Aisha Blake

5 Tips for Getting Your Next Conference Talk Accepted

August 16, 2019

If you’re interested in speaking at tech conferences, you’re probably going to need to apply to CFPs. A CFP is a Call for Proposals, usually a detailed explanation of what the conference is about, what types of content the organizers are looking for, the form(s) presentations should take, and what benefits speakers at the conference can expect to enjoy.

Applying to speak at a conference might feel intimidating, you might even be smarting from that rejection you got the last time you tried. Incorporate these tips into your process and see what effect they have on your results!

1. Read the CFP

I cannot stress enough how important this is! If you take nothing else from this entire post, let it be this. The organizers of that conference you want to speak at have provided you with instructions. Read them, follow them, and you will be most of the way to, at the very least, making it through the initial round of submission review.

2. Keep the Title Short & Sweet

When I’m reading proposals the first time through, chances are I’m going to read at least a few dozen in one sitting in order to get through them all and respond to prospective speakers within a reasonable timeframe. If I can’t tell what your talk is about after a quick scan, I’m probably not going to upvote it.

Don’t sacrifice clarity for cleverness.

Your title should be succinct but you’ll need to balance that with making sure it’s also descriptive. I want to know exactly what you’ll be talking about without thinking too much.

3. Make Your Abstract the Star

The conference’s eventual attendees will have only your title and your abstract to go on when deciding whether or not to participate in your session. Use this as your hook to get them in the door. Conveniently, keeping that goal in mind will also grab the application reveiwers’ attention.

4. Ask for Feedback

Many folks who are hesitant to ask for feedback on proposals are embarrassed. Some are concerned that sharing an abstract publicly might give others the opportunity to steal ideas.

Find someone you trust to read and reflect on your work.

If you have a network of people who are willing to do this for you, by all means lean on them! Believe people when they say things like “Oh, I’d love to read through your abstract.” You’ll get invaluable insights and you’ll be able to polish up your proposal before the conference organizers ever see it. They’ll get the very best you have to offer.

5. Apply Everywhere

There are so many tech conferences out there. SO. MANY. You’d don’t need to save yourself for that one perfect conference that is everything you want in the world. Do your research (and ask me how I choose which conferences to apply to) but apply to all the conferences you’re interested in.

This has a few advantages. Every application is another possible acceptance. There will also be more conferences that your talk isn’t the right fit for. That might hurt, especially at first, but you’ll learn how to deal and work through it. Even better, casting a wider net will introduce you to conferences you wouldn’t necessarily have known about otherwise.

Let the organizers decide who should and shouldn’t speak at their conference.

Why self-select out? Leave that to the folks who know the conference and audience best. Remember that you can always say no if you end up getting into too many conferences and keep track of applications with a calendar or Trello board.

Now Go Submit!

I’d love to help you submit the most incredible proposal possible. No matter where you are, you’re welcome in the Detroit Speakers in Tech community. We tweet out open CFPs every Wednesday and our members are always willing to pitch in to read each other’s abstracts and bios. Reach out to @TechSpkrMentors for our monthly office hours. Some other conference organizers and I hold monthly office hours to provide advice and feedback on conference proposals.


Aisha Blake

Blog by Aisha Blake, a speaker, teacher, and Application Developer at Detroit Labs. Say hi on Twitter!