Save Your Proposals
It is a common myth that conferences want all-new content. Well, it’s not so much a myth as a “conferences would love to convince you that this is what they expect” kind of thing.
When I was first getting started in the conference-speaking game, there was one event vendor in particular that insisted that any talk that had already been given at a difference conference was not going to be accepted at their shows. I didn’t believe them, and submitted a few talks that I’d done elsewhere.
Sure enough, because I hadn’t read the directions, they sent back rejection notices. I never submitted to that conference again.
And that event vendor doesn’t exist anymore, either.
We can argue about the reasons for said vendor’s demise, but by this point, no event vendor I have worked with in the last decade has had that requirement. Frankly, it’s just too hard for them to police, and what’s more, if the talk is going to be any good, it needs to be given a few times so you can work the kinks out of it. Plus, as with most talks, once you’ve given it, you figure out a few ways you’d like to change it up, so like a good standup comedian’s routine, it’s never exactly the same bits from one night to the next.
(Spoiler alert, in case you didn’t know this: Comedians use the same bits night after night, show after show, because they work, and because very few people ever see the same show multiple times.)
The same is true of proposals: once you’ve written it, don’t just throw it away. Submit it to a couple of other places. Just because a show doesn’t accept it doesn’t mean it’s bad—it means that they simply didn’t want it. And they could not want it for a variety of different reasons:
- Somebody else they’ve already accepted is doing a talk on that, and they want to let that speaker do that topic.
- The topic is one they over-saturated on last year, and attendees don’t want to see it anymore.
- The topic is one they feel doesn’t meet their attendee profile.
- The topic is somehow controversial to their community.
- They had somebody speak on that topic, and it didn’t go well, and they don’t want to bring up bad memories.
- They have a similar talk from a speaker they know better than they know you, and (like most humans) they prefer the devil known over the devil unknown.
That last reason may stick in your “that’s not fair!” filter for a second, but regardless, that’s how most humans operate. (You know how you have your favorite restaurants because they serve the food the way you like it, in an atmosphere you like with servers that treat you well? You’re basically playing favorites here, too.)
Thus, your proposal may be rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with it in itself. For that reason…
Submit 3X Proposals
If you want to do one talk, submit 3 proposals; if you want to do two talks, submit 6, and so on.
This can get a little out of hand—if you want to do six talks, submitting eighteen proposals could make it seem like you’re trying to flood the system with talks and “game the system”, so to speak. Organizers have been known to toss the whole lot of your proposals on the grounds that you’re a douchebag.
But the point here is clear: the more opportunities you give the organizers to find something that works within their matrix of topics, the easier it is for them to say “Yes”.
This does mean, however, that you may end up doing more than what you’d hoped; submitting three proposals could means you get three talks.
In which case, pop a bottle of champagne, party it up, because you hit a magic vein of “WOW” to the organizers, and you’re somehow spot-on for what they want their attendees to see. Step up to the plate, hit three solid presentations, and you will be thrust into that “known speaker” category very quickly.
Which brings up another point.
Get to Know the Organizers
Frankly, this is where you want to be as a speaker; when the organizers know you as a speaker, and presumably like your material and speaking ability, then the proposal becomes less about convincing the organizers and more about securing that contract between you and the audience.
And remember how I mentioned earlier that events will sometimes issue explicit invitations to speakers? Or that sometimes you can slide in after the submission close date? Neither of these things happens until you get to know the organizers.
Which is why it’s incredibly important, when you get to the event, to find them, thank them for the opportunity to speak, ask them any last-minute questions you might have about the audience, and so on. Get to know them, find out what they are interested in as topics for the next show, allow them to get to know you and the wild hare-brained ideas that you might have for topics that they might actually be thinking about but hadn’t yet found anybody to do as an experiment….
Yeah, you get the idea.
A good proposal/abstract is not going to guarantee a great presentation. But it’s the first step since it in many respects will be your guiding statement and contract to the audience. The pain mentioned in the abstract has to be pain that attendees are feeling; the promise has to be strong enough that they will believe that you can take the pain away. (Or at least as much of it as an hours’ talk can take away, anyway.)
Once the talk is accepted, however…. Well, we’ll save that for next time.