51 Questions About Your Conference Session Submission

Jeremiah and I presenting in Atlanta
Jeremiah and I presenting in Atlanta

Whether you’re just getting started writing a presentation abstract, or whether you want to double-check it, or whether you want to understand why your abstract wasn’t picked, it’s always the right time to step back and ask some big picture questions about your conference submission.

The blessing and the curse of the active database community is that there’s so many people who want to help others – but of course this makes it harder to get your place up on the stage. It’s only going to get worse/better as more people continue to discover the community.

Here are 51 questions you need to ask yourself about your abstract, your material, and your delivery.

  1. What pain is bringing the attendee to this session?
  2. How are they going to relieve that pain when they get back to the office?
  3. What does the attendee know already coming in?
  4. Who should not attend this session?
  5. Reading your abstract, are the answers to the above four questions crystal clear?
  6. What did you learn from Adam Machanic’s post Capturing Attention?
  7. Did your abstract take one thing off before it left the house?
  8. If you search the web for your abstract title, what comes up?
  9. Who else do you expect will submit on a similar topic?
  10. How will you show your own personality and expertise in the abstract?
  11. Of ProBlogger’s 52 Types of Blog Posts, which one matches your planned sessions?
  12. What other types of sessions from that list could you use to surprise and delight attendees?
  13. Are you teaching why or how?
  14. How would a handout make it easier for attendees to learn your lessons?
  15. What visualization would bring your session to life?
  16. Could you contract out a local design student or company to build it for you?
  17. Are you presenting to teach or to impress?
  18. Have you gotten feedback on your abstract from a proven speaker you trust?
  19. If a teacher graded your abstract, would you get an A?
  20. On that 24-point scale, what would it take to succeed at a national conference?
  21. What topics are you going to avoid entirely in order to save time?
  22. How often have you rehearsed this presentation before giving it to a local user group?
  23. Have you given this presentation before at local user groups and SQLSaturdays?
  24. Did you record the session (either video or audio)?
  25. Did you watch the recording to see where you can improve the material and your delivery?
  26. What questions did the attendees ask at those sessions?
  27. What feedback did the attendees give at the user group or SQLSaturday?
  28. How will you use that feedback to improve your session?
  29. If you gave attendees a test at the end of your session, what questions would be on it?
  30. If your session was a movie, what genre would it be?
  31. What other movies would be sitting next to it in the store?
  32. Who would play the leading role?
  33. What are three words you want attendees to use to describe your session?
  34. How do your abstract, material, and delivery inspire those three words?
  35. Have you clearly attributed ownership to the code and pictures in your session?
  36. If nobody asks any questions at all, will you still be able to fill the time slot?
  37. If you get many questions, which slides/sections can you skip without losing meaning?
  38. Where will you post all of the resources for your session?
  39. If people have a question while reading those resources, how will they contact you?
  40. If this session was a module in an all-day training class, what would the other modules be?
  41. What’s the worst thing that could happen in your session?
  42. How will you recover if that thing happens?
  43. Can you form an instant community of your attendees using a Twitter hash tag or chat room?
  44. What would your session look like with no demos whatsoever?
  45. What would your session look like as 100% demos and no slides?
  46. If you started the session with a question, what would that question be?
  47. What’s the easiest, simplest way for the attendee to learn the lessons?
  48. Could you get the presentation’s learning lessons across with a blog post or series?
  49. When you ask people why they linked to your post, what do they say they found compelling?
  50. What questions did readers ask in the comments?
  51. What’s stopping you from writing that blog post right now to gauge reader interest?

No, really. What’s stopping you? Don’t think for one moment that attendees will skip your session because they’ve read your work. It’s the exact opposite: readers come to your session because they like your work. Start writing your blog posts right now to find out what works and what doesn’t.

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11 Comments. Leave new

  • Alin Selicean
    May 19, 2013 8:41 am

    Hi Brent

    Great motivational article. Thanks for all your work in helping others. I must say that I have a short list of blogs I’m watching / reading constantly and yours is one of them.


    • Thanks! The best thing I can do is keep empowering more people to help the community, and these are some of my favorite posts to write. Have a good week!

  • Excellent post. This should be every seasoned or aspiring speaker’s golden checklist.

  • Great list of questions to help us raise our game 😉

  • This is really awesome! thanks for the advice.

  • One question I didn’t initially see, but later found at #18, is super important

    “Have you gotten feedback on your abstract from a proven speaker you trust?”

    This is crucial if you’re new to the process. And make sure the feedback is not coming from the sort of person who says “It’s fine” to most every question. You want someone who’ll help you hone your content into as refined an abstract & session as possible.

    Great post, Brent!

    • Thanks, sir!

      Yep, totally agreed. If someone says, “This looks great! Don’t change anything,” then ask someone else. If you get three positive inputs in a row, either it’s a great abstract, or you need more honest friends. 😉

  • Pieter Vanhove
    May 21, 2013 1:19 pm

    Nice list of questions! Interesting stuff. Indeed, you must have a good abstract to get the attention, however, I’m convinced that “MVP”, “MCM” or “Microsoft” next to your name will help to get selected.

    • Pieter – well, a few thoughts there.

      MVP means that you’ve been awarded a recognition by Microsoft for community contributions. It’s often the case that people who do a lot of speaking end up being designated as MVPs, and those same people have a lot of experience in rehearsing presentations and following checklists like this.

      MCM definitely doesn’t get you a shortcut into presentation sessions – MCM is a technical certification (unlike the MVP). Technical excellence is no guarantee of session quality, and indeed, most of the MCMs I know who submitted this year didn’t get accepted.

      Microsoft speakers have a different selection process. They’re given a certain number of slots by PASS. They don’t compete with community members.

  • Top notch, Sir Ozar. Thanks for the post!

  • Very useful post. FYI, #20 has gone away. A replacement might be https://web.archive.org/web/20120120032742/http://www.ncsu.edu/midlink/rub.pres.html


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