So you want to start conference speaking? Choose confs to apply to

4 min readPublished January 10, 2020Updated May 02, 2022

This is the sixth post in a series on getting started as a conference speaker. This post focuses on choosing which open CFPs to apply to. Links to other posts in the series can be found at the end of this post.

Now that you’ve found a list of conferences with open applications, how do you pick which ones to submit to?

I consider the following when choosing conferences

1. Who is the audience?

Is this a polyglot conference? Or is it targeted towards technologists using a specific tech stack or language? Is the audience mostly developers? Architects? Product managers? Data scientists? Testers? Other roles? Is the conference primarily in a spoken language you feel comfortable speaking?

Depending on the topic of the talk I’m proposing, I may want to find conferences targeting more people in leadership roles vs active hands-on-keyboard roles. If you are thinking about talking about software testing, you may want to focus on code-heavy and testing-heavy conferences.

2. What is the format?

Is this a one-day or multi-day conference? Is it a single-track or multi-track? How many attendees are expected? How long are the session spots?

Depending on your personal constraints, you may not be able to comfortably travel to multi-day conferences or you may want to commit to longer conferences so you can see more content on a single trip.

I prefer multi-track conferences to single-track conferences because then I know my audience chose to attend my session. Other speakers I know prefer single-tracks so they get their content in front of 100% of the attendees.

Consider how large your potential audience could be. If it’s a multi-track conference, is it 1000 people split over 3 tracks or 8? That could be the difference between 300 people or 100 people in your talk.

And finally, how long are the sessions? Are they an hour or 30 minutes? Do they give you the choice to submit a 15-minute lightning talk, a 45-minute session, or a 4-hour workshop? You want to make sure the content you’re ready to prepare fits the organizers' expectations.

3. What is the topic or theme?

Often, a conference may have a topic or theme for the year that they are focusing on. Does your content fit that theme? Can you easily make it fit?

4. Do the conference’s values match yours?

Consider all the time and energy you’re putting into speaking and making the conference a success. You want to make sure that you are giving that time to a conference that matches your values. Speaking at a conference implicitly and explicitly demonstrates that you support their work and their views.

Things to consider when trying to evaluate a conference’s values include

  • Code of conduct
  • Demonstrated inclusion and diversity practices
  • Past speakers they’ve invited
  • How the conference has handled constructive feedback from past attendees and speakers
  • Accessibility options provided by the conference
  • How they accommodate attendees with different needs
  • Ticket costs and conference finances
  • Past and current sponsors

5. What expenses are covered by the conference or your employer and what will need to come out of your pocket?

Finally, you have to make sure to consider your financial obligation of speaking at a conference. Will the conference cover your travel and accommodation costs? If not, does your employer cover them? If you are self-employed, does the ROI on your investment make sense for you? Do you have high confidence that this speaking opportunity will help you market and gain new business? If you want to do it for the pure enjoyment of sharing ideas with your community, can you reasonably afford the financial responsibility?

There is a lot to consider when deciding if a conference is a good fit for you and your content, but once you have a list of conferences that you want to apply to, apply to all of them! And submit multiple proposals to each to increase your odds of acceptance.

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