How to write a CFP?
August 27, 2019
This is the technique I use when writing a response to a Call For Papers (CFP). If you don’t know what a CFP is, these are requests from conferences for speakers to submit talk ideas, if they like your call for paper you get to speak at their conference.
At the start of my speaking career, by using this technique, I had close to 33% acceptance rate. The technique worked for me, it works for the speakers I now mentor, it can work for you.
A CFP submission as a min has two parts a Title and an Abstract, I always start with the abstract with the hope that a title will naturally come later (it never does).
Now I didn’t invent this technique, I think I either copied it outright or frankensteined some advice I received, I just can’t remember 😬 so if you recognise the source(s) please let me know @jawache, and I’ll credit the original author(s).
You’ll notice my abstracts are usually short, some conferences give you 300 words to write an abstract, some only give you 300 characters, I’ve never been rejected because my abstract was too short. People are busy, life is short, let’s all get to the point and move on.
Each on my CFP abstracts usually has 4 sections like the below:
Hook - One sentence, grabs attentions, shocking, challenging, don’t be afraid to say anything.
Challenge - Make them a challenge, maybe to do something they don’t think you can do, perhaps you are challenging them to think differently, combat them, be confrontational.
How - What type of talk is this going to be? A workshop? Talking? A live demo? How are you going to be achieving your challenge?
Benefits - What will they walk away knowing that they did not know before? Don’t just list things they will learn but what will they be able to do afterwards they could not do now.
Let’s check out some of my actual CFPs to see how this looks in practice:
How to hack a node app?
Thought hacking was hard? It’s not, it’s easy, and I’m going to show you how! In this episode of CSI X, we’ll investigate a series of hacking stories and break them down step-by-step to see exactly how they did it. By the end, you’ll walk away a little bit more scared and a lot more prepared with some great practices you can apply immediately to your own applications.
I would replace X with the city the conference is being hosted in, a nice little bit of personalisation there!
Bot Of The United States
Trump’s tweets move markets. So what if you could create a bot that made stock trades based on those tweets? The Planet Money podcast did that in 2017, and you can find that bot on twitter as @botus. In this talk, I’ll show you how to create your very own BOTUS using Node, some easily available AI APIs, Reactive Programming using RxJS and Serverless.
Note in this one I did not add a Benefits section. It feels good without it, and I thought the benefits were visible, so I left it out.
How to speak good?
Everyone can talk, but not everyone can give a good speech. I’m going to make you a great speaker. From how to answer calls for papers to coping with the nervousness of being on stage you’re going to learn everything you need so that next time, it’s you standing here instead of me.
A catchy title is critical for a CFP to be selected, it captures attention that is perhaps frayed a little from reading 1000’s of submissions.
It’s just I wish I had a strategy for coming up with a catchy title like I do for the abstract. If that’s what you were expecting sorry to disappoint - if you come up with one, please let me know!
Checking my successful talk titles, they are usually:
- Easy to understand.
- Not stuffed with keywords.
- Maybe a little funny, but not too much.
- Gives at least a hint of what the talk is about.
I sometimes do A/B test my talk titles, I occasionally use a Twitter poll, I infrequently ask for advice. But I don’t always take it. It’s my talk, I birthed it, I get to name it whatever I want.
You can submit with one title, and then change to another - I’ve done that on more than one occasion it’s ok. Sometimes I’ll submit with something a bit cheeky and fun to capture the attention of the selection committee and then change to something a lot more pragmatic for an attendee, so they know what’s inside the talk at a glance. As long as you don’t change the content of the talk and speak to the organisers well before they publish the schedule, then they are usually completely fine with the change.
Don’t get discouraged, I’ve seen plenty of people fall into a depressive spiral by putting all their hopes into a CFP and not getting accepted.
If rejected you are entirely within your rights to ask for feedback, the selection committee sometimes gives some fantastic feedback which you can leverage on your next submission at another conference.
I’ve had the same talk win best-in-conference one conference and outright rejected at the CFP stage with some pretty negative feedback at another. So at the same time take all advice with a pinch of salt, trust yourself, If you believe this is a good talk, someone else out there will believe it too.