CFP tricks 1

Or, “how to make a selection committee do one of the hard parts of your job as a speaker for you”. For values of “hard parts” that include fine-tuning your talk for your audience.

I’m giving talk advice to a friend today, which means I’m thinking about talk advice and realizing it’s applicable to lots of speakers, which means I’m writing a blog post.

Why choosing an audience is hard

Deciding who you’re speaking to is one of the trickiest bits of writing an abstract, because a good abstract is tailored to bring in people who will be interested in and benefit from your talk. One of the reasons that it’s extra hard for a speaker to choose the right audience, especially at a conference that they haven’t attended before, is because they’re not sure who’ll be at the conference or track.

Knowing your audience lets you write an abstract full of relevant and interesting questions that your talk will answer. Not only do these questions show that you can teach your subject matter, but they’re an invaluable resource for assessing your own slides to make sure your talk delivers everything that you promised it would!

Tricks for choosing an audience

Some strategies I’ve recommended in the past for dealing with this include looking at the conference’s marketing materials to imagine who they would interest, and examining the abstracts of past years’ talks.

Make the committee choose by submitting multiple proposals

Once you narrow down the possible audiences, a good way to get the right talk in is to offload the final choice onto the selection committee! A classic example is to offer both a “Beginner” and an “Advanced” talk, on the same topic, so that the committee can pick whichever they think will be a better fit for the audience they’re targeting and the track they choose to schedule you for.

If the CFP allows notes to the committee, it can be helpful to add a note about how your talks are different, especially if their titles are similar: “This is an introduction to Foo, whereas my other proposal is a deep dive into Foo’s Bar and Baz”.

Use the organizers’ own words

I always encourage resume writers to use the same buzzwords as the job posting to which they’re applying when possible. This shows that you’re paying attention, and makes it easy for readers to tell that you meet their criteria.

In the same way, if your talk concept ties into a buzzword that the organizers have used to describe their conference, or directly answers a question that their marketing materials claim the conference will answer, don’t be afraid to repeat those words!

When choosing between several possible talk titles, keep in mind that any jargon you use can show off your ability, or lack thereof, to relate to the conference’s target audience. For instance, a talk with “Hacking” in the title may be at an advantage in an infosec conference but at a disadvantage in a highly professional corporate conf. Another example is that spinning my Rust Community Automation talk to “Life is Better with Rust’s Community Automation” worked great for a conference whose tagline and theme was “Life is Better with Linux”, but would not have been as successful elsewhere.

Good luck with your talks!