Over the last few years I've spent a lot of time talking with people and organizations about how they can become more engaged in the tech communities they're a part of, from local to regional and up through global efforts. For companies, one of the easiest ways to do that is by sponsoring events like conferences or meetups. By doing that, a company gets a chance to put their name out there, chat with people who run in the same circles, and help the event happen.
For individuals, one of my go-to ways of encouraging engagement is to share a presentation at an event in your community. The conversation often starts like this:
me: Have you thought about giving a talk at your local user group?
them: Ehh, I don't really have anything interesting to talk about.
I don't think that's accurate, and it usually only takes a few minutes of talking about someone's background, what they do for work, and what they're building, in order to unveil something interesting. Going beyond that, a common misconception is that their newfound interesting topic isn't at a level of difficulty that'll be valuable to share on stage.
Python conferences, and likely those on other technologies, need schedules of talks that cross several axes of diversity, from topics of usage to audience level and so many others. Having all expert-level talks only benefits people who are already experts and those intermediate users who are on the cusp of leveling up. Instead, a distribution of talks across those axes is the ideal situation, acting as a pipeline for people at each level to grow into the next one.
Once that clicks, writing a compelling proposal is the next hurdle, and depending on where the presentation will be given, it can take a good bit of work. Meetup talk proposals are often a paragraph description on a mailing list, but conference proposals usually involve more detailed fields.
They're also more competitive. For 2015, PyCon received 540 talk proposals for 95 available talk slots, giving it under a 20% acceptance rate. For 2014, PyOhio -- a conference around 15% the size of PyCon in terms of attendees -- received 90 proposals for 34 talk slots, at nearly a 40% acceptance rate. Meetups are typically even more favorable due to their increased frequency. If there's no room this month, you're probably first in line next month.
I've had a bunch of proposals accepted at conferences over the last few years and have reviewed somewhere over 1,000 PyCon proposals, and I recently struggled with the idea that I didn't have anything interesting to propose for conferences. After thinking through the process I've helped others navigate, I thought it would be fun to make the process itself a talk, so that's what I'm doing for PyOhio.
"From idea to presentation: how to speak at a conference" is my proposal to PyOhio 2015, and it's on Github. I don't really like the title, and the proposal could use some fine tuning, but submitting early and getting feedback is one of the great things about conferences in this community. The proposal isn't due until May 15, so there's still some time to fix it up. It's currently submitted as a 40 minute slot, but I'm going to do some more detailed sketching to see if it might be better in a 20 minute slot. Hopefully it works.