they say EXACTLY what you said, its not a good proposal, if they INTERPRETED and responded in their own words what you said, it is a good proposal. If you are going to error, always error on the side of presenting more details instead of hoping for tacit knowledge to work, because it never does.

DO take any and every chance to show why you are the best presenter for the conference. This is not limited to the CFP application, but can easily fit in a biography portion. First time conferences live and die by the volume of discussion and publicity of the event. If you have a bit of social clout and make it known that you will help promote the event, huge win. If it is a more established conferences, offering to help support the event or connect up with potential sponsors is a amazing. Conferences are very hard to organize and almost impossible to pull off, so as a speaker one of the biggest advantages you can express is that you aren't just going to take the speaker package, show up, and then hide in your room. Things like this go a long, long, long way in terms of making proposals stick out and shine:

  • Offer to help run a birds of a feather to deep-dive your topic after the talk
  • Offer to help with setup and tear down
  • Describe how much preparation and effort will be involved (in cases where it is) to get right
  • Definitely offer up your willingness and understanding that your presentation is yours to make awesome and that you are willing to put in the time and effort with the AV team to ensure everything is rainbows.
  • Just convey that you care about your talk, the conference, and the community.


DON'T rely on your name or experience. For JSConf US, I have always had an explicit focus on finding new speakers, unheard of talks, and crazy ideas. It wasn't until this year that I started to realize this wasn't just a focus that I created on my own, but a re-enforced concept that comes when you hide names/biographies from the selection process. Individuals who see themselves as accomplished trend strongly to a reliance on their name or their work product to carry them through the CFP selection process. Please note, this is not all accomplished individuals, just enough to be noticeable over a long period of time and with a statistically relevant bank of proposals. If you are talking more about yourself then your talk, try to refocus the proposal on the intended content (unless your proposal is about your personal experience, then obviously ignore this).

If you are accomplished, it should not garner you any positive benefit in the selection process and for some organizers (myself included) it actually comes with a negative selection. I expect accomplished, widely spoken applicants to provide far superior proposals over those that are new to speaking. Unfortunately, I have noticed that the trend of proposals points to the opposite. If you have spoken at events, you owe to yourself and your audience to continue pushing, evolving, diving further, and presenting ever more meaningful talks. You must be able to convey that you will be doing far more than simply hitting repeat on a talk from 2010. Why? Simply because an attendee can watch that talk on YouTube for free, so the value of that talk is constantly in decline as more people see it... for free. In short, care about what you submit and don't assume that just because it worked before, you can replay it.