January 25, 2020.
If you're looking for a more complete take on this idea: speakerline.io.
I was chatting with a couple folks recently about submitting a talk proposal to TheLeadDev, and it reminded me of something that used to prevent me from submitting talks: I had no idea what a good Call For Proposal submission looked like.
At Stripe, both Julia Evans and Amy Nguyen were kind enough to host recurring sessions where they helped folks craft their first submission for a tech conference CFPs, which – to the best of my memory – resulted in every one of those talks getting submitted, accepted and presented at a conference. This was amazing, but not everyone has a Julia Evans or Amy Nguyen dropping wisdom on their CFP submission, so I started wondering if I could at least collect examples of successful submissions for folks to use as a resource.
First some examples, then some advice on the process.
All of these were submitted for a Call For Proposal and accepted at a conference. There are a few of my own and a bunch shared by folks on Twitter:
In addition, here are a few collections of CFP submissions:
If you have examples, email them my way and I'll add them here!
Before you start writing your submission, identify something interesting you have to say. What's something you've learned that you didn't know a year ago? A topic that's controversial, counterintuitive or important enough that it'll worm its way into folks' heads, changing their behavior just a little bit over the next year?
A lot of folks convince themselves they don't have something interesting to say, but I promise you that you do. (It just might seem boring to you know that you know it really well.)
Once you have an idea, I personally find it extremely helpful to develop the idea into long-form writing. Each of my talks started first as a blog post: (1) "migrations", (2) "investing in tech infra" (3) "evolving process". Writing forces you to develop and structure the idea, and makes writing the summary and outline much, much easier.
Your third step is to find conferences you'd like to talk at. Start by making a list of speakers whose talks have impressed you, then build out a list of conferences they've spoken at. Supplement that list with some Googling and asking on Twitter or LinkedIn. You'll have to do these eight to twelve months before you want to speak, because many conferences close their CFPs long before they start.
As the CFP windows open up for those conferences, write up a submission (be sure to save them all together in a doc so you can tweak and submit for subsequent CFPs rather than rewrite from scratch), and get someone with speaking experience to review your submission before you submit it. Ideally ask a friend or coworker, but you can even just ask on Twitter as long as you streamline the process.
(If you do ask on Twitter, tweet out a Google doc or Gist with the proposal and ask for feedback. Do not turn it into a multi-step engagement where you first ask if anyone is willing, wait for someone to say yes, then fork a copy, ask for their email... this doubles or triples the amount of effort for the person trying to help and makes it much less likely you'll get help.)
Then submit it. You'll find out in a few weeks or so if it was accepted. Even if it's not accepted, I'd encourage you to think about recording yourself giving the talk anyway and posting it on YouTube. Then you'll get the practice, some perspective on what does or doesn't make for an effective talk, and puts you in a better spot to write your next CFP submission.
It's worth mentioning that there are a fair amount of conferences that rely exclusively on asking folks to talk at their conference rather than drawing from a public submission process.
For example, I never wrote a CFP submission for "Good process is evolved, not designed" talk because I was asked to present. I did write a short summary, but mostly I just sent over the existing blog post that I planned to translate into a talk.
In general, my experience is that if you put yourself out there as a public speaker, then you're going to start getting these sorts of invitations. Start by speaking at meetups and CFP-based conferences, and folks will start reaching out once you have some videos of you speaking that they can watch to get a feel for your style.
Many conferences try to improve the quality of selections by ensuring CFPs don't include the identity of the speaker or the company that the speaker works for. On the other hand, many conferences do not do this, and instead are focused on bringing on exciting speakers at exciting companies, believing it will encourage stronger attendance and provide a better experience for attendees.
It's both my personal experience and observation that it's much easier to get started as a speaker when you're working at a trendy company. This is yet another example of how prestige compounds to make everything easier, and if you happen to be at a well-known company, you may want to take advantage of that platform to bootstrap your speaking experience.
If you're not at a prestigious company, you absolutely still can get speaking experiences, but you'll have to be more deliberate at finding an interesting angle. Don't get discouraged, but do recognize you will have to put forth something of higher quality.
Additional resources for putting together conference talks:
Hopefully these examples and notes will help you writing your next CFP submission, and once it's accepted drop me a note with your submission and I'll add it above!