... or How to Write a Successful Proposal
Nothing is so appreciative, inviting and yet challenging as writing a submission for a conference or call for papers. Whether you are a newbie or already a seasoned pro in the field of speaking at conferences, I am sure the hardest part is how to respond to a call for papers. At this point I want to be honest with you: There is no silver bullet on how to solve the biggest mystery in this whole process. Proposals are a different type of writing that you are used to. They are difficult to accomplish. They are hard work and tricky. The hardest part is the one before you start typing. The part where you reflect, generate ideas, think about topics that might be of interest for the audience. The trickiest part is how you get your ideas across and keep your audience engaged all the way through.
The X Factor
The Agile Testing Days are not an ordinary agile testing conference. Those who have attended our "festival" before know that the Agile Testing Days are one of a kind. We are full of crazy ideas, of which some are realised at our conference – starting from bringing speakers on stage on the back of a real horse to equipping the venue toilets with special unicorn toilet paper. Every year, we want to surprise our conference attendees and speakers and, therefore, we develop ideas that are often out of the box. And here lies the key to a successful proposal for you.
As we receive hundreds of papers, you must stand out from the mass. You have to think outside the box, get creative, strike a new path, be unique. Uniqueness can also be very simple; sometimes you just need to combine two things. Last year, Robert Lourens and Joost Voskuil have submitted a Robot Warsz Workshop, where attendees could program a robot using a visual programming language and learned more about the whole team approach at the same time. Søren Wassard's Walk'n'Talk session filled a gap; he combined the Open Space format with going for a walk outside. Attendees divided into small groups discussed selected topics as they explored the beautiful Sanssouci Park.
Another way to add the X Factor to your proposal is in form of a video. Short videos of your talk or workshop idea give a first insight into your topic and is a feast for the eyes, too. It attracts and engages potential audiences. You can quickly and easily get your message across. Your potential audience will digest the information they see faster than reading it. We are not saying a video should completely replace written content, but it is a great complement to your proposal and will strengthen your message overall.
Everyone Has a Story to Tell
The best proposals are those that tell a reasonable story. Telling a story is a powerful and compelling device, because it takes people on a journey; they can imagine themselves in it. Telling a story about what you have experienced, where you have struggled or failed, how you brought value, and most important what you have learned from it, will leave your audience not only inspired and motivated but also smarter. People like to hear stories, where others stumbled over a problem or actually failed, but they love to hear how others have surmounted the problem, how they used the failure and turned it into a success story, and became even better, smarter, or more efficient.
Theory vs. Practice
Before you write a proposal, think about your audience. Imagine who will attend this conference, who will listen to your talk or participate in your workshop. If you write a proposal for the Agile Testing Days, imagine testers, developers, programmers, practitioners, managers etc. – a diverse mix of attendees from different experience levels, different technical communities and different levels of agile. Always think about your audience, their experiences, their preferences, and their learnings from your talk or workshop.
Although there are people, who prefer experienced-based talks over theory-based ones, it is necessary to keep in mind that it is not about data and facts, you still have to include them in your theory talk though, but it is more about the subject and that you are enthusiastic and passionate about it. Pick a topic that excites you.
The Agile Testing Days offer also a trend track, which is dedicated to all innovative and futuristic topics in the agile and testing business. This special track includes subjects such as Virtual Reality, Robotics, AI, Blockchain, Future Medical Solutions, Cyborgs, Drones, Self-Drving Cars and many more. Here again, experiences matter and experiences are journeys. Don't bore your audience, wow them. By understanding your audience you will ensure that they will be engaged, interested and leave your talk or workshop satisfied.
Keep it Short and Sweet
Many have stressed it before, and I will do it again: Keep your proposal brief and well-structured. Although you have to evoke the Ahhhh-moment in the reviewer as well as in the audience, it is important to address the attendees. The traditional way to structure a proposal is to write it in a 3-paragraph style consisting of an introduction, a body and a conclusion.
- Paragraph (introduction): Introduce the topic. Set it into context, pick your audience up. Why do you choose this topic? What is your motivation? What inspired you to speak about this kind of topic?
- Paragraph (body): Here you can share more details about the problem, your experiences and your actions. Describe and explain your method and goal. Tell more about the approach you used. What can they expect?
- Paragraph (conclusion): Explain the results. What was the outcome? Also list why people should come to your talk and what they will learn.
It's similar to telling a story, right? With this structure in mind, it is easier for you to write a short, concise, and appealing abstract. Remember that your proposal will be published on the conference schedule. Therefore, it is very important to get your main message and bullet points across in an easy and consumable way.
One last thing: proofread. There is nothing more annoying than a sentence that has to be read all over again because it doesn't make sense due to errors of sloppiness, like spelling or grammar mistakes. For readers, a disrupted reading flow may be a reason for exclusion.
Don't be nervous. Don't think that you have to submit something totally new. Don't worry too much. As long as you share your experiences, speak about something you did and you are passionate about, it will be interesting. If you are not sure whether your topic is of interest to others, ask your colleagues if they would like to hear about it and function as a test audience. Their feedback can be helpful and valuable for you. Getting a review from others from the community can help you to clarify or change your angle.
This is just a short summary of tips that may help you to write a good proposal. Below you can find some other sources of information. Although there is not one formula on how to write a good proposal, remember that it always starts with an idea...
Writing Abstracts: Non-Advice from a Speaker and Reviewer by Cassandra Leung
8 Classic Storytelling Techniques for Engaging Presentations by Ffion Lindsay
What Your Conference Proposal Is Missing by Sarah Mei
Writing/Reviewing Abstracts (Twitter) by Richard Bradshaw