Writing a successful GopherCon proposal
The GopherCon 2017 Call for Proposals has reached the halfway mark so I wanted to give potential speakers some specific advice when writing their proposals.
Writing a GopherCon proposal
The review team have no access to any information about you, or your proposal, save what you have written in the title, abstract, and talk description fields. Your job is to convince the reviewers that you can deliver an engaging, relevant, and informative presentation using just those three fields.
Keep it short, pithy, and to the point. Maybe it could be a little punny, or a little cryptic, but please avoid 8 shocking things that make your proposal read like a Buzzfeed headline.
Just the facts. One sentence that describes the topic that you’ll be talking about, and one sentence that describes what the audience will take away from listening to your talk or participating in your workshop, is all you need. But, just like a tweet, make those sentences count.
The description section is where many proposals have traditionally come up short. To be blunt, many proposals across the years have not included enough detail for the reviewers to judge them according to the selection criteria.
What we encourage speakers to do each year is include with their proposal:
- A paragraph or two of introduction, ideally the introduction you plan to use in your talk.
- An outline of the presentation itself. Bullet points are fine. The goal of including an outline is to demonstrate to the reviewer that you’ve thought about how your talk will flow from the questions you pose in your introduction to the answers in your conclusion.
- A paragraph or two of conclusion, again, ideally this would be the conclusion you plan to use in your talk.
There is no minimum word count for this section, but if you haven’t written at least 200-300 words, you’re probably selling your talk short and putting yourself at a disadvantage. Simply put, less detailed proposals are rarely chosen over proposals with a lot of detail, we cannot stress this enough.
Addressing the selection criteria
The review team score each proposal according to the following review criteria:
- Relevance: Is this topic interesting to an audience of Go programmers? What is it about the topic that is unique to its use of Go?
- Novelty and Originality: Does the talk provide the audience with new information? Preference will be given to presentations not previously available to a wide audience.
- Knowledge: Has the speaker demonstrated a strong understanding of their subject?
- Coverage: Does the proposal cover the topic in depth? What are the main insights?
- Organization: Is the proposal well organized? Will the audience tune into the narrative? Will the speaker use their time effectively?
- Bottom Line: What’s the takeaway of your talk? How will the presentation improve attendees’ knowledge, outlook, and inspiration?
The reviewers will be looking to answer each of these questions when scoring your proposal – make it easy for them.
Consider your audience
This year we’re asking for proposals for three different kinds of talks; keynotes, tutorials, and workshops. The audience for each kind of talk is different.
For keynotes, you’ll be speaking to the entire audience, 1500 people whose Go experience spans everything from beginners, to long time GopherCon attendees, to the Go team themselves. Your topic should be relevant to a wide audience.
This doesn’t mean pitching to the lowest common denominator and trying to sell the audience on the benefits of using Go. The audience have already invested time and money in flying to Denver to visit the conference – they already think Go is pretty great. Instead, you want to inspire the audience to convince other people that Go is great, and do that by presenting information that is relevant to Go programmers today.
For tutorials, you have more time, up to 45 minutes, and an audience who are self selecting; they have chosen to come to your talk over the other talks at the same time. You can afford to present in depth on a topic and be prepared to take questions.
For workshops, you have the whole day to instruct a small group of people who want specialized knowledge.
Keep it relevant
GopherCon is not a general programming conference, the GopherCon audience are expecting to hear about Go.
This doesn’t mean we’re only seeking talks about Go, the language. There’s an entire ecosystem of libraries, services, projects, and companies who are using Go to solve problems, and that is just as, if not more, interesting than a talk about the internals of the Go runtime, or design best practices.
If your proposal doesn’t mention Go at all, or a reader could substitute the name of another programming language for Go without changing the message of your proposal, you need to dig deeper to find the relevance for a Go programming audience.
Keep it fresh
Our audience invests a lot in attending the conference and they expect GopherCon to continue its tradition of featuring new speakers and new ideas. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t propose a talk that’s been covered in previous GopherCon’s, but if you can think of a new angle on an existing subject, that is new knowledge you could share with the audience.
If you’ve presented a talk at a meet-up or other conference and plan to propose it for GopherCon, by all means do so, but think about how you can incorporate the feedback you received and how the landscape may have changed since you gave your presentation last.
Don’t wait till the last minute
Look, I understand, if I had a bill due on the 31st, then I wouldn’t dream of paying it ahead of time, but submitting a conference proposal is different.
If your proposal is interesting to the reviewers, and it’s clear you’ve made an effort to write a proposal that addresses the selection criteria, but something is missing, then we’ll tell you what’s missing and encourage you to update your proposal. But, after the 31st of January what’s in your proposal is final. So please, do not wait until the last day to submit your proposal, we cannot offer feedback after the CFP is closed.
If you have questions, or want advice, you can contact the organisers at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the #gophercon-denver slack channel (If you need an invite to the Gophers’ slack, use this link).
See you all in July!
David Cheney (on behalf of the programme committee)