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Jun 6, 2020 - 21 minute read - Conferences Evil Tester Public Speaking

You can submit to Conferences

TLDR; Identify why you should be the one talking about a topic and hold that Why at your core as you build a short sales pitch for the conference organizers.

Conferences publish call for submissions. You can, and should, answer that call and submit a presentation.

Updated: 20200606 to combine 3 related older blog posts into this. Added a section on pay to speak and tips to reduce cost.

You Can Submit

But I don’t want to see you submit any old rubbish.

I want you to open up your soul, and make it impossible for me to say anything other than “yes” to you when you submit.

Make it so that the program committee want to vociferously campaign on your behalf to have you attend the conference, so that you can tell other people, about the experience that you will write about, in the proposal that you will submit.

How? As follows…

Basic Process

First the obvious, but important.

  • Read the call for submissions, and the guidelines
  • Register as someone who intends to submit

Learn From TED Guidelines

And then, the secret step: if you want me to back you tenaciously with every ounce of persuasive power that I have.

Speak From Experience

If they seem daunting, then let me tell you another secret.

Most people will not do this.

Specifically, they will not talk from the heart about their experiences and lessons they learned.

Excuses

I know that the first few times speaking seem daunting. But for the moment, because I want you to get started right away, since you have to submit by early February, I will say this to you… do not use any of the following excuses:

  • “I don’t have anything to say”
  • “No-one will be interested in what I have to say”
  • “Nothing that I say will be original”
  • “I can’t talk in public”
  • “We don’t do anything interesting at work that I can talk about”

I spoke to a lot of people at EuroStar 2012 and asked them if they would submit at 2013 and I heard a lot of the above excuses.

Every Single Person Has a Unique Point of View

And every single person, when I continued to talk to them, eventually told me a story about their work that I had not heard before. Every single person told me how they had approached a problem in a unique way, and they shared with me what they had learned, and what they would do differently next time, and every single one of them made me laugh.

I have seen a lot of conference talks that did none of the above. But every single person that I spoke to when they originally said that they had nothing to offer, and could not speak at a conference, managed to out-do a lot of conference talks that I have seen over the years.

I know you have something to offer. You just have to find it.

I covered this somewhat in the talk I gave at EuroStar 2012 - specifically covering this point in the paper, so read the paper (I condensed it to make it a super fast read).

Let the Theme Help You

And let the theme help you.

The theme for Eurostar 2013 was “Questioning Testing”. This lends itself to reinterpretation so start by reinterpreting the theme and then:

  • Decide which re-interpretation resonates the most?
  • What ideas does it inspire?
  • What experiences does it remind you you have had?
  • What lessons does it remind you you have learned?
  • I don’t want to say too much here because I don’t want to influence you in how you can best interpret it.

Why you Should Submit

For a while I didn’t submit to conferences and I let other people set the agenda for software testing. But sometimes I didn’t fully agree with them, and sometimes I disagreed. And I didn’t see anyone making quite the point I wanted to see made.

Fail: But I didn’t think that I had anything to offer, even though I had a different perspective on things.

Fail: But I still went to conferences listening to people spout things that I thought were nonsense.

Eventually I submitted for conferences.

Fail: But I missed a few conferences because I planned to submit but never actually got around to doing it.

Win: I submitted to some conferences and didn’t get accepted. With each failed submission I generated more energy for getting my point across next time. And so I wrote more blogs, or submitted to another conference.

Win: And when I did get submitted, clearly that was a mark of excellence from the perspective of the conference organiser.

You should submit to conferences because then you get to form part of the 1% setting the Software Testing agenda. You should submit to conferences so that you recognise that you have something to say. You should submit to conferences so that you put yourself in a position where you have the opportunity to say it.

Video - Why You Should

Watch on YouTube

How To Submit

Regardless of how long you have until a conference submission deadline: 1 month, 1 week, 1 day, 1 hour. You still have time to submit.

And if you submit a passionate sales pitch with good benefits and features then you can submit successfully.

Do’s to submit

I have been on the programme committee for UKSTar and Eurostar, so I have a little experience of being on the receiving end of conference submissions. As well as having experience of writing submissions to attend conferences. The advice here is drawn from experience from both sides of the submission process.

People spend too long on submissions:

  • they often outline the entire talk prior to submitting
  • they write slides
  • they make sure they have enough material for the 25, 30, 40 minute slot
  • they work out where they are going to get the art work
  • they procrastinate in ever more creative ways.

What they should do is:

  • find a topic that they feel strongly about
  • identify their unique slant on that topic - their experience, “Why does no-one else talk about…", “people don’t seem to realise that…”
  • focus that unique slant and that strength of feeling into a pinpoint burning flame of righteous passion

Then sell that passion in the form of a conference submission.

You need the motivation to:

  • have your point of view told
  • submit a talk

Everything else comes after you are accepted, and if you have any doubts about ability to speak, or creating good slides then allow the pinpoint burning flame of righteous passion to overrule them because everything you need to do, you will have time to do, after you are accepted to talk.

Some Written Guidance

I wrote a lot of notes on ‘how to submit for a conference’, but after writing a few pages, I realised that most of what I was writing was already covered by Rob Lambert’s Blazingly Simple Guide To Submitting To Conferences. I recommend you read this as Rob covers idea generation, overcoming common doubts, and guidance for submission.

I’ve added my outline at the bottom of this post in case it helps.

Tips List

  • Read the call for papers - understand what the conference want
  • Copy paste the submission form to a text file
  • fill in the text file, never write directly to the submission form (browsers crash, forms fail)
  • find your “Why?”
  • create a boring title to guide you
  • Rant passionately, record it, transcribe it - that is your first draft blurb
  • Edit your blurb for clarity, to add more examples
  • When you edit, do not remove the passion, do not “corporate speak it up”
  • work on the title to make it a sales headline
  • avoid cute headlines
  • don’t tease with questions and promises - provide some actual tips, solutions and examples that you will cover
  • always be ready to paste it into the submission form, keep it in a ‘ready to go’ state
  • you are not writing the blurb for the web site, you are writing a sales pitch for the organisers
  • the blurb can be edited prior to going on the conference web site - you can make that clear in the blurb if you want to
  • focus on the submission, not the talk
  • you can do this if you want to

How To Submit Video Video

I created a video covering this material, with a small ‘case study’ and analysis of some older submissions and talks that I’ve put in to conferences - including failed submissions so you can see where I didn’t live up to my tips.

Watch on YouTube

Cost of Speaking

One of the very real barriers to speaking at conferences is cost.

For this reason many people only choose to speak at conferences which pay expenses of all speakers, or when they receive a fee.

You will have to make your own mind up about your policy on this, and it will change over time as your circumstances and profile change.

Pay to Speak

I’ve found that all conferences cost me more to attend than I receive from the conference. Even when I’m paid a fee to speak and if my expenses are covered, the money does not cover all the work involved.

  • Sell the Talk
    • pitch the talk
    • develop the blurb
    • submit the talk
  • Time to Prepare
    • write the outline
    • write the talk
    • write the supporting material
    • practice the talk
  • Promotion
    • promoting the conference in social media and blogs
    • additional promotional activities that the conferences ask for: webinars, articles, blogs posts, promo videos, etc.
  • Attend the Conference
    • plan the travel
    • book hotels and travel
  • Time off Work
    • opportunity cost of not working

The hope is, that attending the conference leads to other work, or additional sales of product. Or it is written off as marketing.

The point is. Most people don’t make money speaking at conferences.

Don’t view making money as one of the reasons for speaking at conferences.

Reducing Cost

To mitigate this people may do, one or more, from the list below:

  • repeat talks, this cuts down on the sales, and prep time
  • only speak when expenses are covered
  • only speak when they are paid a fee
  • only speak when their work gives them paid time at conferences (e.g. training time, or marketing their company)
  • conduct workshops and tutorials
  • negotiate paid work with the conference vendor prior to the conference
  • negotiate work either before or after the conference in the locale of the conference

Not all of the above are open to everyone.

You have to make your own choice.

There are now more places to speak, than ever before. You don’t have to spend a lot of money to speak at a conference any more.

Costs can be reduced by:

  • speaking at local meetups
  • speaking at online conferences and events
  • speaking at local conferences
  • negotiating a speaking fee and expenses

Remember, conferences are not the only way to get your message out. You are more likely to be able to negotiate a speaking fee or have expenses covered, if you already have a profile: blog, following on social media, youtube videos.

Conferences used to be the only medium for getting our message out. Now we have many channels for putting our content out there.

Reality

Conferences are still a valuable, authority building strategy, and are an easy way to meet other speakers and like-minded companies and peers.

Conferences can also come with risk of losing money. Particularly when unexpected events like a global pandemic occur. Make sure you have insurance for your trip, and do everything you can to reduce the financial risk. Even with this I have lost money on flights from cancelled events, and time preparing for events that never happened. Treat speaking at an event as a business decision. Some of the decisions will cost you money. Learn from those.

Lesson learned: de-risk to some extent by having a contract in advance stating who pays for what, and what happens in the event of cancellation. But, conferences always have the risk that a speaker will be ill, or cannot attend for some other reason. Contracts, and negotiation, is there to protect both parties.

Don’t feel that you have to speak at every event that exists.

Don’t feel that you have to accept every speaking offer that is presented to you.

Speaking at a conference should be a mutually beneficial event, for you, for the conference, and for the people attending the conference.

This section isn’t designed to put you off. It simply acknoledges that there is a cost involved in speaking at a conference because it is work. Cost in terms of: money, time, and effort.

Weigh the cost against the benefits of improving your profile, self-confidence, authority, public speaking ability, and make decisions that you can afford.

Tips:

  • Always ask and try to negotiate a fee or have expenses paid.
  • Never agree to attend a conference if you can’t afford it
  • Only represent your company when they are paying for your time or expenses
  • Do not expect to make money speaking at conferences. We don’t do this for the money.

Outline Notes

  • Intro

    • The point of this is to help people submit to and speak at conferences.
    • Conferences used to be the place where you went to hear ‘new’ and cutting edge material.
    • the internet does that now
    • Conferences are still relevant, but we have to use them differently
    • Selfishly
      • build your profile
      • gain new skills
      • improve your confidence
      • good for your CV or linkedin profile
      • free entrance to the conference
    • Philanthropically
      • share your experiences
      • share your lessons learned so that others don’t have to learn the hard way
  • What is a CFP/CFS

    • call for papers, call for speakers, call for speaking, call for submissions
    • conferences need people to talk at them
    • they create a call for papers CFP to encourage people to submit talks
    • the CFP describes any theme or topics they want to encourage
    • often describes the types of talks you can submit - conferences usually have mutiple types short talks, track talks, workshops, tutorials, keynotes
    • you can submit for all of these but tutorials and keynotes are more likely to be invited
    • the most important thing on the CFP is the deadline
    • why is the deadline so far before the conf e.g. 6 - 8 months ahead
      • review
      • decide on programme
      • balance programme
      • marketing and sales process for the conf
    • CFP is a call to action, and an opportunity for you
    • review the terms and conditions to make sure you are happy with the offered expenses, accomodation, fee, etc.
  • Finding the Motivation to speak

    • this is the most important step - figuring out Why you are going to speak, what is your purpose?
    • if you don’t have the motivation then you’ll never submit and the stuff you submit will be flat
    • this is going to vary between people, I’m going to describe some possible motivations see which drives you
      • motivated by the rewards and benefits provided by a conference - free entrance, free hotel, etc.
      • motivated by the rewards and benefits provided by speaking - more practice, improve skills
    • i don’t think they really work for me
      • for me, the reason I started, was that I was angry. I was sick of going to conferences and hearing case studies and presentations about how you ‘should’ do it one way, but that didn’t match my experience. And I wanted to make sure that there was a balance.
        • that’s one of the things that still drives me now
        • and its also one of the ways of overcoming resistance - your unique story, no-one else can inhabit that space
    • another reason I spoke was that certain topics I was interested in were under-represented, or not discussed at all - my early talks were about Model Based Testing, ways of improving as a tester, psychology and psychotherapy, free and cheap tools - and all of these were experience based, so in reality it was ‘my experience’ that was not being represented
    • diversity - it seems odd now but one reason I started speaking was diversity
      • yeah, an old white man with beard talking about diversity
      • but I was younger when I started, and I felt that many of the people I was seeing at conferences were ‘older and out of touch’
        • they were talking about theory instead of practice
      • if you are concerned that your gender, ethnicity, creed, belief systems… whatever - are not represented at conferences, then be part of the change for that by submitting to speak.
    • if you feel in any way under-represented or marginalised by conference programmes then make a difference
    • you have to find what works for you
      • I need something strong enough to give me a push
      • and I need to believe in the message that I want to deliver enough in the talk so that it carries me through the weeks it takes to go though the submission process, and then the months it takes to go through the talk preparation and preparation phase.
  • Overcoming your resistance to speaking

    • after deciding on your motivation we then have to overcome the resistance that your brain is going to throw up
    • particularly if you haven’t spoken at a conference before
    • and you have to commit to a decision to speak, to overcome this resistance
    • typical phrases that bounce into your head
      • why would anyone want to hear me speak?
      • i don’t have the experience to talk about this
      • there is nothing new in what I have to say
      • but this will just bore people
    • doubts and impostor system
      • generally people will call this impostor system and you can look it up but that would be procrastination
      • you get over that by just doing it
      • if you want evidence then go online, look at conference programmes, look at videos and consider
        • most of what you saw wasn’t new
        • the speaker might not have been particularly experienced
    • the only way to gain experience is to do it, and unfortunately with public speaking we learn in public
    • good speakers, are simply more experienced, there are ways of getting ready for a talk that we will cover later
    • if you use “I haven’t done it before” as an excuse to not do it, then you will never do it
    • fall back on your motivation, if it is strong enough then it will carry you through, if it isn’t then revisit your motivation because that will push you over this hurdle
    • every conference has people who have never been at a conference before and people who have never heard the subject before
    • and in your talk you will present your view, your experience, your lessons learned, in your unique style and that has never been presented before, that will be new and is worth putting out there
    • you overcome resistence by taking action and doing it, either because you know the rewards are worth it, or because your motivation is strong enough
      • you can procrastinate and do a lot of research and reading but the step that will make a difference is committing to action
    • that’s it. do it, commit to taking the step of submitting and you overcome your resistance
  • Planning for the submission

    • once you know why you are going to speak you build a plan
    • this isn’t procrastination
    • this is making sure you don’t have any excuses
      • if you don’t do this then your subconscious can give you a get out clause for not speaking “oh I forgot about it and missed the deadline” “oh dear”
        • many conferences will accept submissions after the call for papers has closed so you don’t get to use that excuse, but we want to avoid that happening in the first place
    • so we are going to build a set of dates
    • look at call for papers page
    • make a note of the important details
    • make a list of the dates
      • check that you are free when the conference takes place
      • add the date of the conference as a ‘possibly attend conf X” in you calendar
      • find the deadline for submissions
      • add a calendar entry for the deadline (create some reminders)
    • make a list of the requirements
      • what do they need? a photo, description?
      • add a calendar entry for gathering these a week or so before the deadline
    • create a checklist
      • you can already tick off a few items
      • [] add conference CFP deadline into calendar
      • [] add conference dates into calendar
      • [] add conference material prep dates into calendar
      • now add
        • create ideas for talk
        • draft talk description
        • review talk description
        • write submission
        • review submission against CFP
        • add a todo for each item on the submission (find head photo, write bio)
        • submit talk
      • it doesn’t have to be detailed at this point because we can add items later
      • schedule some time in you calendar for working on the submission, it doesn’t have to be anything more than “work on conf submission” because you are going to work from your checklist
      • don’t write down anything about creating slides, or looking for images, because at this point we are working on a submission, not the talk
  • Creating an idea

    • hopefully your purpose will lead you to an idea if you are speaking because a certain topic or viewpoint is under-represented
    • but if you need to generate ideas for a talk then draw on your experience
    • think “back”
      • what was hard when you started, how did you learn to make it easier, what is it like now?
      • how have your views changed? what did you believe? why? what changed your mind? what do you believe now? how does that help you?
    • think “now”
      • what cool tool are you using that you don’t see people talking about? how does it work? what does it do? can you demo it? how does it help you?
      • what did you learn recently? how are you improving that? how will you learn more? how does that help you? what has learning it changed?
    • think “success”
      • what did you and your team do recently that worked really well? what did you do? what problems did you face? what did you learn?
    • think “annoyed”
      • what in the test community annoys you because it doesn’t match your experience? use of technology? approaches to testing? a viewpoint that is getting attention that misses the point? expert pontification that you have counterexamples for?
      • what were you told, that was just plain wrong? mandates? methodology? approach? tool choice? how did the wrongness manifest? how did you make it right?
    • think - why does no-one talk about this?
    • think - I wish people would stop saying…
    • think
    • always draw on your experience, it means that when you come to do your talk you will have strong basis and bedrock to talk from.
  • Testing an Idea

    • this is not about ‘resistance’ and saying ‘not sure’, this is about focus and building more passion into it
    • when you have a bunch of ideas you need to hone in one (or two) to create a submission
    • It might be easy, you might have one that you are so passionate about that it swamps all others, in which case you can jump to fleshing it out
    • In order to decide between multiple ideas you might have to flesh it out, map it to the CFP submission types
    • CFP often have multiple submission types - lightning talks, short 8 - 10 minute overviews, 30 minute talks, 45/60 minute talks with Q&A, 90 minute workshops, half day tutorials
      • which format does your idea best map on to?
      • then you will know how much information you need to build and if you can pull off
    • Why? What? Who? When? Where? How
  • Creating a Submission

    • A submission is more than an Idea, it is a sales pitch Sales pitch
      • stress benefits, rather than features
      • sell your passion and experience on the talk - why should it be you talking about it, rather than someone else?
    • A way of refining your talk
      • don’t write your talk at this point #1 mistake people make - writing the talk at this point Identify why this is important and what is your driving purpose, what is the essence Main points that you want to get across
    • what I usually do - rant, record, transcribe
    • Title
      • start with a plain old boring title
      • create multiple titles
      • make it scannable rather than ‘cute’
      • your title is your marketing department - it is there to get attention
      • your description is your sales department - it is there to close the deal
  • Reviewing your submission

    • who for, why
    • description
  • Practical tips for submissions

    • always cut and paste into submission form
  • Acceptance

    • only accept when happy with the terms
    • always ask for expenses or a fee
      • you don’t have to turn it down if you don’t get it
      • but always attempt to negotiate
      • this is hard the first time you try
  • Offers

    • as you speak more you will be offered the opportunity to speak
    • this gives you more ability to negotiate a fee and expenses
    • Don’t feel that you have to speak at every event that exists.
    • Don’t feel that you have to accept every speaking offer that is presented to you.
    • Always thank people for offering, regardless if you accept or not.

How to Talk at an Online Conference

More and more conferences are going online. Speakers will have to adapt. In this post I outline some recommendations based on years of online video, webinar and course creation.

If you only want the summary then…

  • Presenting online over video is different.
  • Practice will help.
  • Practice with the kit you are going to use, and perform complete practice run throughs.
  • Use an external microphone.
  • Record your practice sessions and listen back to them to make sure your audio is good enough.

More information on speaking at online conferences is contained here

Watch on YouTube

Audio and show notes:

Resources to help you with submitting

I have a course on Patreon called “Get Your Message Out", which has a lot of advice and behind the scenes information of how I prepare for conferences.

Start Now

One final point, because I want you to get started on your submission now.

I have read a few books on leadership written by ex-military personnel, because I think they know how to lead people. And not one of those books has ever talked to me about “Thought leadership” or “Big Ideas”, every single one of those books has said “lead from the front", “lead by example", and “learn from experience".**

So when you submit, do that.


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