If you’ve ever been to a testing conference, you’ve probably come back inspired by the speakers and even dreamed of presenting yourself one day. It can be intriguing to submit to a conference at the same time it’s intimidating. Especially for first timers, figuring out where to start, what to talk about, and how to get accepted can seem overwhelming.
However, the benefits of actually submitting a proposal and being accepted to speak far outweigh the fear you first experience. Here are a few reasons why you should submit to testing conferences and some tips on how to start.
Why Should You Submit?
Speaking at a conference is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to share ideas and connect with others in testing. It doesn’t hurt that it’ll boost your resume or further your professional development, either. There’s no better way to network with other testers than to do so in person, and conferences draw diverse minds from across the world who are talking about the same topics you’re interested in.
Being able to participate in these conversations means staying up to date on current trends. Even after conferences are over, you have the advantage of bringing newly acquired knowledge back to your organization to better your team and build a learning culture.
In an effort to attract more submissions and more diverse speakers, a lot of conferences are also moving towards #nopaytospeak. This means in addition to advancing your public speaking skills, you’d also be compensated to travel, attend, and learn from other speakers.
While it can be nerve-wracking to submit a proposal — nonetheless build up the courage to speak in front of a lot of people — anyone who has done it will tell you what a great experience it is. Additionally, once you get the first time out of the way, you’ll probably find yourself even enjoying the experience and applying to more.
How to Submit a Proposal
- Talk from experience – Your everyday experiences are some of the best material you could use for a conference session. Using real-life lessons is a foolproof way to ensure you’re providing value to others who can learn from the same failures and successes as you. “I prefer to hear experience based talks, they are more relatable, more emotional,” says Richard Bradshaw. “If you’re coming at me with a theory based talk, I want to see some data and hear about some experiments.” Look back on the biggest learning moments in your personal and professional life if you’re looking for a place to start.
- Have a clear takeaway – You want to be engaging, but you also want to provide clear, actionable takeaways that will help people in their everyday lives. Providing your ideas and experiences is great, but you risk being forgettable if you’re not being constructive. Ashley Hunsberger notes when reviewing papers for Selenium Conference “Can I identify if there are things attendees will be able to walk away doing after the talk? Or ideas presented that will allow attendees to think about moving forward?” Asking these questions helps identify if those critical takeaways are being included.
- Make it yours – Have fun with your topic and make sure to add some of your personality. No one wants to watch someone speak on a topic it’s clear their not passionate about, and it probably won’t come off as exciting in your abstract, either. Alan Richardson says to find a topic you feel strongly about and identify your “unique slant”. The more passion you bring to your topic, the more appealing it’ll be for reviewers and the more engaging it’ll be to your audiences. Ashley also asks “Would I WANT to see this talk? If I’m an attendee, is this a talk I want to go in and watch? This is very subjective and can vary reviewer to reviewer. But, I always ask – do I want to see this myself?” Your abstract could be highly informative, but if it doesn’t translate to the stage, it might be better left for a blog or whitepaper.
- Make your contribution valuable – Upon asking his biggest piece of advice for submitting to testing conferences, Rob Lambert said to make the submission accurate, to the point, and easy to read. “Make it clear what you will talk about, what experience you have and why you can be trusted to deliver a talk to the conference audience,” he said. “Sadly, most people skip this step and assume that because they have a potentially great talk, that it will get accepted on title and fluffy abstract alone. That’s not true. If you can’t articulate your idea clearly as a submission, why would anyone believe you can do that from the stage? Put in plenty of effort to the submission as it’s the first hurdle to getting your message heard by those you seek to hear it.” Rob points out that conference organizers have one main job — creating an amazing conference, and you need to make them trust that you can deliver on your talk and your promises.
- Get a second set of eyes – There’s no need to work on your submission alone, especially if it’s your first time. There are many experienced speakers in the testing community that are more than happy to offer a hand and give feedback. Programs like Speak Easy are also dedicated to mentoring speakers and increasing diversity at tech conferences. At the very least, you should have a colleague, friend, or peer review your proposal before you submit to make sure you’re getting your point across and communicating clearly. There are also free platforms like Hemingway App that will help with spelling, grammar, and the general flow of your words.
- Know your audience – Applying to a conference is kind of like applying for a job — you want to tailor your content for each one. This doesn’t mean you can’t reuse material — in fact, a lot of great speakers do this successfully! The key is making sure that your content is relevant to the conferences your submitting to, and you’re not offering off-topic proposals just because you saw a software testing conferences call for papers. Rob Lambert says to define your target audience and create a single “avatar” or “persona” to write the talk for. This will help you narrow down your topic and communicate clearly with the people who will actually be attending that conference. Additionally, knowing your audience means understanding what the people reviewing your abstract are looking for, too.
- Follow directions – Make sure that you’re paying attention to the guidelines for submission — is there a theme you have to follow? A specific length of time your talk should be? What’s the deadline? Ignoring these is the easiest way to take yourself out of the running. Rob says to create a checklist of these important details and make sure you’ve prepared supplementary materials like a speaker bio and professional headshot that conferences will often require.
- Your title is important – The biggest mistake you can make when submitting a proposal is putting all the work into the abstract without thinking about the title. The title draws people to your talk and gets them intrigued off the back. “It’s the first thing I read, it sets the scene for the rest of the abstract. Does it make me want to read on? Is it targeted? Think purpose and audience” says Richard. Taking the time to put creativity and consideration into your title means you have a better chance of being accepted to speak, and attendees will be more likely to listen to what you have to say.
- Don’t be afraid of rejection – Keep in mind that many conferences are highly competitive — just because your proposal wasn’t accepted doesn’t mean reviewers didn’t like or consider. A lot of times, the reason could be as simple as too many papers pitching a similar topic. Ask for feedback from the reviewer so you can work on your submissions and improve next time. Don’t take rejections to heart; take it as a learning experience and keep applying.
What’re You Waiting For?
Attending and submitting to testing conferences is an important part of being an active member of the testing community, and even more, staying relevant in a quickly evolving space.
Year after year, we see new methods, practices, and approaches in testing. The best way to keep up to date with emerging trends in software is to continue to learn from each other.
Deadlines for submissions are nearing, and conference season is just around the corner, which means now is the time to start brainstorming what you’d like to share with your peers. So what’re you waiting for?