Career Tips

How to submit a conference talk proposal for the first time and get admitted?

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In: Career Tips
Fun fact: I actually got admitted to give my first talk at the RailsConf. So while it might not be recommended, it was quite effective.

Have you ever done something for the first time where you thought you were doing OK, only to realize later how wrong you were after digging a bit more into the topic?

After attending the RailsConf CFP workshop organized by the incredible Chelsea Kaufman and Adam Chuppy, I thought I'd give myself this workshop one more time here in writing and maybe help some other interested speakers (you!?) on the way.

Before attending this workshop, I submitted 10 CFPs (Call For Proposals) in a 3.5 hours hyper-focus session. I'm eternally grateful to the workshop organizers because I thought my initial proposals were OKish.

The truth is, they wouldn't have stood any chance.

Funnily enough, my foolish optimism continued even after the workshop. I was sure I'd need an hour to fix all my ten talks. Instead, I've spent another 5.5 hours in 2 hyper-focus sessions to rewrite and reword my CFPs completely. And I still have two unpolished CFPs I wasn't passionate about tackling.

This was not only a good exercise in creating CFPs, writing, and delivering the main point of your writing, but it was also an opportunity to see how interested I am in the topics that I initially thought could be interesting. Win-win.

So here are the notes and thoughts I sourced from the workshop and followed while polishing my CFPs for the RailsConf.

General Tips

Like most conferences, a RailsConf CFP should have an abstract and a description of your talk or workshop.

Submitting your CFPs early can go a long way since the reviewers will have more time to dedicate to your CFP. They might even get back to you with suggestions or corrections. On the other hand, your CFP is more likely just to get skimmed if you are 1 of the 1000 developer dudes and dudettes who submitted their talk on the last day.

Generally, whatever form field you are filling in, make sure you know the purpose of this form field. Different conferences have different names. For example, this year's RailsConf denominates the "abstract" as "description"; and the "description" as "notes". There's also a "pitch" that you need to fill in.

Pro tip number 1: Think like a reviewer! Imagine you read 200 descriptions. You'll need to focus on something. As a reviewer, you need to determine quickly: Can this CFP deliver an experience? Does it align with the track topics? ๐Ÿ‘‰ Structuring the CFP and delivering the content to make this as easy as humanly possible will yield the best results for the submitter.


The abstract is the public-facing text people will see during the conference when checking out your talk.

It should have the length of a good tweet or two. If you end up with 3 to 8 sentences, you are good.

It would help if you briefly described the following:

  1. Whatโ€™s the problem that your talk is trying to solve?
  2. Whoโ€™s the talk for?
  3. Where are they now? What will they walk away with? Finally, what's the journey?


The CFP description is a more detailed explanation of how you will deliver on your promises from the abstract.

Here you will describe your talk, how you plan to present it, and what the stunts with feats are to make it great and unique.


Formatting matters. If you submit an unreadable text blob of 1200 words, no one will be able to read it. So format it nicely, and point out the key points.


Your content should be detailed enough to explain the relevant and unique parts of your presentation to the reviewer. And why does it need to be presented at all?

interactive elements

A big bonus point is if you throw some interactive elements into your talk and describe them in your description. Interactive features distinguish your speech from a mere blog post.

Here are a couple of ideas for how you can engage your audience during your talk:

  • audience questions
  • polls / raise your hand
  • stand up exercise
  • people improv on stage
  • make them do anything
  • pump'em up ๐Ÿค”
  • make them guess something
  • let them provide a prompt for you to demonstrate something

During a workshop, you need your attendees to exercise and produce results.

It's great to use a conference talk's live and in-person components, so take advantage of it.


If you are unsure about whether something should go into the description, ask yourself:

Does this help to illustrate whether and how you will deliver on what you stated in the abstract?

To make this part digestible for the reviewers, structure it in a way that is easy to follow. There are 2 main ways of structuring it:

structure style 1

One traditional way is to divide your description into 3 parts:

  1. The introduction of the talk
  2. The central part of the talk
  3. The final part

structure style 2

Another way is to start with a statement on what's unique about your talk and the topic. Then you can present an outline, like here are the five parts, and here is what they will be about.


Is everything ready? Push the submit button. What can go wrong? ๐Ÿ”ฎ

Hope: Let's see if I will be one of the lucky ones who get into a conference with their first CFP submission ๐Ÿ‘ผ
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