How to come up with conference proposal ideas

Published on: February 14, 2016

Tags: conference proposals, ideas, how to, and resources

There’s a conference coming up that you'd really like to speak at. The location is good, your boss is happy for you to take the time off, you’re excited to go. But you don’t have anything to say.

Been there? Me too. So have a lot of people. You’re not alone, promise! It’s an annoying place to be (especially if all your coworkers have lots of ideas...), but there are some things you can do to get your creative juices flowing.


  1. Dedicate 30 minutes. Start with just 30 minutes and decide how you feel. If you like the process, and think you’ve still got more ideas then keep going until you feel like you’re done. All I’m asking is that you commit to 30 minutes. That’s it. You can find half an hour at some point today or tomorrow. Go put it in your calendar now.
  2. Print this page. There’s something about writing on paper rather than a computer that helps my train of thought. Plus there's some sweet CSS on here to make it print well ;)
  3. Remove distractions. Close your computer, set your phone to silent, and grab a pen or pencil. Computers and phones are really distracting. Any one of those notifications can easily break your flow and make you forget about that idea you just started.
  4. Think about the conference. If you are applying to a particular conference consider what topics are relevant and who is likely to attend. Some topics you come up with will be relevant and some won’t. That’s ok! As you go through the worksheet keep coming back to the conference to see if you can come up with any more ideas that are on point. Don’t discount the other ideas though!
  5. Answer the questions in whatever order you feel like. If you get inspired at any point, that’s awesome and should be rewarded. If you don’t feel like answering a particular one, skip it. The questions are there as prompts, and shouldn’t feel prescriptive. If you come up with an idea that doesn’t fit into the prompts write it down in the “Other” section. If you come up with another question prompt please tell me so I can update the worksheet!
  6. Write without censoring. This step is the hardest and most important. Remember, you never have to share any of these ideas with anyone. All you need to do is write them down. (But I hope you choose to share them!) It doesn’t matter if you don’t think it’s good, or if everyone already knows about it, or if it’s boring, just put something down.

Please take these steps seriously. I worked hard to put this worksheet together, now it’s your turn to work hard and fill it up :)


  1. What’s something you work with fairly regularly and understand 80% of, but not 100%?

  2. What’s a new technology or technique that you’ve heard of recently, but don’t know much about?

  3. Do you have a particular workflow that you use and really like?

  4. What’s an accepted practice that “everyone knows” but that you (or others) haven’t looked into for a while?

  5. What’s your hobby? What lessons are shared between your hobby and your job?

  6. Think back to a year ago. What would you have wanted to know? What advice would you need?

  7. What’s a book you read or an experience you had recently that you found particularly interesting, relevant, or profound?

  8. What’s a talk you’d want to see at this conference? Perhaps it’s on a technology you’re interested in, or a non-technical topic you’ve wondered or struggled with recently.

  9. Is there something that irritates you about your work or process? How could it be solved? Perhaps you’ve solved it already and can share your story, or perhaps you need to do some research first.

  10. Think of a problem you’ve had in the past month or two.
    • If you did solve it, how did you solve it? Were there other ways you could have solved it? Why did you pick the way that you did?

    • If you came across the same problem again, what would you have done differently?

    • If you didn’t solve it, what went wrong? How could others avoid it in the future?

  11. Are there any talks you would enjoy giving? It can be on any topic and aimed at any audience.

  12. Write out a bunch of adjectives and nouns about yourself. Also jot down various things you’ve done. Play around with some of those words and history and see if you can find a talk in the overlap. (For example I’m a programmer, baker, and I’ve run a few study groups. I might come up with how does baking relate to programming? Or how can programmers continue learning with study groups?)

  13. Other


This worksheet came about because of the encouraging words of Esther Asenjo - “Oh you have a lot of things to say! It's just you forgot they are interesting.”

The questions started from a workshop ran by Rosemary and John Allsopp.

comments powered by Disqus