How I wrote my conference session proposal

Having never submitted anything to conference before this year, I was more than a little bit lost when it came to knowing where to start. I thought I would share how I went from idea to proposal in an attempt to encourage people to give it a go. You never know what might come of it.

This post does come with the disclaimer that this is the first and only proposal I’ve ever written/had accepted, and I don’t claim to be an expert in proposal writing in any way. Also I’m sharing the details of my submission so that I can help others write their own. Please don’t take advantage and use my submission as your own.

I will be showing the steps that I went through to create my bird of a feather session “What if we could alter the perception of the “Software Developer”?” that I did at this years Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

  • Know your conference.
    • I had attended GHC the previous year and so had a good feeling of the type of content and topics that fit in well, the energy and personality of the conference, and kind of people that attend.
    • I spent a lot of time going through the survey findings from the previous year to see which sessions worked well and which didn’t. Also paid particular attention to the ideas that people wanted to see for this year.
    • Figure out what formats there are for the sessions. For example my talk worked great as a Birds of Feather, but probably would’ve been hard to sell for a main session. Also I felt it was an easier way to get a foot in the door for someone who has never spoken before.
    • Most conferences have a theme. Make sure your submission fits!
  • Find out when to submit and how.
    • Know how long you have. This years Request for Participation closed 8 months before the actual conference.
    • There are often different formats of submissions for the different kinds of sessions.
  • Find a topic you are passionate about
    • You won’t sell anyone if your passion for the topic doesn’t shine through in the submission.

Alright, so I have something I want to talk about and I think I have something that will work for this conference, where do I start?!

  • Brainstorm.  A friend who’s talked at many conferences, tipped me off to the technique of creating a mind map as a starting point. I put the main topic in the center and then crammed all my ideas in around the edge. It was surprisingly easy once I got started. 
  • Use others as a sounding board. I formed a small group of women in my company who were all interested in submitting, and we used this weekly call as “safe” place to bounce around ideas. More on this in another post. We all pitched our ideas in a few sentences and gave each other feedback. This was mine:
  • Next step, merge the desired format of your proposal, your mind map, your pitch, and the feedback.
    • Part 2 – Write headers for each of the required sections.


(Working) What if we could change how women view what it’s like to be a developer in Industry

a brief description of the topic

a description of the expected audience

a description of the format of the BOF

and a summary of the qualifications of the session leader(s).

    • Create a paragraph overview of the key points.
    • Start filling in the details!
    • Get as much feedback as possible from different kinds of people. Try to also get people that know nothing about your topic, does it make sense? Can they understand what its about? Iterate through over and over again until you feel confident in your proposal. This is what I ended up with.
  • Submit and fingers crossed!

One of the great things about this submission process is that you get feedback from the people that reviewed your proposal. I’m not sure if this is normal or not. Mine was reviewed by three people, two who loved it and one not so much! I took this feedback into account when I create my actual session content.

I was honored to be picked to run my session at this years Grace Hopper and strongly encourage you to have a go next year!