How to Write a Clear and Compelling Proposal for Node Summit
Giving a conference presentation is no small feat. On top of the demands of your day job, you have to take the time to write a compelling proposal, and prepare and rehearse to deliver a top-notch presentation. Because of that lack of time, or because you’re in the bubble of what you do everyday, you may submit a proposal without putting in much critical thinking. What’s the big idea you want to convey? Why should your audience care? How are you going to approach the topic from a fresh perspective? If you skip these steps, you either don’t get selected, or the abstract that’s posted online doesn’t end up matching the contents of your talk. This can be avoided.
In this article, we will share some simple tips to help you refine your Node Summit Proposal to be more clear and compelling.
Before you begin to fill out the Node Summit proposal online, answer the six questions below. Through the process of answering these questions, you will have all you need to write a great abstract and outline.
1. What’s the name of your talk?
When choosing a title for your talk, be clear, be specific, be positive and give an indication of how your talk will benefit your audience.
Weak example: Node.js Performance: You’re doing it wrong.
Okay example: Node.js Performance: How to Avoid the Pitfalls of Micro Benchmarks
Strong example: Calling all cores: Getting the most from your hardware with Node.js
Strong example: Profiling real-world applications: a holistic approach to performance optimization
The first example is negative and hostile. Your goal is not to ostracize the audience, rather to invite them in. The second example is more specific, more positive, and gives a clear indication as to what will be covered. The third example is even more specific so that the audience knows the topic you’re going to cover, and is also promising to be useful to the everyday developer.
In general, being specific is key to gaining attention, both to your proposal as well as from your audience in your presentation.
2. Who’s your audience? What do they already know about your topic?
Think critically about who your audience is. What will they be most interested in? What will be new for them? What level of depth is appropriate? Think through which level you’re targeting: beginner, intermediate or advanced. Define the prerequisite knowledge you think your audience should have coming in.
3. Why should they care? How can they benefit?
People are inherently interested in what pertains to them. How can what you’re talking about be beneficial to your audience? What can they learn? How will your talk make their work or lives better?
4. In one sentence, what’s the main idea you want to convey?
A one-sentence summary can be powerful for speakers during the presentation creation process. At some point during the presentation development process, many speakers lose sight of their overall message because they are too focused on weaving together the supporting elements, and forget to just get to the point of their presentation.
Example: Optimizing a Node.js application requires a holistic approach to ensure that compute intensive functions don’t tank performance.
5. What are the 3 or 4 ideas that support the main idea you want to explore in your talk?
Now that you know the main message you want to convey, narrow down your content to 3 (max 4) supporting ideas that relate to your main message. Two of the biggest complaints about presentations are that they’re too long and boring. Avoid this by showing your audience that you’ve narrowed the scope of your talk to focus on the most relevant and insightful aspects of your topic.
Why 3 or 4? Research shows that our working memories can only handle 3 or 4 points at a time. That’s why phone numbers and social security number are grouped into 3’s and 4’s. Don’t overwhelm your audience, narrow your scope.
6. Do you plan to show live demos? If so, what?
Demos can be engaging, if they are appropriate for your topic. Include your plan to use examples (code examples, running application before and after, etc.) in your proposal.
Filling out your proposal
After you’ve answered these questions, you’re ready to start filling out your proposal online. Below are some further tips for how to approach each section.
You’ll have to keep this brief with 150 words maximum. Focus on why you’re an authority on your topic. Why are you passionate about your topic? Do you have a novel or interesting take on your topic?
You can always reveal more about your background and experience through the context of your presentation. Also, make sure to add your LinkedIn profile where requested so the reviewers can learn more about you and your background.
Below is an easy structure you can use for your 100 – word abstract.
Problem – Solution – Benefit
1. Problem: One or two sentences of context around the current issue/challenge that you’ll be addressing in your talk.
2. Solution: Go back to your main idea in one sentence, and how you’re approaching your topic from a unique angle. What is the big idea that you’re going to explore in your presentation that addresses this challenge?
3. Benefit: By the end of your talk, what will the attendees know/be able to do? Go back to Question #3 above: “Why should they care? How can they benefit?”
Problem: You decided to use Node.js because you were told it’s fast. You think you’re following all the best practices, but it’s still slow. What do you do next?
Solution: Because every application is unique, taking a holistic approach to performance optimization helps you deliver a faster end-to-end experience. In this presentation, I will present techniques to ensure that your application is lightning fast for your users.
Benefit: After learning about the tools for assessing applications, participants will be able to do performance profiling to identify bottlenecks and speed up their applications.
With 400 words maximum, you have more leeway to get more specific about what you plan to cover. However, avoid a lengthy list of everything you will talk about. Instead, go back to the three or four ideas that support your thesis that you want to explore.
Below is a common structure you can use for an outline:
Intro – 3 to 4 points – Conclusion
Intro: Restate your problem statement and the main idea of your presentation.
Big point 1 (that supports my thesis): Give a sentence or two with specifics.
Big point 2: Give a sentence or two with specifics.
Big point 3: Give a sentence or two with specifics.
Big point 4?
Conclusion: A few words about how you will wrap up your presentation.
Why will this presentation be important to the Node.js community and the Node Summit Conference?
Again, go back to your answer for Question #3 above: “Why should your audience care? How can they benefit?”
Putting it all together
Now you have some critical questions to answer, and guidelines for how to structure your bio, abstract and outline.
Final tip: Don’t procrastinate. Writing a good proposal takes a few hours, and ideally more than one day. Plan for a couple of drafts, and run it by a couple of friends and colleagues before submitting.