I’ve been part of the PyCon UK organisers team for several years. My job in that team is to look after the programme - the call for proposals, reviewing the submissions and fitting those we accept into the schedule.
There are many guides online to writing a successful proposal. We normally have one ourselves on the conference website:
Here’s another from Hannah Hazi whose 2022 proposal was selected as a keynote (which we’ll come back to again in a moment):
I want to come at this from a slightly different angle. Rather than offering some guidance on how to write a proposal, I thought I’d look back at the proposals that have stood out and see if I could spot any patterns. What is it that consistently makes our review team give out their highest scores?
I’ll be using several examples from PyCon UK 2022. This was our first conference after COVID-19 and competition for places was fierce. The conference was scaled down compared to previous years (we had 22 talk slots compared with 79 in 2019) yet the number of proposals was higher (167 compared with 147 in 2019). To get on to our stage and give a talk in 2022, the proposal had to be even better than usual.
Here’s what I found…
We say it on our own guidelines and it’s definitely true. If you can weave a story into what you write, we’ll remember it. If it’s a personal story, even better.
Here’s a talk from Scott Irwin that told us he’d started as a web developer novice and how he’d used a particular tool to learn and get better:
We do seem to like a metaphor. They stick in the mind and the proposal immediately stands out.
The master of the metaphorical talk is probably Daniele Procida. Here’s his 2022 talk:
But, coming back to Hannah, the metaphor is what really sold her 2022 proposal to the reviewers and led to her delivering our opening keynote that year:
If you can offer to tell our audience about a world they didn’t even know existed, you’ll have our reviewers hooked. They’ll want to know more and, to do that, they’ll score the proposal highly.
I’m going to use a lightning talk as an example here. For those, you still have to submit a written proposal - you just use an index card and a bucket - and those are reviewed and selected.
Here’s a great example of a talk that made it on to the stage by offering to show us a world we knew nothing about:
Of course, one way to boost your proposal’s chances is for the reviewers to remember talks you’ve given previously and want to hear more from you - but that’s the subject of a whole new post …