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Fuhgeddaboudit checklist - 7 steps to help you fail.

Updated: Jan 16, 2021

It is a conference call for proposal (CFP) season. You have a unique topic, experience or case studies that the World deserves to see. There is only one tiny thing that stands between you and the standing ovation at the end of your conference talk: a conference selection process.

In my 6 years of speaking at conferences and 8 years of reviewing for/organizing ones, I've seen a number of Submission Don'ts. I've made a few of these myself. This blog is my What NOT to do checklist - a good reminder which I am glad to share.

1. Ignore the conference (or track) theme.

Any conference, a small one or a large one is a product.

A product with its customers, stakeholders and the team. It is this team's assumtions, hunch, experience, their knowledge about the target customers and their vision will be put forward to attract submissions during CFP.

During the review process they will be looking for proposals that can help deliver on that vision. When crafting your proposal, you will have a choice to make a stronger tie to their vision. Or ignore it alltogether and keep your fingers crossed.

2. Copy/Paste from a different conference.

Just like a unique vision, each conference will likely have their unique submission systems. Some will be user-friendly, some will have social media elements built-in with hearts and likes, some will be very basic and some will crash on you at the last minute, just before the submission deadline. (Sigh)

All of them will have their unique requirements and last thing you'd want to do is copy/paste. Yes, it is tempting to reuse your submission proposal from a different conference. Yes, it seems like it will save your time.

Please don't.

When reviewers read a 75 min proposal for a 30 min session timeslot, it doesn't give them warm and fuzzy feeling about your session. They can't predict which 45 min you will cut out and if remaining 30 will be worth including into the program.

3. Make it about how important you are.

You are awesome, no doubts. However the more you write about your awesomeness, your business or your proprietary products, the less attrractive your submission will become.

Nobody wants a sales pitch. From my experience, this is one of the biggest red flags for reviewers. The flip side of this is assuming that everyone must know who you are and putting a bare minimum in your proposal. When your "Description" or "Information for Reviewers" states "I will do a just-in-time session - will ask for audience questions and answer them" or "This will be a TedTalk style session", there is just not enough meat in this proposal for reviewers to say "Hell, Yes! I want to be in this session!"

4. Don't even think about Bloom's taxonomy!

Learning Objectives are there for a reason. When you design a new session, they are helping you frame it. They are the skelleton on which you will be adding session's content, supporting with concrete practices and wrapping it up with a conclusion.

A small number of well-defined learning objectives that can be traced through into Description / Information for reviewers is an indicator of a good proposal.

Five or more learning objectives for a 30 min sessions? Every reviewer will know this is not gonna happen.

Good learning objectives will be observable, measurable and will use some of the verbs from Bloom's taxonomy - a classification of learning objectives and learning outcomes that helps teachers teach and learners learn. It's been around since 1956 and remains relevant today.

5. Keep it a secret.

Reviewer is your trusted friend. They want to accept your session proposal, but they can't read your mind. Not giving them enough details and leaving out the specifics of your session will surely help with getting a lower score on your submission!

"Information for reviewers" is where you want to tell them everything about how you will rock your session. How will it be structured? How will you use your audience's time? How will you involve them and keep them engaged throughout?

What unique experience will you be creating for them in your workshop? Will you have sufficient time for debriefing? How will you facilitate it? What will they take away from your session?

6. Ignore the feedback

It is very uncommon for conferences to offer you an option to receive feedback on your submission prior to making a final selection decision.

Agile20xx conference by Agile Alliance is one of the very few that offers this opportunity. Why not discover what reviewers think about your proposal, when there is still time?

Asking for feedback is not a sign of weakness.

I've experienced the feedback process from both sides - as a prospective speaker and as a reviewer/track chair/program chair. The process is designed to help your ideas shine! All you need to do is submit your proposal, ask for feedback and engage in collaboration with your reviewers.

7. Just throw something together at the last minute


The best way to do yourself a disservice is to not spend enough time on your proposal. Catchy titles that don't connect with the rest of the proposal;

links to videos with bad sound quality; links to a supporting material that is password protected and can't be accessed by the reviewers;

copy/paste errors, typos and offensive language in the title - all these creep in at that last minute mark.

Speaking of the last minute, there is still a bit of time to put your best ideas forward and submit them for feedback to Agile2020.

As the conference program chair, I invite you to submit your session. Can't wait to read your proposal and see you at the conference.

Hope these tips will help you NOT to fail. Good luck!

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