With the PyCon 2015 Call for Proposals ending in 12 days (on September 15), a few people have been asking "what makes a good PyCon proposal?" We've written up some proposal advice in the past and gathered a bunch of proposal resources as well (including a sample proposal I wrote about putting a pug into space), but we still get questions on filling out the actual proposal form.
Speaking at PyCon, or any conference or meetup, is an awesome experience. With a conference the size of PyCon and with the amount of proposals that are received, competition is pretty intense. The following guidelines have been helpful to others, and I hope they'll be helpful to you. Keep in mind that I'm only one individual reviewer - these aren't PyCon's "official" guidelines.
If you want to follow along, create an account on the PyCon site and then enter your dashboard. From there, choose the "Submit a new proposal" button and then the type of proposal you want to submit. If you had an account last year, we carried them over to this new site.
A couple of words represent all of the work you put into this proposal; your slides, the rehearsals, and everything else about it. The title is your big shot to attract people, and it's also one of the few ways to find your presentation after you give it. Substance is much more valuable than flash here. It doesn't have to be dry like a patent application title, but shy away from memes.
PyCon has a limited number of 45 minute talk slots, and asking for one is merely a suggestion to the program committee chair who constructs the schedule. If you think you have a 45 minute talk, go ahead and select it, but be aware that it might not fit in the schedule and you may instead be offered a 30 minute slot.
Your description will end up both in our printed program and in the online schedule. It's limited to 400 characters, so it's a nice supplement to your title. If I bumped into you in the hallway and found out you were on the way to give this talk in two minutes, what would you tell me? Write that down and you're golden.
Since PyCon attracts a wide range of people across a broad range of skill sets, you're going to end up with some attendees who are learning your topic for the first time, some who know about it, some know it, and sometimes even the people who created it. Who do you really want to reach out to the most? Who do you want to hear questions from at the end?
Be as accurate as you can be. A lot of people come into PyCon looking for talks that will help them level up across the board, so you may get a beginner who is going to try and attend a bunch of intermediate talks and push themselves. If we're all fairly accurate, we can put information in that person's hands that is within reach to help them learn. That's why we do this whole thing in the first place.
What do you want people to get excited about? Maybe you started off your proposal by saying "hey, I wish people knew X, Y, and Z". Boom. Maybe you started it off with a generic topic and formed a more specific proposal within it. Either way, think about what you'd want to talk about in the hallway after you give the talk. What do you want your attendees to tell their friends about?
This text ends up on our website, clickable from the schedule and talk lists. You hooked 'em with your title, your description made it sound even better, and now it's time for business. This is where you dig in and explain what you're going to talk about for 30-45 minutes, with some amount of detail into the topic. Let readers know why you're giving this talk and what they'll get out of it. If the Description was what you'd say to me two minutes before the talk, this is what you'd tell me at dinner the night before.
This field is Markdown enabled so you can jazz it up with links and other formatting. Some people like to put their full outline in here, which is fine. If you do that, just note it in the Outline box.
This is only visible to reviewers. A lot of people like to put a Detailed Abstract in paragraph form and then break it down into an outline to show how the talk would be organized. The outline helps reviewers get a feel for your level of preparedness on the topic as well as how organized your thoughts are in covering the topic in a live presentation. If you've thought about how much time you want to spend in a particular area, a lot of people add that, which is helpful as well.
Good luck with your proposals!
Tarek Ziadé recently announced the schedule for the Python track at FOSDEM 2013, where he’s one of the organizers. They have some interesting talks lined up by some excellent speakers, so if you’re going to FOSDEM, be sure to check them out.
The bigger part of the post is about a complete lack of women speakers. Namely, it’s about how I edited his blog post before publishing it on the PyCon blog.
Jumping ahead to the last sentence in his post gets to the answer of why I did what I did. With PyCon, we’ve diversified our speaker list through a lot of effort, and a great set of allies.
There’s a reason we went from one woman on the PyCon 2011 schedule to six in 2012. There’s also a reason we went from six to at least 22 for 2013. We didn’t do it through words, but through actions.
We experienced that growth thanks in part to the proliferation of women’s technology groups and the relationships we’ve built with them. By reaching out and involving these groups, we’ve seen not only a rise in women on stage, but a noticeable increase in women in the audience.
Rather than saying “everyone is welcome, specifically women”, we’re trying to achieve an environment that is fair and equal. To do that, PyCon has been consistent in targeting an audience that includes everyone. I went back through many pages of posts on the PyCon blog, to early 2011, and we’ve stuck to this stance.
Even though 22 speakers sounds so much better than 6, read that again, only with more detail: 22 women on a schedule of 114 talks and 32 tutorials.
That really sucks. We’re not going to see that number increase to 35, 40, 45, or hopefully higher in 2014 by mentioning “women, too”. We’re going to see that growth by ensuring women feel like first class citizens in our community. That goes for within PyCon, Python, all of technology, and on and on.
On one hand, it’s great that we’ve seen this growth in PyCon. I’m happy for what the community has done to welcome this growth, and I’m happy for the people who helped achieve this growth. Most of all, I’m happy for the individuals who are a part of this growth.
On the other hand, what the hell is wrong with us that we can only get 22 women on the schedule? The answer has roots in a lot of stuff far away from and a lot earlier in the process than conferences come in, but we can and will do better.
We will continue to push for diversity by engaging groups that work with underrepresented areas of our community. As these partnerships blossom and new groups sprout, we will continue to engage them in hopes of realizing further growth. All the while, we will continue to market our conference to everyone.
I think I speak for the organizers in stating that while we’re happy with the growth trends we’re seeing, we’re not going to be satisfied until we’ve reached and maintain equality. Our community deserves it.
One thing I will apologize for is that I did not notify Tarek of the change to his post. I did it on my own because I had that change made to my posts years ago, and I’ve learned what I think are better ways to reach and incorporate women. I should have communicated my thoughts and worked with Tarek, but I did not. For that, I’m sorry.