What's the Secret to Submitting a Great Conference Proposal?

You may know that we hold Web 2.0 Expo NY in the fall. But here’s something that may surprise you: the drop-dead deadline for submitting a proposal is next Monday (April 12). In the past, we’ve extended the deadline a week, but we don’t have time for that this year. For a lot of people, that means a big scramble on Monday to get in your submission. As far as we’re concerned, that’s no problem.

But as far as you’re concerned, there is potential snag. For this CFP, we’re requiring video of the proposed speaker or panel moderator. If you don’t have a clip handy, you have to make one. While we don’t expect that to take more than 30 mins or an hour, you could have a hairy evening if you’re working on your submission at 11:45p.

We want the submission process to be smooth, even fun, for you. So we held a webcast with tips on submitting, and I’ve written up the Q&A, below, which includes full detail on the video requirement. Don’t miss the webcast–which has more info on what we look for. The webcast itself is posted on YouTube. The slides from the webcast are posted on SlideShare.

We look forward to reading and watching your proposals.

Q&A on the secrets of submitting a winning conference proposal:

Q: You HAVE to include video? A: Yes, we require it this year.

Q: Can you clarify on the video: sample speech video or elevator pitch — which is it? A: If you have a video of a strong presentation you’ve given before, feel free to post the link to that. If you don’t have a great video (or any video), create a quick-and-dirty (but clear and energetic!) elevator pitch and post that.

Q: So for the video – just be your fabulous self… yes? A: Yes, but we want to see that you can communicate. If your recording a fresh pitch for us, make sure you describe your talk, who it’s for, and what they’ll get out of it.

Q: What’s the ideal video length? A: The video should be no more than about two or three minutes long.

Q: Are there sample videos available? A: Not yet. We’re working on that.

Q: Is there a certain topic that you feel is overdone or that you get a lot of so that we can maybe avoid it? A: Not specifically, but we do see a lot of generic proposals that look very similar. If you propose a session that has unique lessons or data only you could reveal, it doesn’t matter nearly so much if the topic is fairly common.

Q: Can the presentations be too technical? A: We have a Development track, and a very large number of our attendees are programmers. See past shows for examples of technical talks we accepted. (Of course, we also take non-technical talks that are about applications or implications of technology. See past conferences to get a feel for the sort of things we look for.)

Q: If the speaker will speak at Web 2.0 San Francisco, will they NOT be considered for New York? A: We try not to repeat people too much from one show to the next. But if a speaker is very good, we will work with them for more than one show.

Q: Are you open to receiving two proposals from a given company? A: Our system doesn’t prevent you from submitting multiple ideas. But a lot of proposals from one individual or organization most often looks like that proposer has no idea what will work and is just spamming us with everything possible. Better to focus on one or maybe two ideas that are really sharp. We’re far more likely to take those seriously.

Q: You’ve mentioned particular ”tracks” of conferences — are those listed, or something we should consider when proposing? A: In the CFP form, we ask you to pick one or two topics that your session would fit under; those topics are the tracks. We don’t change the tracks a ton from show to show, so you can also take a look at previous shows to get an idea of our tracks, which generally include Development, Marketing, Design and Business Strategy, plus a bunch of mini-tracks on hot topics.

Q: You’ve had hands on session previously, are there any of those available? A: We’re looking primarily for 20-minute and 50-minute breakout sessions. These sessions can feature single speakers, co-presentations or panels. If you have more in-depth, hands-on content, we also program several 3-hour workshops, scheduled for the first day of the conference.

Q: Would submitting myself as a panelist be any different than a single speaker? A: Unlike a lot of other conference organizers, we don’t typically create panels ourselves. That is, we accept proposals for full panels, but we very, very rarely come up with ideas for panels on our own and then solicit people for them. In addition, we almost never place somebody on a panel that’s been proposed to us. So you’re welcome to submit panel ideas with yourself as moderator or panelist, but we can’t recommend that you simply submit yourself as a potential panelist.

Q: Do you allow co-presenting? Example: agency + client. A: Sure. But beware that often, those agency + client proposal look like product pitches. And we’re seriously allergic to product pitches.

Q: How many people attend Web 2.0 Expo? In NY in 2009, we had about 1,300 conference attendees (and about 4.500 total attendees, including people who came for just the keynotes and/or Expo Hall). Double both numbers for Expo SF in 2009.

Q: What makes a proposal stand out? A: A talk is two parts: the speaker and the topic (we talked earlier about sharing your unique story). A gem is less-known speaker who has been writing/speaking about their ideas. A great way to get a speaking slot is to be noticed first for your thinking and writing. Hacker News, for instance, is a good place to get recognized for Development sessions. Bar Camps and Ignites are another great place for speakers to share their ideas and show us some presentation chops.

Q: If we have more questions, who can we ask? A: ny-idea@web2expo.com or sf-idea@web2expo.com.

[Cross-posted to http://blog.web2expo.com/2010/04/2339.]

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  • brian Suda

    Thanks for the tips, I was reading through the CFP page
    http://www.web2expo.com/webexny2010/public/cfp/103 and ran across this part:

    “Does your presentation have the participation of a woman, person of color or member of another group often underrepresented at tech conferences?”

    Somehow that sounds pretty 19th century, maybe it’s just me, but I bet there is a better way to make it more inviting to bring in new and dynamic under-represented speakers. Heck, this could go for the elderly as well as youngsters.

  • Sarah Milstein

    Your point is well-taken, Brian. Eldsters are among the people we had in mind when we wrote “another group often underrepresented at tech conferences.” (The CFP form gives you space to add additional comments, like, “As a 90-year-old Twitter API expert, I bring a depth of experience many other speakers may lack.”)

    We’re always talking about better ways to communicate this stuff. Feel free to make suggestions. Thanks.

  • suzanne

    Great post… thanks.