Chad Fowler

the passionate programmer, author, speaker, musician, technologist, CTO

How to Get Your Conference Talk Accepted

I am one of the original organizers of both RubyConf and RailsConf. Combined, I’ve organized or been on the program committee for around 25 conferences. I’ve read hundreds of proposals and seen hundreds of conference talks.

Occasionally, a proposal or a talk stands out. Here’s one that I still think of when new would-be speakers ask how to get their first talk accepted. When preparing for RailsConf 2010 in Baltimore, we received this email from Ben Orenstein:

Ben had never spoken at a conference before, and he knew we had a lot of proposals to consider. Here’s what I like about his email (and video):

  • Most important, he showed us how enthustiastic he to give the talk. Enthusiasm is one of the most sorely lacking features of technical conference talks. When someone is excited, I am more engaged.
  • He reassured us that, though we might not have heard of him before, he was qualified to give the subject a good treatment.
  • He told us he was going to be prepared when the conference rolled around. It’s rare that a conference presenter explicitly says “I am going to be ready”.
  • He went to the trouble to make a video which showed us both what his style might be like in person and again that he really wanted this opportunity to speak.

I immediately looked up his proposal, and as you might guess it was as thoughtful and energetic as the email and video.

I then sent my conference co-chair, Ben Scofield, the following email:

And his response:

This is surely only one way to get a talk accepted, but as a new presenter, it’s a good example to consider.

(You can hear a conversation between me and Ben about this proposal and more at the Giant Robots Podcast.)