Writing killer submissions for conferences

speaking-handandmicI was recently asked to join the program committee for a medium size conference in Switzerland named Jazoon. I had to review around 30 submissions and found out, that this is a really tough job. I learned so much about helping the program committee to decide if your talk should be accepted for the conference program. So here’s what I learned (and have to apply to my own submissions in the future):

Picking a topic

  • topiclook around what is currently hot at conferences
  • the program committee is trying to find new and unique topics like “functional programming”. Older and not so funky topics like OSGI or SOAP are more likely to be rejected
  • check the tracks and themes of the conference. Your submission should fit into those… the more the better
  • be focused but not too focused – the topic shouldn’t be so broad like “Agile Development in practice” but also not like “Agile Development for left handed build managers” (I know this is a stupid example, sorry for that)

The title

titleAttendees just often read the titel and decide if they should continue reading the abstract. So nail your title:

  • should be interesting like “The dark side of project management” – there are so many talk submission (Jazoon had over 200 submissions for 50 slots) and compelling titles stick in the mind of the committee and the attendees
  • the title should contain the information what your talk is about. Don’t shy away from buzz words like Agile, Scala Testing… so you don’t leave people totally in the dark just to sound cool (like “Huston, we have a problem”)
  • a “list talk” is always great like “10 things: How to write a killer submission for conferences”

The abstract

abstractThe abstract is the hardest thing and the the most important thing for the program committee. Always think about what the audience needs for deciding if they should go to your talk or not. So here are things that your abstract should contain:

  • what is the problem you’re trying to solve
  • why is your solution interesting?
  • tell a little bit about your solution – This is the most common problem I faced when reviewing submissions. The program committee has to decide whether your solution is interesting and new for the attendees or if you will tell already known things.
  • don’t tell everything about your solution; You need also to surprise people in your talk 😉
  • don’t make it sound like a product demo
  • try to close with why you think people should come like… “We will present tools and teaching material that you can take directly into a school or programming club to get kids to start coding.”
  • Be concise: Your abstract should be maximum 250 words
  • check the grammar: Show your abstract to someone else, especially if you’re not a native speaker like me!
  • 1-3 paragraphs

Speaker information

  • speaker infohave a look around on conference pages and adopt one you like


If you’ve already have spoken at one or more conferences tell this fact to the program committee. There is often a field you can fill out like “message to the committee”. If not: consider to add it to your bio. Sounds lame? Maybe, but the committee knows that you’re able to do a presentation and other conferences have already excepted you in the past. If there are videos of your talks, send the links!

If you don’t have experience in public speaking, take a video cam and shoot a 5 minute video of you presenting. Add the link to your submission!

And Now: Good luck and see you on the next speakers dinner 😉

2 thoughts on “Writing killer submissions for conferences

  1. “new and unique topics like ‘functional programming’. Older and not so funky topics like OSGI or SOAP are more likely to be rejected” 1950 Functional programming. 1998 SOAP. 1999 OSGi. I guess new and unique for a language that just got a functional extension like Java.

    1. True, maybe OSGI will be interesting again in 10 years or so and will have a comeback on the conference stages. You’re right about functional programming being around for a long time and that is kind of new for the Java people. It’s interesting because of the fact that lot’s of people grew up with OO and now want to learn more about functional aspects… and yes: I’m a Java guy that likes that!

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