How to get ideas for conference talks and get them accepted

I recently attended DevOps Days Austin (which was fantastic and I highly recommend it) and gave an ignite talk there. A recurring activity in DevOpsDays conferences is something called open table or open space, where anyone from the conference can come up to some kind of whiteboard, wall of sticky notes, spreadsheet, etc. and write down topic ideas they would like to talk about in a group for the next hour or so. After a bit of time, people then vote on which topics interest them, and a few winning ones are then chosen for each time slot, and people can wander around to whichever ones they like.

One of the open table topics was exactly the topic of this post – how to come up with ideas for talks, how to get them accepted, how to present, etc.; that general topic. I was mostly a listener in this group, and I took a lot of notes during it. I’ve found these helpful for myself, so hopefully others will find them helpful, as well:

  • Think of conversations you’ve had with your colleagues. Those conversations are conference talks
  • A genuine speaker is way better than an experienced speaker
  • Send abstracts out to as many places as possible
  • People want to hear from somebody who is passionate about their subject and enjoy it
  • At least for DevOpsDays Austin, your chances of a normal presentation getting accepted was 10%, while for an ignite talk it was 90% (if I’m remembering those numbers correctly). Ignite talks are difficult to write and perform, and are done in front of the whole conference, but less people want to do them, so you probably have a better chance of getting accepted with ignite talks
  • Talks about what you do outside of work and adapt that to your work. An example someone gave was that he had given a talk called something along the lines of What DevOps Taught Me About Being a Father, since he had 5 daughters. Ultimately, the purpose of the talk is probably going to be industry-related and maybe tailored at least somewhat for the conference, but this makes your talk more unique, genuine, and attention-grabbing
  • Talk about 1) what you did wrong or 2) your successes and the failures that led to them
  • Find out what the conversations are in your space/industry and adapt your talks around those. For instance, right now, that might be AI, or it might be something more specific to the conference’s industry/audience
  • If you are pitching a product/service, which you should be super sure the conference allows, solve a problem and demonstrate it through the product/service

 

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