Avoiding bad conference abstracts
Recently I have finished my voting for APEX Connect 2023 abstracts.
I always love the review phase, because reviewing that much abstracts is absolutely benefiting for me.
There are so many interesting topics to read about and reading abstracts often reveals my own gaps. When I come across new topics, I try to find more information in order to get a better overview and to be able to make a reasonable evaluation for the abstract. This is always inspiring for me and I can't wait to try out new stuff.
Most important point is, of course, that we will have great content with high quality to make the conference a success. I can't wait for the APEX Connect 2023. This is going to be a great conference, I guess. :)
On that note, many thanks to all the speakers, who submitted their abstracts and ideas.
While evaluating abstracts brings new ideas and fun, it is also very time consuming. Submitters can expect, that the reviewers will invest proper time in each and every abstract in order to give a fair vote.
And, as I am also a Speaker, I know writing good abstracts can be time consuming as well. And I know there are many other speakers out there, who also bring lots of time in writing good abstracts in order to bring good content to the conferences. But sometimes I read abstracts and I wish the submitter would have invested just a bit more time. Then it could have been a really good one. Sure, there are other mistakes. But not investing proper time in writing an abstract and on the other hand expecting the reviewer taking the time to read carefully is not fair.
So here is my personal list of top 5 mistakes in abstract submissions. Hope it helps some people to improve.
#1 - Bad title / just one word as title
It's almost always good to be short and precise. But the other way round, it is almost always a bad idea to have just one or two words as a title. For example, titles like "Logging", "Testing", "Historization", "DevOps". You could even have named it "Rivers", "Cars" or "Cooking". Keep in mind, the title in the end is presented in the program to the attendees. What are attendees going to expect from the talk when reading such generic titles?
Please invest time to find a proper title for your talk. It should not be generic, but must be a precise match to the abstract and to the actual content. The title is the first impression. It should give the reader a first idea about the session and it is intended to awaken interest.
#2 - No recognizable goal
I've repeatedly seen abstracts that did not address any goal. So sad! Maybe the topic could have been pretty interesting. It is not enough, if you just describe a couple of facts or some characteristics of something, even if they are true. For example, imagine something like this:
The xyz is a well known car. It is pretty modern and comes with an electric motor and has got 250HP. The color can be blue, grey or black. If you drive economically, you can manage around 400km. The cockpit is really cool and the manufacturer integrated an autopilot in the on-board computer.
... and so on ...
This might be a totally great and very true description of the car xyz. But what is the goal of the session? What will the attendees learn from you in this talk? They want to know what they will get out of the session.
- What exactly are you going to talk about or which particular feature will be the focus?
- Or do you want to show the audience a hidden gem, like "it is a car, but in this session, I will show you how to make it fly!"
- Or maybe "I will explain what exactly economically driving means and how you will manage 400km and more"
Try to give the reader a clear picture about what you are going to talk about and what they can expect, when they decide to join your session. If you do not point out the goal of your session, probably no one will be interested in joining you. And this may be the reason why your abstract was not selected. :-)
#3 – Miss the topic
Sometimes, things must not be explained in detail.
For example: If you want to present on a C# .net conference, do not submit a "Java is great" - abstract. :-)
But sometimes it is a bit more tricky. It can happen that you would like to talk about something which does not match the main topic of the conference directly, but can be very useful in relation to the main topic. In that case, the abstract should address this relation. For example, in our case we are talking about an APEX conference. If the jury cannot find any connection to APEX or to the Oracle Database or even to any other APEX-related technology, your abstract may be rejected.
Please point out the relation of your session to any of the relevant conference topics. This will dramatically increase the chance to get selected!
#4 - To much marketing!
Of course, as a speaker we want to present our knowledge, our thoughts and our ideas. Or we would like to present a solution in order to get feedback or perhaps to find interested people to discuss with. This is also a kind of (self-)marketing and may be totally ok. And sometimes we want to present a product. That's the point where we potentially have a conflict. Our conferences are all about to share knowledge, but not about selling a product. It might be ok to talk about a product, if the main focus of the session is about knowledge. For example, how to make APEX run in the AWS cloud or how to use a product to extend the functionality of APEX or stuff like that.
If you only want to sell a product without bringing any knowledge to the community, come with a conference booth. Or go to marketing events. :-)
The problem I found in some abstracts was that they looked like marketing. The wording looked like marketing people had written some buzzwords and some typical marketing sentences. But in fact, they weren't marketing talks. I don't know, how other conference jurys vote. But at APEX Connect, the voting is 100% anonymous in the first step.
(For more information about the abstract selection process at APEX Connect, read this article from Niels: nielsdebr.blogspot.com/2019/01/abstract-selection-process-for-apex.html)
So, what will happen with an abstract which sounds like marketing, when the voters cannot see the person or the company? They probably will recognize it as marketing, even if it is no marketing in fact!
If you want to bring interesting content to a conference, I advise you not to write like marketing people do. This could be misunderstood. :-)
#5 - Submit multiple similar abstracts
First of all, it is good to submit multiple abstracts! This will usually increase the chance to be selected as a speaker. Mostly. If you submit multiple abstracts, they should definitely be different talks and different topics or at least with different focus. Sometimes we have two or three abstracts which look almost the same. For example, they just differ a little bit in the title. Or only some sentences are different or maybe just a few words.
You must know, even if you read one or two hundred abstracts, you will remember what you have read a couple of hours ago. And even if the abstracts are presented anonymous to the voters, they will probably have a good feeling to identify similar writing styles. And the more similarity you have, the easier to identify.
The question is: Why do people submit multiple abstracts, if they are probably intended to describe the same talk? Is it because they could not decide whether title A or title B is better? Or the same with wording in sentence X and sentence Y? But only the submitter knows what exactly he/she is going to present in the session. The submitter should know which headline or text describes the talk best. How can the jury rely on the quality of a presentation, if the submitter isn't even able to decide which abstract describes the topic best?
Please just invest a bit more time and make your decision. Do not let the jury do it for you. They will probably tend to vote all of them bad.
And if you submit really different talks but with similar topic (for example with different focus or different point of view), please make sure to point out the difference in the abstract!
In the end, there is one very simple advice, which is always helpful while creating good content.
Basically, it is always a good idea to talk with others about your ideas. You can ask your colleagues or other speaker. Let others read your abstract prior to submit and ask for their feedback. Even if you give it to your wife or to your husband, she/he will probably ask questions, which could be worth to think about.