Sitecore Symposium 2018 has opened its call for papers and set the deadline for May 20. As someone who has submitted proposals for this conference four years in a row and spoken at the event twice, I know how challenging it can be to pick a topic and prepare a submission that stands out.
So, after some fine-tuning, I developed a process that helps make responding to speaking submissions feel much less intimidating. If you are planning on submitting a proposal for Symposium or any other conference, following this process will help you feel confident, prepared, and excited while you’re picking a topic and preparing your submission.
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Picking a Topic
Picking a topic to present on can be a very daunting task, which ultimately causes a lot of people to not submit at all. There are several great resources out there with advice on figuring out your topic (like this and this) that have helped me solidify my process for picking a topic.
Start With Your Passions
This is the starting point for me every time, and in my opinion, the most important thing to take into account. If you are not passionate about your topic, not only will it be harder to draft your actual presentation, it will also show during your talk. When you are truly passionate about something, you more often than not have the problem of trimming down a presentation rather than coming up with material. At the end of the day, people have chosen (and potentially paid) to attend your session, and it is your responsibility to deliver a quality session.
When you are truly passionate about something, you more often than not have the problem of trimming down a presentation rather than coming up with material.
How do you know what you’re passionate about? This might seem like a silly question to some, but it’s something I struggled with for a long time. Here are some of the questions I asked myself to narrow it down:
- What’s something that, when asked, you have strong feelings on?
- Are you a perfectionist when it comes to a particular area?
- Do you find yourself continually choosing to spend extra project time on something particular?
- You’re asked to review someone’s Sitecore solution—what are the first things you want to examine?
For me personally, all of these questions guided me towards my passion of content management experience and best practices. Anyone on my team will tell you that I get extra excited whenever I get to talk about things like optimizing the experience editor or Helix. Every project I’m on, I will go out of my way to make sure those two things are perfect.
What is Sitecore Looking For?
Once you have determined what topics you’re passionate about, you should see how well those ladder up to what the conference is interested in. The Symposium organizers do a great job of listing out the topics they are looking for every year. They are pretty specific, so you can eliminate a lot of the guesswork. I’ve found the better you can align your topic to something Sitecore is looking for, the better chance you will stand of being selected.
I prefer to cross reference what Symposium is looking for after I’ve come up with what I’m passionate about. I find that if I don’t, I’ll start boxing myself into specific topics rather than putting a unique flavor on something I’m passionate about to fit what the conference is seeking.
The better you can align your topic to something Sitecore is looking for, the better chance you will stand of being selected.
Preparing your Sitecore Symposium Submission
Now that you have a topic you’re passionate about that also aligns with what that the conference organizers are looking for, you can begin to craft your submission. This is where the real work comes in and where you will spend the majority of your time. Before I even look at the submission questions, I start with coming up with my main point.
Determine your main point
If your audience only comes away with one thing from your presentation, what do you want that one thing to be? This is your main point. It is your guiding light for preparing the rest of your abstract and future presentation. Everything you do from this point on—whether it’s preparing an outline, answering submission questions, or writing your actual presentation—should serve to reinforce this point.
As you’re preparing, it can be easy to go off track. Your content can start going in a different direction than originally planned or you might be debating whether or not to talk about a specific subject. The beauty of determining your main point up front is you can frequently ask yourself, “Does this content, solution, or question relate back to my main point?” as an objective way to help you decide what to include.
Draft your outline
This is my final step before beginning to answer the submission questions. I don’t go into a great amount of detail, but I will plot out some of the things that I plan on hitting during the presentation, along with materials I want to reference later on. Since you are putting an outline together beforehand, you will be set up to have a much more concise and organized set of answers for your Sitecore Symposium submission. For example, when it comes time to write the description of your session, you will have already spent time thinking on what to include so it will be much easier to write—not to mention that upon selection you will have given yourself a head start on the presentation. More often than not, my outline becomes my master set of notes that I use to rehearse my talk.
By putting together an outline beforehand, you will be set up to have a much more concise and organized set of answers for your Sitecore Symposium submission.
Respond to the questions
By now, you have put a fair amount of work into your Sitecore Symposium submission before answering a single question. You started by figuring out what you were truly passionate about to set yourself up for an equally passionate presentation down the road. You took what you were passionate about and figured out how it could line up with what the conference is looking for so you stand a better chance of being selected. From there, you drafted a rough outline of what your presentation would entail that was informed by your main point. All the pieces are now in place to make answering the submission questions both faster and better.
From here, my advice would be to take your time and put the same amount of effort into responding to the questions as you did preparing. Review your answers multiple times. Have your marketing team, colleagues, and/or friends read through what you have and give you feedback. As you are responding, make sure to remember your main point! This process for me usually lasts a few days, so I start early to give myself plenty of time.
I hope that you will find that going through this process improves the overall quality of your Sitecore Symposium submission and ultimately gives you a head start on your eventual presentation. Have questions? Want feedback? Send me an email or message me in the Sitecore Community Slack. Best of luck and I hope to see you in Orlando for Symposium 2018!