Tips for writing a great proposal

This is the first of two articles with advice about writing a good proposal. The second article provides more detailed advice and suggestions for completing your speaker profile and your talk proposal, and also includes some extra tips that did not fit elsewhere. Additionally, part two includes some real examples from previous submissions so you can see what a good timing overview looks like.

A quick search online will reveal lots of great guides to writing a good proposal. To save you the effort, here are a couple that we’ve hand-picked:

These are great general lists of “good things” to aim for in a talk, but none of them were written specifically to cover what makes a proposal great for PyCon AU. This post tries to be really clear about how the program committee looks at proposals, and why.

The most essential elements of a proposal are:

  • A “public abstract” that is really easy to read and understand

  • The proposal is based on the speaker’s knowledge and experiences

  • Has a compelling problem or story that will engage the audience

  • For technical talks, provides relevant information to a technical audience

  • Is well paced to the time available

The proposal forms are designed to help with this. Providing a time breakdown of a presentation in the private abstract will prompt the author to make sure they provide sufficient detail and consider how to fit the content to the time available.

Remember, your presentation is a chance for the audience to see something through your eyes. This goes for a technical walkthrough just as much as a particular problem to be solved or topic of interest to explore. PyCon AU has a lot of diversity both in its speakers and its audience, so it’s okay to “pitch” your talk to whatever level or angle you want to take. Talks catering to an expert audience are very popular among experienced developers, but talks intended for beginners are just as popular. Don’t forget, experts in one area are often beginners in another. People love to hear well-crafted introductory talks from experts, but they also love to hear from other beginners about what they are doing. The proposal form allows you to indicate your intended audience in a drop-down.

The program committee will be primarily looking to include talks which can explain a technical or community topic clearly and in an engaging manner. This doesn’t mean style over substance -- the content of the talk should be sound -- but be clear about the focus of the talk. If you have a relevant background in the area, make sure to mention that in your submission.

The committee will be looking to put together a good mix of content and speakers so that there is something in the lineup for everyone. We value our community diversity and welcome talks from people of all backgrounds.

A common question is whether to submit more than one proposal. If you have more than one good idea, then the answer is “yes”. Let’s be honest, it gives more chances for you to get one of your proposals accepted. We are happy to receive multiple proposals from people, and many people do so. Sometimes more than one talk from an author is accepted, but seldom more than two. We will generally try to give the chance to speak to as many people as possible, but it's not uncommon to accept two presentations where both proposals are strong.

There’s an Australian expression called “having a crack”, which means to try to do something even though you are not certain that you will succeed. I don’t think we’ve ever heard from a past speaker who has regretted submitting a proposal or giving a presentation. It’s a great experience regardless. Treat this as an interesting opportunity and you can’t go wrong.

Finally, don’t hesitate to get in touch. Feel free to email with any thoughts or questions you might have. It’s totally fine to ask for feedback on an idea you have. 

Oh -- and one last tiny thing -- no product or company marketing please! We’re all here to learn, not to be sold to.