How to successfully submit to a Software Testing Conference – lessons learned the hard way

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.

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. Read on to learn how.

You can submit

I’m on the programme committee for UKSTar 2018. The closing date for submissions for this conference is 30th July 2017 – at the time of writing (25th July) you still have plenty of time to submit a talk.

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

  • 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

The UKStar call for speakers ends on 30th July 2017. You can submit if you want to.

Free Bonus 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.

Free Bonus 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
  • 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.
    • Case Study
  • 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
  • Case Study
  • 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.
  • Case Study
    • create some from scratch
  • 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, 4560 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

Resources to help you with submitting

Source: EvilTester
How to successfully submit to a Software Testing Conference – lessons learned the hard way

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