Hacking the CFP (2 Part Series)
This is a continuation of my story on how I got CFPs accepted. Make sure to start with Part 1!
You know you’re a millennial when you had to write a 5 paragraph essay. Your CFP submission should follow the same general guidelines. For those of you who are unfamiliar or need a refresher, the 5 paragraphs of a 5 paragraph essay are.
- Thesis (Tell them what you’re going to tell them.)
- Supporting Point
- Supporting Point
- Supporting Point
- Conclusion (Tell them what you told them.)
This can be translated into a technical talk as:
- Introduce the problem.
- Provide the solution/process.
- Give the audience something to do with the technology.
You want to use clear, simple language. Writing in the first person is more engaging. I cleaned the data vs The data was cleaned. Make sure to define any acronyms, POC can mean point of contact to one judge and person of color to another.
You want to get words on the page as fast as you can without worrying too much, then edit. Like how I write this blog, except I don’t do the editing part.
- Did you say something in 5 sentences that could have been said in 1?
- Did you forget to add an action item?
- Did you forget to define a term?
Proofread your CFP all the way through. Then read it out loud. Then have someone else read it. If you don’t know someone personally, I suggest social media or Slack. You can check your grammar with tools like Grammarly, and Google Docs even has some built-in helpers. I once read a CFP that ended in mid-sentence. It’s like they were so excited about their project they stopped writing midway through and never got back to it. Don’t be that person, finish the sentence.
Talking at conferences is a form of entertainment. Think of it as theater or stand-up comedy. If you feel like your content is better when read, maybe it should be a blog post instead. Even extremely technical writing can be fun; try to imbue your writing with personality. I personally love adding jokes, but I’ve seen great uses of cat pictures, emojis, and gifs in presentations. Let’s learn something but also have fun.
Your CFP is not a teaser trailer, it is the Wikipedia plot explanation of your talk. It’s better to have more information than less. Attendees will be sad, mad and confused if the talk does not match the description.
I want to know why should YOU give this talk vs another person. Especially if there are talks on similar topics and I can only pick one.
- Did you improve on existing code, a better way to do something faster?
- Do you have a fresh perspective since you just learned this and found all the bugs?
- Is all the existing documentation confusing, or does it fail to solve your exact problem?
- Did you just make a product and people are actually using it? How does it fare in production?
- Did you not know how to do something, but then did a ton of research to create a proof-of-concept?
These are usually about how to get ahead in your career. They need to include repeatable patterns and not just rely on luck. "I was in the right place and was recognized" is not helpful. "I tried these 3 things and this is what worked" is better. Failing and learning is a more helpful story than luck since you cannot rely on luck.
General advice like “go to networking events” is common. How can you give more details to make it actionable? Here are the questions you can ask at networking events. Here’s how to decide on the best events for you. See my post for more on networking and an example of repeatable advice.
As someone who goes to lots of events, if I hear about imposter syndrome one more time, I’ll scream. I know it’s important and affects lots of people, but I’ve heard it all before.
As someone who is mid-career, I’ve heard all the basics. Negotiate. Apply to jobs you are not qualified for. Imposter syndrome affects us all. Those talks are not for me but would be great for an early-career audience. Correctly calibrating the level of your talk is even more important for career advice.
If you have recordings of you speaking, that’s great! Some CFPs take them, some want to review your submission anonymously to avoid bias. If you do include it, make sure your audio/videos are of good quality. They don’t need to be Hollywood production value, but they need to be of you at your best. I’ve seen some really bad videos that do not showcase the speaker at all. Make sure you are the star of the show, even if you have to record your own webinar.
In 2018, I spoke at 3 conferences and in 2019, I spoke at 7 so far. I hope this helps you to get out there and submit your first or 20th CFP. If you have any other tips, please leave them in the comments!