Maybe you’ve been thinking about speaking at a conference, but you’re nervous. You’ve been to a conference or more than you can count, you’ve thought “I could’ve given a talk like that”, and you’ve even scrolled over some cfps trying to get up the courage to submit a talk. And then you don’t. Maybe it’s because your nerves or imposter syndrome got the best of you or maybe the deadline passed and you just couldn’t think up any ideas that you thought were worth talking about. Hopefully, this blog post will help you discover an idea and/or overcome the fear of submitting.
What to Consider Before Submitting
First things first, just because you submit, doesn’t mean you’ll get accepted. There are frequently way more applicants than accepted talks. Don’t let that discourage you, just know that you’re in good company 😀 If nerves are preventing you from submitting, I want you to know that I’ve been doing this for a couple of years now and I still get nervous when I submit and even more when I speak. But there’s always value in pushing yourself out of your comfort zone, leading to growth, innovation, and self-satisfaction.
As you’re researching the submission process, there are a couple of different ways you can get started.
- Reach out to other speakers to ask them about their experience. If it’s your first talk, you want to make sure that the conference speaking experience is a good one.
- Think about the conferences you’ve most enjoyed. This might help decrease some of the nerves.
- Check out sessionize.com or papercall.io to discover conferences with open calls for proposal.
On Writing the Proposal
When you speak for the first time, it’s helpful to speak on a topic that you know and understand well. That frees up some brain space that would’ve otherwise been devoted to worrying about whether or not you can handle answering questions.
Let’s get started by jotting down some ideas that you’re comfortable talking about. Depending on your technical level, this could vary. I prefer speaking on core skills topics most of the time, so I generally stay in that track. Some examples might be: “how to navigate the self-taught journey”, “Migrating your project to TypeScript”, “Which JS framework should you learn next?”, or “The Importance of Community for Developer Growth.”
You might think, I’ve heard these talks though. That’s fine. That doesn’t mean that the talk you give should be the same. You have a unique voice. Use that to your advantage.
So now, jot down 3-5 subtopics under each of those topics. What could you talk about as you develop those ideas? For example, if I were brainstorming about “How to Navigate the Self-Taught Journey,” I would add bullet points for finding community, working on collaborative projects, and incorporating open-source contributions into my learning.
Now that you have some subtopics, you can write more about them. But before you dive right in, consider the purpose of the talk–this will determine how you develop the talk. Do you want it to inspire, teach, motivate the audience to do something, or inform the audience? Identifying the purpose might seem like a minor step, but it’s incredibly important to developing the content, proposal, and tone of the talk. And if you know why you’re giving the talk, you’ll better be able to get your audience on the same page. Note: I did not include promoting myself or my product in the purpose section. It’s possible to do that well in a talk, but it shouldn’t be the primary purpose or your audience will check out quickly.
The next step is to think about why this should be a talk and not a blog post or tiktok or some other form of media. Why is sharing as a talk important? Maybe you’re planning on live coding and taking questions live. Maybe there’s interactivity built in. Maybe the impact of sharing live in front of the audience is really important. How can you convey this in your cfp?
Lastly, what do you want the audience to take away from your talk? Are there next steps? Do you want them to take an action? Do you want them to put a new behavior into practice?
Writing Your Proposal
You don’t have a lot of words to write your talk, so you have to get to the point. Find a way to grab the reader’s attention, convey your purpose, and highlight your main ideas.
Make sure your proposal has a logical order. You wouldn’t start with writing a test if your audience doesn’t know what testing is, right? Each part of your presentation–and by extension, your cfp, should flow logically. If the reader can’t follow what you’re saying or understand where you’re going in your presentation, you haven’t properly organized the proposal.
We each have a style or voice, just as each conference has its own style. This means you might need to revise the proposal as you submit to a different conference. Things to consider: Is this a formal situation or something more casual? Are jokes appropriate or problematic? Should they be included in your cfp? How important is style to the conference?
There’s a lot to consider when you write cfps, but don’t get hung up on it. Write it, and ask for feedback.
Here’s the description-what I used when I submitted my talk-for my first talk of the new year for You Got This! Conf.
Sometimes apologies don’t quite feel right, and it can be hard to figure out why. Often, it’s because they weren’t really apologies; they were performances made to deflect responsibility, excuse away behavior, and with the hopes of calming negative feelings. Whether you’ve received one of these types or given them yourself, this talk will allow you to recognize what makes a good and authentic apology and how to construct one yourself.
Once you’ve written your cfp, it’s great to get some feedback from others. Often, because we’re the ones writing the description, it can be hard to see what we’ve missed, whether or not we’re clear, or if we’ve accurately conveyed the topic.
Ask a person to read through your cfp. Then ask them to tell you what they think the talk will be about. Have they captured the main ideas of your talk? Did they convey what you want to talk about? Did they miss a key idea or misunderstand the purpose of the talk? Having that feedback can be a great way to improve your cfp and your writing.
Hopefully, this is enough to get you to submit. I have a lot more tips for actually preparing for and giving the talk. If you want to hear those, let me know!