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Re: When it comes to submitting talks, how many is too many?

September 12th, 2016

I read this interesting post by Cal Evans about submitting conference proposals. He makes some very valid points, but I'd like to add my own experience as an organizer, so that when you submit, you have multiple perspectives. Here are my replies to some of the points made.

Filter your list to only include talks that match the list they gave. If it’s not on their list, don’t submit it.

Although many conferences may stay strictly within their topics, not all conferences do. At ConFoo, we actually like it when people submit topics that were not explicitly mentioned. Without people taking the chance, we would have possibly not added the Machine Learning, Node.js, DevOps, Accessibility and Career tracks. We organizers don't know everything, so teach us!

Filter your list down to a maximum of four talks.

As an organizer, I prefer when speakers submit five or six talks. This is because we need two, but here's where it gets tricky.

Say you already decided on one of the talks, so now you need a second. But then the second talk is too similar to the first, so we can't pick both. The third talk is not particularly interesting, so that's gone. The fourth talk is too similar to a talk by another speaker, but the other talk has a much better abstract, so we lost another.

The person is from Dubai and there's no way that we could justify such an expensive flight for just one talk. So here we are with a great speaker, a great proposal and three other proposals to pick from, but we still can't make it and have to unfortunately decline.

Submit your best idea first.

That is definitely a good idea, however, not all call for papers systems are built the same. They use different sorting algorithms, so your best talk might not appear on top. Maybe the organizers won't even understand that signalling. An additional way to say which one is your strongest talk is to mention it in the remarks when you submit.

New vs old.

This one does not directly relate to the original post, but I needed to say it because I know that our policy of this differs with other conferences. Many conferences will ask for new and original topics. We like that too, but we don't turn down a good topic just because it has been repeated many times.

There are always newcomers to the industry and they still need to be taught the basics, no matter how often veterans have heard it. This is why we balance new and old, beginner and advanced, technical and non-technical.


I know how hard it is to go through so many talks. At ConFoo, we receive close to 1000 proposals. That's hundreds of hours of reading and researching. That's why we ask for people in the community for help and that's why I built a kickass CFP collaboration tool for our advisors.

I don't mean to tell other conferences what to do. However, speakers should always bear in mind that conferences operate differently. Perhaps organizers can create a comprehensive guideline specific to their event.

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