The season of Oracle User group acceptances is close at hand, with paper acceptances being sent for both the ODTUG KScope13 Conference and IOUG/OAUG/Quest COLLABORATE 13 coming within the next few weeks. This year, I have the privilege of being on the planning committees for both conferences, which to this point has mostly consisted of reading a lot of abstracts submitted for sessions.
If you’re new to technology user group conferences, there is something of a community effort behind putting together a conference – particularly one that involves a bigger investment like these two international conferences. There are basically two phases to planning a conference:
- Deciding the content and presenters that are going to be on stage.
- Selling registrations and sponsorships to individuals and companies that might want to come see the people on the stage.
Along with all of this are activities that technology companies (like Oracle) want to do to market to their best customers and a second market of companies (partners, affiliates and service providers) that want to use the user group conferences to market their own services and specialties.
In the middle of all of this comes you – the person who wants to give a presentation for any number of reasons; but in essence, you want to be part of the show that people come to see. Before you can get on stage, however, you need to audition – that’s what submitting abstracts and biographies to conference committees is all about. That abstract submission is in essence your first turn on stage – where the conference committees decide whether or not to make you part of the show.
Something to keep in mind: Program committees have the responsibility of choosing a handful of abstracts out of a multitude of submissions. Limited time, space and budget means that many very good abstracts are often left out of the program. With that in mind, I’d like to offer a few tips for improving your abstracts (and hopefully your chances of being selected).
Tips for Better Abstract Submissions:
This list certainly isn’t exhaustive, but it does reflect some of the things I’ve noted over the last few weeks (and a few hundred abstract submissions to read). I offer these in the hope that you find them useful.
Choose A Topic That Can Appeal to a Broad Audience
A good topic will appeal to a larger audience. While there are many topics that are technically very interesting, they may have a limited audience in a larger user group conference. While five people might be very excited to hear about a certain specific technique, five people will leave the rest of the room largely empty.
Additional Hint: if you feel a topic may have a limited audience, it might be a good idea to write a whitepaper, a journal submission or even a blog post about the topic. Feedback and recognition for a publication will also boost your profile in the conference selection process.
Know What You’re Going To Say
Following on to some sage advice from Richard Feynman, make sure you know more or less what you are going to say in your presentation. Well-formed ideas are demonstrated with concise, yet detailed, abstracts and well-formed presentation outlines. While there is still quite a bit of work to be done after acceptance, don’t disregard the amount of time it takes to put together a good abstract submisssion.
Knowing what to say also includes having some experience with your chosen topic. While it’s tempting to submit abstracts about a new technology that may not be public (or in limited release), it’s nearly impossible to write a compelling abstract about it unless you’re part of a prerelease program or the product team itself.
You’ll also want to take care to fully think through what you’ll want to say in your abstract; good abstracts give the selection committees a firm idea of what you’ll do to fill out 40 minutes worth of speaking. Abstracts that are only a handful of sentences (or less) don’t communicate effectively what your 40 minutes will be about.
Submit a “Back to Basics” Topic
While putting together a presentation about advanced techniques with a technology can be rather fun, large numbers of people attend conferences to get a jump start on unfamiliar technologies. Basic “hands-on” sessions, instruction or demonstrations can often be compelling selections for introductory tracks. The competition for some of these topics (especially for ‘hot’ technologies) can be greater, but good abstracts for basic sessions often float to the top.
Submit A Quick Tip
While most conferences don’t offer full compensation for a shorter “quick tip” submission, there are often shortages of submissions for these shorter sessions to fill in the ‘odd moments’ of a conference. If you’re submitting a second session, or perhaps just looking to defray registration costs, the selection critera (and competition) is often less for quick tip sessions.
Build Up Your Resume
While the user group conferences are the “main stage”, having a resume of presenting similar topics at smaller user group meetings, other conferences or anything that can demonstrate your communications skills is a positive during conference selection processes. (Even links to YouTube channels!)
Be a Buyer, Not A Seller
Conference committees at user groups also look to select submissions where a speaker is going to share a bit of knowledge or experience in working with a product – not a session where a speaker is aiming to sell a product. (Conferences are typically also happy to provide sellers space and marketing – for a fee.)
Sessions that talk about specific experiences or case studies often float to the top and often draw larger audiences at the conference itself.
Summary: Submitting A Winning Presentation
Abstract submission really is an audition for a bigger stage. Your chances for being selected for the bigger stage is greater if you have a good (and practiced!) act, and if your act understands the audience that will be at the conference.