How to Write a Speaking Proposal for a Tech Conference


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Veteran audience at TechStars BootcampIt’s conference season. Developers looking to meet others and share their knowledge may be considering talk proposals. Speaking at a conference is great experience and makes for efficient networking, as well. A speaking slot tends to be good for your employer and your own brand alike.

If you haven’t done much speaking, writing proposals can be intimidating. Consider the tips below and, most importantly, resolve to submit a proposal. It’s much harder to be selected if you haven’t declared your interest.

Start with the audiences

When crafting a proposal, you have at least two audiences:

  1. Conference attendee
  2. Conference organizer

The first will attend your talk–or maybe even the conference–based on your accepted talk. The second is trying to fill a schedule with quality content to make the first happy. While it’s important to consider the attendees, at the proposal stage you most want to convince the organizer.

You are important

Who_Are_YouThe idea for your talk is not nearly as important as who is giving the talk. A large social media presence or best-selling book helps here, but these days nobody is a nobody. Apps you’ve built, code you’ve contributed and blog posts you’ve written all help sell you. Consider the things that make you the right person to give the talk and weave these qualifications into your proposal.

If you’ve spoken at conferences before, you absolutely want to mention this. Even better is if you have video of you speaking, which you could easily obtain by speaking at nearby meet-up groups.

Do your research

Unless this is an inaugural conference, you can look at the last event’s schedule. This will give you a great idea of the types of talks the organizers accepted last time. How technical are they? How diverse are they in terms of topics, companies represented, geographies, languages and any other factors you think might be important?

Some conferences will publish a page about what kind of content the organizers want to see. Most don’t, but there are some other ways you can infer the types of topics that have the best chance of being selected. If the conference has announced keynotes or other speakers, find out who they are and the topics they usually cover. Where are the organizers publicizing the conference and what audience does that imply? Even with very little information you’ll be better off than going in blind.

Write for the program

Now you’re ready to write up a description of your talk. Even if you’ve given this talk before, it’s a good idea to make some tweaks to fit what you’ve learned about the conference and its organizers. You want to play up the things about you and your talk idea that most match the likely themes of the conference.

As you write your description, remember that you are probably writing for the program, the printed schedule that will accompany every attendee. It will also be on the website. Even for a technical conference, this may be very difficult to get changed and it’s rare that an organizer asks for final copy. Your proposal is usually your final copy, so make sure you’re writing to the eventual attendee audience.

A side effect is that writing with finality will give your proposal some confidence. What may simply be a talk idea in your head is now a real thing. Done well, it comes across as a talk you’ve given before.

The Headline To This Conference Proposal Will Blow Your Mind

Just like a blog post is 80% headline, you have to get the title right. It needs to be short enough to fit on a tiny program where only titles and room numbers will show. And it needs to be catchy enough that you’ll fill up that room. You don’t need to go full upworthy style, but a catchy title will also make organizers more likely to read your proposal. Yes, they’re humans, too!

The bio is part of your proposal

Many times a conference will ask for your bio, as well. Tailor your bio to the conference or talk proposal because the organizer will be using it as the first piece of proof that you’re the right speaker. So, if you’ve proposed an advanced Node.js talk, be sure to mention your Node experience near the beginning of your bio. Always mention some previous speaking engagements, as well. In addition to showing you’re the right person for the topic, the organizer wants to know you’re someone who attendees will enjoy hearing speak.

Expect to wait

Conference organizers are busy people. They’re usually coordinating many different aspects of the conference and content is only one of them. You may not hear back right away, which doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t be selected. You may not hear back at all, which does usually mean you weren’t selected. Propose another talk. In fact, propose more than one from the start. It never feels good to say no to a conference you pitched, but being selected to more than one is a good problem to have.

Seasoned speakers or conference organizers, what tips did I miss? Let everybody know in the comments and I’ll look forward to seeing everyone at a conference soon.


Adam DuVander speaks fluent "developer" while serving as Developer Communications Director. He helps SendGrid connect to coders of all stripes. Previously Adam wrote for Wired, Webmonkey and edited ProgrammableWeb, the leading resource for APIs.

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