Like A Girl

Pushing the conversation on gender equality.

Code Like A Girl

On conference proposal rejections

Speaking at Write The Docs North America 2016. Photo by Aaron B. Hockley.

Don’t be discouraged — it happens to everyone.

In 2016, I spoke at 17 conferences across the US, Canada, and Europe.

It was the first year I’ve had any sort of success with conference proposals — a combination of a few language-agnostic talks that I could submit to a wide variety of conferences and suddenly getting a bit of recognition.

To an outsider, it looks like I suddenly hit huge success and was accepted or invited to speak at any conference I wanted to.

I assure you, I was rejected from far more conferences than I spoke at.

Thank you for submitting your paper to speaker at NgCruise. We were overwhelmed by the great talks! Unfortunately we were not able to accept your talk due to the number of submissions, but we hope you can join us regardless.

Some backstory: Late 2015, I decided to go full throttle with conference speaking. I also accepted a developer evangelist job with a manager who encouraged me to take any speaking opportunity I could.

Thank you for submitting this proposal to O’Reilly Design Conference 2017:

* Web Design for Non-Designers

The response to our Call for Proposals was overwhelming, and we received far more than we can possibly accommodate in the program.

We had intense competition for speaking slots, and have had to turn away many strong proposals. We take this as an exciting signal of the demand for Design Conf, but it means we had some hard decisions to make in compiling the program.

Since I had the time available and an encouraging job, I submitted to every conference I could, either through PaperCall, Technically Speaking, the developer evangelist Slack I’m on, following conference Twitter accounts, women-in-tech mailing lists, and friends.

I love speaking at conferences — being on stage, teaching, answering questions after, meeting other conference speakers and attendees, everything. It’s a bit of a social hack for me — I have social anxiety that manifests in situations where there are a lot of people I don’t know, and if I’m a speaker, it’s more likely that folks will come to me (so I don’t have to work up the courage to speak to others.)

We are sorry to inform you that your talk, Marketing for Developers, wasn’t selected for Nodevember 2016.

We had a lot of great submissions to our CFP, including yours, and the decision making process was not easy.

Hopefully we will still you see at Nodevember 2016.

While I was accepted to speak at 17 conferences in 2016, I was rejected from at least 5x that amount.

We really, really thank you for your participation in the Call for Proposal for Full Stack Toronto Conference 2016!

We’re sorry to tell you, that although your topic was great, it didn’t get accepted to our event this year. It wasn’t an easy decision.

I still get discouraged when an email (or five at once, for all five of my submissions) are rejected from a conference that I thought I’d be a really great fit for. The emails scattered through this post are from a very quick search of my inbox for “conference” “we thank you” and “but.”

First things first: thank you. We’ve been amazed at not just the quantity but also the quality of talk submissions for RubyConf AU 2016–154 superb proposals — and we appreciate the time and effort put in to share these fantastic ideas with us.

It’s been really tough to finalise our program — we’ve had to turn down so many fantastic proposals, and sadly that includes your submission “Design for Non-Designers”.

I get rejected from conferences all the time, but through persistence and a lot of conference proposals, I get lucky enough to speak at a ridiculous amount of conferences a year. I wanted to write this post to reassure others that conference rejections are normal, even to those who look like the most lucky and prolific speakers.

Some general tips to any aspiring conference speaker:

  • You can (and encouraged to) submit a conference talk to multiple conferences. The more practice you have on a certain talk, the better it’ll get. It’s reassuring to conference organizers.
  • Keep your conference ideas, descriptions, and abstracts in a document you can refer to for submitting on new call for proposals (CFPs.) Mine has every talk I’ve ever submitted on a CFP, including quite a few that have never been accepted but I keep updating and trying because I think they’ll be really great, once they’re finally accepted somewhere. When a conference CFP opens, I can scan for every talk that would fit that conference and copy/paste it into the CFP form. If I create a new talk for that conference, I copy it into my doc so I can use it for future conferences.
  • Don’t limit yourself to just one CFP submission. If you can send in more than one high-quality proposal to a conference CFP, do it! Don’t flood the CFP with low-quality talks, but also don’t feel artificially limited to just one submission.
  • You might get 10x conference rejections for every conference approval. Keep trying. It will get better.
  • Beef up your resume by speaking at smaller, local conferences and meetups. Plus it’s more likely that you’ll be accepted if the pool of conference submissions is smaller.

We’re writing to let you know that your talk proposal “The New Beginner” was unfortunately not selected for the conference 🙁 (due to a limitation of our emailing system, if you’ve sent more than one proposal, it means none of your proposals were accepted) This year, we received more than 100 proposals of a very high quality and narrowing it down to 20 or so has been a really hard task.

Don’t be discouraged if you’re rejected — keep, keep, keep trying. Success will happen before you know it.

Hi Tracy Osborn, we are very happy to announce that your talk “Marketing for Developers” has been approved for DjangoCon Europe 2017, yay!

Thanks everyone! Happy to answer any and all questions regarding conference speaking, feel free to DM me on Twitter here.