How to write a proposal for a (test) conference

In this post I’ll talk about how to write a proposal for a conference. I love attending conferences. I also enjoy speaking at them a lot. So I hope this will help some people out there who would like to try out speaking or organizing a workshop at a conference.

1. Find a conference

First you need a conference to go to (!). It can be a little hard to track down all the conferences out there. I rely on Google a lot.

It’s up to you to decide if you want to use money on the conference. Some conferences are too small to offer any compensation, but most larger ones will cover e.g. traveling expenses, food and hotel. Keep in mind that you are worth a lot, and shouldn’t settle for working for free for larger conferences.

Here’s a nifty PayToSpeak overview of different test-related conferences, and whether they cover your expenses or not.

2. Find a theme

You need to know exactly what you want to share with the other people at the conference. So decide on your theme before you start writing the proposal.

Usually the different conferences are about some specific area in e.g. IT or testing, so you can get a good feel about what themes you can talk about by looking at the conference’s theme area.

write a proposal

3. Write a proposal

When you’ve found an interesting conference, you need to work out a proposal and send it to the conference during its “call for paper” period. It’s usually listed at the conference’s website.

Your goal when writing your proposal is to make it perfectly clear to the organizers and the attendees exactly what you are going to talk about and teach people at the conference.

I usually start working from a template, and then end up changing a lot of things. But it’s a good way to get started.

A proposal template:

If you want to see the template I work from when I make proposals, you can download it here

4. Review, review, review

This part is scary as heck. After putting all that effort into making your proposal, it’s time to let someone else look at it. 

Every time I write a proposal, and abstract or an article, I reach a point where I think that reviewing isn’t necessary. Usually because I don’t bother looking at the text anymore. Do not give in to the temptation! I always end up being extremely grateful that I asked for a review.

Ask 3-4 people you know to read through your proposal. Find people who knows about the theme you are going to talk about, and some who doesn’t. It’s valuable to see if people outside of your area know what you want to conceive through your proposal. Chances are that the organizers and the attendees do not wok with exactly the same as you.

Ask for negative feedback only

Let your reviewers know that they are not allowed to say anything positive – at all. Ask them to answer questions such as:

  • What confuses you?
  • What is unnecessary?
  • What is bad or wrong about this (in their opinion)?

I like to do this because I feel prepared for whatever people tell me. I know that when I read their comments, I won’t find any praise. That forces me to be constructive about the feedback and take it for what it is – feedback, and not personal critique.

Consider their review, and adjust your proposal. Repeat this step if you make several changes.

Ask them what they'd like to hear more about

Ask your reviewers about where the interesting areas of your proposal are.

  • What’s interesting about this?
  • What questions do you have when reading this?
  • Why is this important? 

This way, you get an idea of what your audience would want to hear more about. And voila, you know what to pay attention to when delivering your talk.

5. Submit your proposal

And await the judgement of the omnipresent organizers.

If you are accepted, rejoice!

Don’t feel sad if your proposal isn’t accepted. Sometimes it’s because there are other proposals whose content fit the conference better, or makes for a more diverse conference. Other times it’s because there’s a bunch of great proposals, and the organizers can’t choose them all.

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