Writing Advice for Conference Proposals

I'm a shepherd for the XP2019 and Agile2019 conferences. I read the proposals, offer feedback, and then shepherd the papers through to completion once we accept the proposals.

I love reading experiences. I'm a total sucker for them. Why? Because they're short stories that reflect the Satir Change Model, the image here.

If you're trying to write a proposal for a conference or have an agile story you want to tell, consider framing the story this way:

  1. Start with the problems. What kinds of problems did you see? For an experience report, consider adding the initial state (x many teams, y products).
  2. What triggered the problem for a change?
  3. What did you try? What succeeded? What failed? Did what you try make the problem worse? When did you make things better?
  4. What is the new state?

If you're proposing a new talk or a workshop, consider One Startling Sentence for conference proposals:

  • First sentence: What's the problem?
  • Second sentence: Why is this problem a problem?
  • Third sentence: Startling answer.
  • Fourth sentence: Implication of the startling sentence.

I'm working on an agile management talk proposal. I think this is my abstract:

For too long, we've been told, “we don't need managers in agile.” Too many managers believe that they either have no role in an agile approach, or they will be fired, or become obsolete. The truth is that agile managers hold the power of agile transformation because they create and refine the organization's culture. It's time to invite managers, help them see their place in an agile organization, and create an agile culture.

After this paragraph, I have subsequent paragraphs that tell you what you will learn.

I'm still working on this first paragraph. I invite you to offer me feedback.

Whatever you write for a conference proposal, start with the problems. Show us how things changed for the better and what we will learn.

If you want people like me to accept your proposals (and I'm part of a team, not the only decider), start with the problems and tell us what worked.

Conference proposals are a different writing beast than articles or columns or papers. Don't be coy. Don't give us a promise.  Tell us the problems and what we will learn.

3 Replies to “Writing Advice for Conference Proposals”

  1. Your argument and point feel weak. All head, no belly or heart. You need an opening that stirs the pot, that raises an existential fear, sadness over a preventable loss, frustration over a missed opportunity, anger over a violation or transgression. Are you offering a small process tweak or something huge and fundamental?

    Again, what’s the problem? Where’s the pain? After all, engineers often believe keeping managers outside the door is a good thing for getting things done and done well. If that conventional wisdom is wrong, start with that bold assertion, leaving How for the details. Good luck!

    1. Phil, thank you!!

      Other writers: I tend to be all head and no heart. Listen to Phil’s advice!! As writers, we need to engage people with emotions.

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