A Polymath’s Guide To…Submitting Speaking Proposals

There are 6 days left to submit a speaking proposal for Dreamforce 16. If you’re considering it, on the fence, not sure, I’m here to tell you to give it a shot. You have something to share. I promise.

Sit down, let me tell you a story.

Within 6 months of starting this job (the one that I’m saying goodbye to this week), I was a Marketo Certified Expert. And you know, I still didn’t feel like an expert.

Less than a year after that, Marketing Nation Summit put out a call for speakers. I had never done a speaking engagement that large. I wasn’t a Marketo Champion. I still didn’t feel like an expert. Maybe I just was feeling invincible, or more likely a little nihilistic – what does it matter if I’m accepted to speak or not? It won’t solve the world’s problems. *dramatic weeping*

I figured it would be a good practice for writing a proposal. I thought I might get some feedback about why my submission was passed over.

Instead, a few months later, I got an email saying “Hey! We’re super excited to have you speak at Summit!”

I was really excited, too. And then I was nervous. Now I had to actually, you know, create content and present. It wasn’t enough to feel kind of ready to share information, or to kind of feel like I knew what I was talking about. I had to present myself like an expert. I had to ensure that people weren’t wasting their time. No pressure.

Now, I’m going to let you in on a secret: these events want you to speak, and they want you to succeed. I had two contacts to help me prepare – one to make sure I had everything I needed, and one to help me ensure the content was accurate and helpful. We did dry-runs and presentation reviews, and they were available to answer any questions. I didn’t have to be an expert in everything because they were there to help me become one, at least long enough to impart some wisdom.

Moral of this story: there is no reason not to submit, if you feel even somewhat inclined to do so.

speaker

But how do I go about it?

  1. Think of a mistake you made, especially early on – some lesson you learned the hard way. OR think of something that your users or coworkers struggle with that you’re just really good at. Either option will likely be a popular or useful topic.
  2. Every day, navigate to the speaker submission page. Trust me. It’s weird, but it helps. Just a tab that sits there, reminding you to at least consider it.
  3. Determine if you want to present solo or with someone. If you want to present with someone, reach out to a few people you know or would like to get to know better, and ask them.
  4. Come up with a few titles – a funny one, a serious one, a straightforward one. Whatever you think of, write it down/type it up. You can settle on one before you submit.
  5. Write an abstract. It needs to be fairly short, and it needs to pack a punch. I’m a fan of extended metaphors, so I usually default accordingly.
  6. Ask people 100% unrelated to your job to critique them – could they reasonably understand what your session is about? If so, guaranteed someone even remotely associated with what you do will also understand it.
  7. Fill out the submission form. Don’t send it in yet – you’re nervous, I get it.
  8. Fill out the submission form again. Your confidence is building. The information is already there, right?
  9. If you didn’t press submit the second time, go ahead and fill out the form once more, and this time press that button.
  10. Congratulations! You just submitted an idea!

Now guess what? You’ll probably forget about it. It takes a while for event folks to pour over submissions and decide what makes the cut, and your life is going to continue on. You’ll have the same people complaining, the same folks asking questions, the same men and women inviting you out for a happy hour(I imagine you’re more social than I am – maybe not. Maybe, like me, you’ll just keep playing games.).

I’ve since had sessions rejected, too. And, yeah, it kind of sucks, but it’s really not that bad. It doesn’t mean you can’t go to the event, doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer. It also means you don’t have to miss any presentations to be there for yours. It means that you can go and have fun and not be pacing around your hotel room reciting the lines to a fake rap you wrote to wow the audience.

So what’s stopping you, really? Only you are.