The Call for Proposals for GopherCon 2021 is open from Monday, April 5th to Sunday, April 25th. Kris Brandow, an experienced GopherCon speaker, has published a series of guides to assist Gophers as they craft their proposals and think about submitting.
In this episode Kris reads through his guide, discussing the four parts with a GopherCon newbie, Angelica Hill, who spoke for the first time at GopherCon last year, and is a first time CFP reviewer this year.
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Welcome to Go Time! I am your host, Kris Brandow. Today I have with me the wonderful Angelica Hill, one of the regular co-hosts of this show. How are you doing today, Angelica?
Very well, thank you. Excited to be here.
Yes, I am as well. We are going to be talking about proposals, specifically proposals for GopherCon. If you weren’t already aware, the GopherCon call for proposals for 2021 opened on April 5th, and it will be closing on April 25th. So if you are listening to this episode when it comes out, we are about halfway through the call for proposals.
[00:03:51.12] This episode is to help you, dear listener, craft the best GopherCon proposal that you can, and the format of this is gonna be a little different than our usual podcast. Instead of just me and Angelica chatting away about proposals, we’re actually going to have my four-part guide on crafting proposals that has been recently published on the GopherCon blog, narrated, and then we will be talking in between those narration points.
So with that, let’s roll the first part.
Part 1: What is required in your proposal?
A title, an abstract, a description, and an outline. These are the key requirements for any proposal submitted to GopherCon. Let’s go over them in turn.
This is your first impression on the reviewers, so it’s essential to get right. It’s the thing reviewers will notice, as well as being the first thing GopherCon attendees will see when deciding what talks they want to attend. Get creative, make it catchy, funny, you can even throw a pun in there; however steer clear of the temptation to make it seatbait (clickbait, but for conference seats). As Dave Cheney put it, “Avoid 8 shocking things that make your proposal read like a BuzzFeed headline”.
You can change your title after submitting your proposal so don’t worry too much about it, however, in my experience, a good title can start your creative journey off in the right direction.
This is your hook and it’s only 300 characters, so every letter counts. Think of it like an elevator pitch - you only have a few lines to excite the reviewer. It’s also used on the conference website and agenda, so the abstract needs to attract your fellow Gophers to attend your talk. My advice is to make your topic and target audience clear.
Here you have space to elaborate and go into more detail about your topic. The more detail, the better. You should include information about the core topic, your target audience, the talk’s relevance to the Go community, as well as the impact you hope to have on the audience. Making the case for your talk’s relevance to the Go Community holds varying importance. Depending on how core the topic is to the Go Community, it may only take a line, or a whole paragraph. Correctness and achievability are important factors in the selection process, so make sure to include a line or two illustrating why you should be the one speaking about the proposed topic.
Dave Cheney advises that you start with introductory paragraphs to set the scene, then give a high level overview of the talk structure and who your target audience is.
Many just leave this out… However I want to emphasize your outline should go hand in hand with your description, and is useful both for you and the review committee. It provides a roadmap of your talk, demonstrating how well you know the area you plan to explore, as well as its achievability.
The outline helps the reviewers understand the flow of your talk, so I advise including timing information. If you’re unsure of the timing, try a few practice runs. This is especially important for your introduction, as it typically either takes far longer, or far less time that you expect. The rest of your talk will fly by; 25 or 45 minutes may seem like a long time, but 25 minutes will go by in a heartbeat, and 45, a couple beats more.
I’ll go into more detail on the subjects of timing and content of your talk in one of my following guides, but here’s a little teaser… One of my tips is to only cover one main idea in a 25-minute proposal, and cover 2-3 ideas in a 45-minute proposal, otherwise you’ll lose your audience.
The GopherCon CFP Committee tries to make the selection criteria as transparent as possible so both proposers and reviewers have clarity in the evaluation process. There are five areas evaluated when reviewing a proposal: relevance, clarity, correctness, achievability, and impact.
Your proposal is for GopherCon, therefore your talk should focus on the Go programming language and its community. If you’re planning to talk about something that’s not specific to Go, be sure to make a strong argument for its relevance to GopherCon. If it isn’t clear to the reviewers, they are unlikely to select your proposal. Also clarify the “Why now?” Why is this something the community needs to hear about now.
The reviewers want to know both what you’re going to cover, as well as how you plan to cover it. The more detail, the better, as it will give the reviewers an improved understanding of your talk. However, ensure you communicate clearly: too much information, presented in an unorganized manner, will cause confusion. As I advised previously, adding timing information to your outline can help give structure to your proposal, while also aiding in clarity.
Everything you say in your talk must be accurate, which should go without saying. However, this criterion also includes the idea of sharing knowledge. Make it clear why you are the right person to be communicating the concepts presented in your talk. This doesn’t mean you have to be an expert, but instead that you can speak to the topic from experience. This bears repeating: reviewers are looking for experience, not necessarily an expert.
Discussing a topic from the perspective of a beginner or intermediate level can be hugely valuable, and relevant to the majority of attendees, so don’t let your level of knowledge stop you from submitting. As long as you put in the time and research to ensure your talk is correct and clear, you’re good to go! If validating why you’re the right person doesn’t fit well in your description or outline, add it to the notes section of your proposal.
25 minutes may feel like a long time and 45 minutes an eternity, but time tends to pass faster than you expect. As you formulate your talk try to find the “sweet spot” between too much and too little content. This helps to keep your audience engaged, while not overwhelming them. The review committee wants your assurance that you’ll adhere to the time constraints and fill the time allotted, without going over or coming in under.
My advice is to cover a single topic, with one subtopic in a 25-minute talk. In a 45-minute talk, stick to 2-3 topics, with only 1 or 2 subtopics. This structure may not be applicable to all types of talks, but it’s a good rule of thumb for most. If you try to cover too much, you risk your audience becoming disengaged and overwhelmed. It is better to cover a smaller number of items, in detail, ensuring your audience can process your ideas, and leave your presentation with clear takeaways.
This is yet another reason adding time estimates to your outline is vital. It helps you organize your time, as well as reassure the review committee you’ve thought your proposal through and will stick to your time.
People attend GopherCon to learn, grow, and expand their networks, taking that knowledge, and those connections, back into their day-to-day work and lives. Audiences will typically only walk away from a talk having grasped one, or maybe two key takeaways, hence my advice to keep the focus tight.
If you cover too much, you risk your audience leaving with one takeaway they know little about, and perhaps feeling a little overwhelmed, as opposed to leaving with one fully understood subject. If you feel strongly you need to include more than two topics in a 25-minute talk, make sure to validate the reason in your proposal’s notes section.
Finally, let the reviewers know the impact you want your talk to have. What valuable concept do you want your audience to take with them? Reviewers want every talk to be impactful; don’t miss the opportunity to validate why yours will make an impression.
[00:12:04.22] Awesome! I loved that part one. I’m really excited to dive into chatting a little bit about the various components when you’re putting together your proposal, but I really wanna start by touching on that last point you went over on impact, and making an impact on both your audience, but first and foremost, as this is your proposal, on those reviews. And that goes back to the first concept you chatted through in your guide, the title.
I really want to emphasize the importance of having a good title, and the fact that it’s actually really difficult if you’re someone like me to think of a good title, because – and I would love to hear your thoughts on this, Kris… I really struggle with thinking of a clever title, versus a title that really just speaks to what my topic is… Like, do I put in some puns? Do I try and make it fun? Or is it in fact more beneficial for the reviewers getting my point, getting the meat of what my topic is gonna be for me to just put exactly on the can what my talk is gonna be about.
A thing I have always struggled with is how do I actually go about giving my talk a title that makes sense. I fall on the side of having of having these really long talk titles. I think my talk last year was like “A rainbow of gophers building a more diverse community…” - it was like this really long slog to get all the way through it… But I definitely prefer a title that gives you the emphasis of what it is right off the bat.
I think clever titles can sometimes be confusing, especially with your word choices, but it is a lot of fun to put a meme in there. Last year I submitted a proposal about load testing, and it was called “Do you even lift, gopher?” or something like that, kind of off of the “Do you even lift, bro?” meme. I think those types of things can be really interesting, and can also give the reviewers a little bit of a break, to kind of just be like “Oh, okay, I’ve been reading all of these proposals… This one looks interesting.”
So I think the important thing is to have a title that is very clear with what it is that you’re going to be talking about, and then add fun after that. As I wrote in the piece, and as you’ve just heard me say, you want to avoid that seatbait title that’s just like “I want you to come and be part of this talk. I want you to sit in the audience and listen to this talk, because you’re curious about what it’s going to be about.” I think it’s much better to let the audience know upfront, like “Hey, this is what you’re gonna learn in this talk.” Because a lot of the time people already decided that they’re going to be part of what’s happening at GopherCon, so they want to know and make a rather quick decision about what talk you want to see… And having a good title in addition to having a strong abstract is a way to really pull people in.
Something that came to mind for me, touching on the whole seatbait idea - I know that you talked about in your piece the fact that you can actually change your title after submitting your proposal, so… Bluntly, someone who’s strategically thinking “How can I get my proposal accepted and then have the best GopherCon talk ever?” - I mean, I was a little bit tempted to say “How can I think of the best title for my reviewers to give them everything they need, and then I can kind of rewrite it, write a different title if it gets accepted?” Do you feel like that is not the right mentality to be in? Is it better for you to think through what is gonna be “my true title”? Because you also talked about how a great title can really be the starting block to get you up to the best start, thinking about your whole talk? So that really being the seed of what’s gonna grow into a fabulous talk.
[00:15:42.02] I think it really depends on how you operate and how you like to work. If you’re the type of person that wants to have that high-level [unintelligible 00:15:47.17] “Here’s my title, that encapsulates what my whole talk is gonna be about. Here’s my abstract, that’s the thing that people are gonna walk away from the talk knowing” - then I think spending an extra bit of time on your title and getting it really polished and targeting a little bit more to the audience is a really good idea… Whereas I think if you’re someone like – you could have any title, but you know the concept, and you have a little bit more trouble coming up with a good title, don’t spend too much time on it. Just get something that makes it really clear what your proposal and what your talk is gonna be about, and make it really clear to the reviewers, not necessarily sometimes can it be clear to your audience. This is especially true if you want to - as we’re gonna talk about later - use more storytelling elements or some narrative elements… Maybe there is a particular reason you want your talk to be a little bit more suspenseful, or you don’t want your audience to know the ending from the beginning - you might not want to have as descriptive of a title for the actual talk… Whereas the title for the reviewers, who kind of need this omniscient view, so they need to know everything - that can be helpful in making it so they actually pick it up and can still recommend it.
I feel like that kind of goes on to the second concept that you chatted through, around the abstract, and how that really is kind of your elevator pitch; that’s the way that you’re gonna get your reviewers excited, and it’s also gonna be the little paragraph that could be put on the GopherCon site… You know, people are scrolling through all of these wonderful talks, “Which one am I gonna go to?”, this is what’s gonna really convince them to come.
I’ve had similar thoughts around that… You’ve talked about how reviewers really need that kind of high-level “This is what I’m gonna get from this talk” as they’re reviewing through the hundreds of proposals… But for a GopherCon attendee who’s going through it, it may be tempting to use those kind of narrative elements of suspense, to kind of draw them in and get them interested, and not lay all your cards on the table.
So I maybe would ask a similar question as to when you’re writing your abstract in your proposal - should you be laying all your cards on the table?
The abstract is a little difficult, because I don’t think you can – I mean, 300 characters is not enough to give the basic amount of information for something that’s gonna be 25 or 45 minutes long… So I think really your abstract just needs to be “This is the general thing I’m going to talk about, and this is the audience that would be interested in this thing.” That’s your first attempt at convincing reviewers that “Hey, this is relevant to GopherCon. This is something that GopherCon attendees would be interested in watching.” But I think because it’s such a constrained amount of time, there’s not a lot of space to get into the detail, or ruin suspense, or anything like that. You can still use a lot of those elements while still having a pretty clear abstract…
So I think in the abstract, unlike the title you want to be clear… Because you want to be upfront with people. No matter what storytelling or narrative elements you’re using, you don’t wanna wind up in situation where someone lines up in the audience and they have no idea what you’re saying, because they thought that this might be a beginner talk, but it’s actually a very advanced talk. So you wanna make sure that it’s clear, that it’s like hey, when someone reads the abstract, they wanna know “Is this a talk that I’m going to get something from?” And that needs to be clear to them, even if, as I’ve just said, you want to have that nice element of suspense, or surprise, or whatever it is in your talk.
So is it important, just to that last point, to put in very clear “This is intermediate. This is beginner”, very clear leveling in your abstract?
Absolutely. I think it’s important to just kind of come out and say it. I think that’s the place it fits. It usually doesn’t take too many words to fit it in there, since that will ultimately be the thing that attendees see. Because it’s generally just reused, and writing something that concise is not something you really wanna do more than once.
If you’re up for rewriting your abstract on a later date, that’s something that you can likely do, but I would say unlike your title, you should be focused on getting the abstract right from the beginning, so you don’t have to kind of fiddle around with 300 characters… Because once again, that is a very small amount of text.
[00:19:52.08] I’d also like to just take beat on the leveling point, just because – I’d say two things… This is really important for you to think through seriously, especially if you’re saying your talk is accessible to newbies and beginners, both when you’re writing your proposal, but also when you’re thinking about your talk… For two reasons. One, I go to a talk - and I have gone to talks that have said “Perfect for newbies.” I’ve gone to them excited, ready to go, and been lost after the first five minutes… And that’s really put me off. That’s really made me think - and especially in the very early days, when I was assessing “Is Go the right language for me?”, I was sitting at talks going “Oh, if this is newbie for Go, this is not accessible.” And I could have well turned around and been like “No, Go is not for me.”
Similarly, as someone who – this year I’m reviewing some of the papers for the first time… As a newbie, my point to make in reviewing is checking “Are the talks that say they’re for newbies truly for newbies?” If I see in your abstract “This is perfect for newbies” and then I get into your description and I can see that you’ve not really put that thought and that effort to really understand “Is this truly for new people to Go?”, it puts me off, and I’m not gonna be as excited. Had you just put “This is for intermediate” - great.
I think certainly from my perspective there’s a slight temptation that because we emphasize that you wanna make your talk as accessible as possible, I feel like a lot of people say that that talk is accessible for newbies, and kind of trying to find a way to frame it… That’s really not something that you should do.
If your talk is intermediate, own that. That’s great, that’s wonderful. We’re looking for really rich, interesting topics for intermediate, for expert… And yes, also for newbies. But if you wanna really go into the weeds on a technical topic, do it, really own that.
I think you’ve put it perfectly there. Your abstract needs to match your description. You can’t just have wishful ideology, being like “I wish that this was for newbies” and then have it be super-complex. I will admit, writing talks for new gophers is not simple, it’s not easy; it takes a lot of energy, because you’re usually not a new person that’s going to give a talk about a thing, so you have to remember what it was like to be a newbie, even though you are not anymore.
So definitely, if you’re thinking “Hey, I want to give a talk geared toward new gophers”, understand that that’s probably one of the hardest talks to put together, and one of the hardest talks to give, because of that kind of disconnect between what you know now and how you got there, and kind of forgetting that.
I think that that leads us into talking about the description. Definitely when I started writing proposals, this was kind of the most open-ended part of the proposal. It’s just like – I don’t know, you put everything… So the title is nicely structured; you only have a few characters there. Your abstract has only a few characters. And then there’s everything else, and you’re like “What goes in here?”
I kind of got into that in the blog post, but I’d be interested to hear what your thoughts are on that, Angelica.
Yeah, I mean, as someone who can endlessly babble, and bluntly when I first wrote my GopherCon proposal for last year, it was (no joke) about 12 pages long. I think the key here is to really root yourself in those review principles that you’ve outlined so well in your post… You wanna read through and make sure that you’re hitting all of the cool points that people are gonna be looking for when reviewing, which is relevance, clarity, correctness, achievability and impact.
Honestly, the way I did it is I literally put those as titles in a Word document, and I made sure – I had a paragraph that would touch on each of these, and then I put maybe 2-3 paragraphs on the actual meat of what my topic would be.
The key here is reviewers are gonna read every single word of your proposal, but if you do not engage us, we’re gonna get to the end and not be as excited as we were at the beginning. And that for me is the key point here. If you write your description and it’s really long, but you read it to a friend, and they remain excited throughout - great. But if you read it and you’re finding yourself getting too monotone, then I would ask that you step back and you try cutting some stuff out, and reread it/rewrite it.
[00:24:25.06] So this is really where – to take another great, great advice that you had in your post, Kris… Reviewing is really important. Because honestly, if you’re anything like me, you’re gonna have read this proposal 102 times, write it 103 times… No matter how amazing your proposal is, you are gonna get bored of your own words. But it’s not a reflection that your talk is not interesting; the people coming to your proposal, reading it for the first time as a reviewer will be excited, but I think it’s about working out what is just you reading your proposal too many times and getting a bit bored, and what is genuinely “I need to cut this” or “I need to rewrite it in a way that’s gonna reengage.” But it’s difficult. Honestly, I wish I had a secret sauce, but the description is honestly the most difficult part.
And I think something you said there is super-important, and I just wanna highlight it - it’s okay to just literally go through each of the criteria, each of those five criteria, and list them out inside of your description, and just say “Boom, here it is. Here’s how we satisfy it. Here’s the next thing, here’s how we satisfy it.” That as a reviewer is super-refreshing, because now you’re not hunting around in a paragraph of text, trying to discern… “This doesn’t seem achievable; how is it possible to achieve this?” I don’t know, are you sure you’re correct in the way you’re approaching this, or how is this relevant? It’s the best way to quash any relevance questions, is to literally write out “This is how it’s relevant to GopherCon and the Go community.”
That just makes everything so much easier for everybody involved. And I think it can really help proposal writers guide themselves in the right direction and understand, “Is this talk actually relevant to GopherCon?”
You are writing a proposal for GopherCon. It is a Go conference. So you might write the most interesting proposal about a technical concept that’s very relevant to the broader software engineering community, but unless you root it in Go and why gophers should care and be interested in this topic, you’re gonna be less likely to be accepted as a speaker… Because when we’re going through, as you see, one of the core concepts we’re looking at is relevance to the Go community. So really explicitly stating “This is why Gophers should care and will care” is so, so important. And it could be one line, it could be one sentence, it could be a paragraph; it really depends on your talk. So I wanna be very clear, we’re not saying that you cannot do a talk that is applicable to other languages, but just make sure that you make it very clear why it is in fact especially relevant to Go; you’re gonna be giving examples in Go, and rooting it in Go.
Yeah, exactly. And I think too that our conversation about the description also leads directly into outline, which I have to say, as a reviewer - I’ve been a reviewer for GopherCon multiple years now, and [unintelligible 00:27:32.10] all of us are always like “Please give us an outline.” You don’t have to have written the talk, but if you just give us an outline, it’s tremendously helpful. It gives us a whole new amount of information that is not really accessible with just prose. You can’t get the same types of understanding of a talk from the written prose that people tend to do in the description section.
[00:28:00.24] If there’s nothing else you take away from this whole part or from this whole podcast, please write an outline with your proposal. Also, please include estimated timings. They could be wild timings, like sometimes you might be like “I could talk about this thing for like 5 minutes or 15 minutes. I’m not sure.” That’s okay. If you’re putting a talk in for a 45-minute slot, the timings of your outline do not need to add up to 45 minutes. They could add up to 50 minutes, or 55 minutes.” Try not to go under – under probably means you need to flesh out your topic some more, or that you’re very much underestimating how long it’s gonna take you to explain something on stage… But it is definitely fine to have a little bit of extra content and to kind of go around and say “Okay, well if we’re running short on time, these are the things that I can cut out of my talk.”
I think an outline is a crucial detail of your proposal, that you really do need to include. So please, please, please, please include an outline.
One hundred percent. And I think that’s either way, because if you feel like you have a very specific topic and you’re describing something very specific, very interesting, but you don’t have an outline, you risk the reviewers saying “Okay, this is really interesting, but is it really gonna fill 45 minutes?” If I have an outline, I’m like “Oh yeah, I can see. Yes, they’re gonna talk about this for 5 minutes… Okay, great.” It reassures your reviewer that you’re gonna fill that time and you’ve really thought through.
Similarly, there are proposals that are submitted that are talking about huge, vast topics, that you could talk for years about, and a whole Ph.D. could be written on it. But if I as a reviewer read that and I go “Oh, that’s a really rich topic. Are they at risk of biting off too much?” I then see your outline and I’m like “Okay, no, these are the specific parts that they’re gonna be touching on. Okay, they’ve really thought through what are the important things to emphasize.” That’s gonna, again, reassure me that you’ve really thought it through and structured it.
I would also say, going back to the fact that I write far too much and I can babble for years about pretty much anything, writing an outline for me is really important, because if I timebox myself, like “Okay, so this little point that I’m gonna make will be about ten minutes”, in my description I’m not gonna say “I’m gonna talk about 15 different concepts.” I’m gonna be like “Okay, I’m talking for 15 minutes”, I should probably stick to like three points, and then kind of 1-2-3, boom-boom-boom… Which goes to some of the other things you talk about in your wonderful series, Chris, around not covering too much.
Is there anything else that you wanna include before we roll to part two?
I feel like we’ve touched on the relevance… It’s GopherCon, and Go. Clarity and correctness will really come in structuring your various elements very clearly; being very obvious in what you wanna touch on… Achievability touches on the importance of the timing, like “Are you gonna be able to actually cover everything that you’ve said you’re gonna cover?”
This last point, the impact part, which I know that I kind of touched on a little bit at the beginning - the impact part really is gonna come from you thinking through “What am I giving my listeners that no one else can give them?” I think it’s really important for you both to think through “Is this an important topic? Is this something interesting?” but also “Why am I talking about it? Why is Angelica Hill talking about this topic? What can I add to this that is gonna be different from another person presented on it?” And that doesn’t mean you have to be the expert, by no means. It’s like, “Angelica is gonna talk about concurrency, because she is the expert in concurrency.” No. It is “Angelica is a British newbie to Go… How can I present this topic in a way that’s gonna be different, from a different perspective than others?”
And don’t underestimate or devalue the importance of you in your proposal. You add so much to this topic just by the way you’re choosing to present it, the things you’re gonna emphasize… And I think that’s something that is sometimes overlooked in proposals - really putting time to validate why you as a speaker can bring life to this topic.
Part 2: Storytelling
When you step on stage you become a storyteller. Just because you’re not acting doesn’t mean you can’t employ the same techniques that have been used for centuries to captivate your audience and tell great stories. Before the stage though, you’re storytelling on the page, weaving the narrative of your talk through a proposal. But how do you achieve this?
First, note that your proposal’s audience differs from that of your talk. The former consists of a group of Go community veterans, who read hundreds of proposals to organize an exciting and intellectually stimulating program. The latter is a group of Gophers looking to learn and grow. The story you tell in your proposal to captivate your first audience differs from the story you’ll tell on stage for your second.
When I started crafting my first proposal I searched for articles and blog posts to aid in the process. I easily found resources that guided structure, but few on how to tell an engaging story. Through this guide I aim to fill that gap, helping you tell your stories in a captivating way for both the review committee and the audience at GopherCon.
Before I dive in, I want to emphasize that while this advice may help increase the odds of selection, it will not guarantee acceptance of your proposal.
How To Think About Your Proposal
When starting something new I use analogies to make connections between what I’m doing and what I’ve done. As an author, I connected that the storytelling techniques I use in my prose translate to the writing done for a proposal and a talk.
Listening to one person talk for 25 minutes can be difficult if the speaker is not telling an interesting story; this is even more true when it’s 45 minutes. Similarly, when reviewing hundreds of proposals on a tight deadline, it’s difficult to engage with each proposal individually, unless the material pulls the reader in and excites them. The key component in both situations is time: an abundance in your talk and a scarcity in your proposal. Techniques like suspense and foreshadowing are handy in your talk, but not so much in your proposal, where you need to get straight to the point. In the latter, opt for concise but exciting language, where each word can serve a purpose.
[00:36:01.06] Another element to consider is competition. At the maximum, there are four options for attendees at the conference: the three session tracks and a hallway track. That gives you an odds of 25%. Contrast this with the proposal review process, where your odds are closer to 10%, and your opportunity to hold the audience’s attention is far shorter. Holding that attention requires not just writing in a concise manner, but also adding elements to your proposal that set it apart from the rest, and this is where storytelling elements are helpful.
Combining these two elements, we arrive at an important piece of advice: don’t bury the lede. The structure of your proposal does not need to match that of your talk. Let’s use an analogy. Your talk is like a book; you want to pull the audience through all the pages, even those treacherous middle ones, through to the end. You make that task more difficult if you front load all of the interesting information. Your proposal though? That’s more like a newspaper article; you want to put all the interesting information upfront, and then extrapolate over the remainder of the space. In your proposal, that end space is where you discuss elements like foreshadowing and suspense, which can be conveyed either directly in prose, or indirectly through an outline. This is also where you can discuss elements like timing, context, and why you’re the best person to give this talk.
Finally, while there are a variety of formats that conference talks come in, the structure of your proposal is static. You want to address the same requirements and criteria I laid out in part one, while ensuring that you include as much context (including storytelling elements) as you can compactly fit.
At the end of the day, storytelling is about the way you use words and less about the structure used to contain them. Whenever you’re storytelling, think about your audience and cater your story to them. Craft it based on the time you have, the structure the audience is expecting, and the other things competing for your audience’s attention.
I think you really hit the nail on the head with that last point, Kris, in that the way you tell your story in your talk comes in a variety of different forms, and can be as diverse as the speakers on the stage. However, your proposal is static; that is so important to emphasize, as we talked through in part one. That structure is not only gonna lend itself to ensuring that the reviewers know what to look for; it kind of gives them a guide as to how to read your proposal… But it also gives you a structure to make sure that you are giving your idea in a way that’s gonna enable them to go along on that journey with you… Even though it’s a very short form when compared to your entire talk.
So I’d really emphasize that, although it is very important for you to express your individuality. As we talked about in part one, you are part of the proposal. Really do try to stick to the form in the proposal, and tempting as it may be, not go off on tangents and get too creative; that’s really what you can take liberties in doing in your actual talk.
I don’t know whether Kris having done so many talks – I’d love to hear a little bit about how you brought in some of your creative elements as a writer yourself…
I’ve generally not used a lot of storytelling elements. Knowing what I know now, I wish I had worked in more narrative storytelling, and almost kind of leaned more into it… But I think the important thing is the elements I did use - they didn’t try and half-do something. There’s techniques you can use… I think a really good one - it’s called in media res, which is basically in the middle of things. If you’ve ever seen some of those TV shows that start in the middle of the action, and then they’re like “24 hours earlier”, and they kind of give you the exposition that way - that’s in media res.
I feel like some talks and some proposals try to do this, because I think that is an interesting way to engage your audience. It’s sort of like a form of foreshadowing, but more explicitly. It’s like, “Okay, here’s the information. Hold on to it, follow it through, and keep the people engaged.”
[00:40:16.10] So I think using those types of storytelling and narrative elements is extremely powerful, but I think you should always start with “Can I explain what I’m trying to explain with a regular, exposition-based narrative?” where it’s just “Here’s my introduction, here’s the building tension, so here’s all the information you need, here’s going up to the problem/statement that I’m trying to solve, or building toward the hypothesis that I’m trying to convince you of…” Having this big surge, where it’s like “And this is how it all ties together”, and then having kind of the falling action of “Alright, let’s tie everything together. Let’s tell you what I hope you’ve learned, to kind of concrete it into your mind and solidify it for you.”
That is the structure I’ve used for most of my talks. I think it works very well, but I think there are certain classes of talks where if you did that, you would bore your audience to no end. They’d be like “Where are we going? What is happening?” I’ve had that experience myself, where I’m sitting and watching a talk and I’m like “But what’s the point? I don’t understand… Where are you leading me? Please help.” I think that’s a situation where you wanna use some more of those narrative techniques, to be like “Hey, boom, we’re here”, but now you’re like “How did we get here?” “Well, let’s go back and let me take you on this ride.” It’s kind of like eating your dessert first. I kind of equate it to trying to teach a difficult math concept, and how a lot of us sat through math class in school, and we were like “I don’t understand how any of this is applicable in real life”, where I think a lot of us would have been more engaged if, say, instead of having calculus be presented to me in these mathy terms, I had it presented to me in a real-life situation.
I’ve tried to do a lot of things with graphs and observability before, and I’ve tried to reinvent calculus six times doing that… And if I’d just known that that would have been something that calculus is useful for, I think I would have understood calculus a little bit better.
So sometimes it’s better in your talk to go back and give people the thing that they’re gonna be able to do, the thing that they’re gonna be able to understand right at the beginning, and then go into your exposition. That will help pull your audience through your talk.
I think you need to do the same thing with your proposal almost all of the time. I don’t think there’s really a time in a proposal when you don’t want to frontload the information in it, which is exactly I pulled that analogy of writing a book versus writing a newspaper article. If you’re in a book, you have 200 pages, 300 pages, and you need to pull your audience through all 300 pages of it. You didn’t write 300 pages because your audience doesn’t need it or doesn’t wanna read it; you want to convey the information in all those pages to your audience… And it’s really hard to get through books, so you need to have a lot of these elements, this foreshadowing, this thing that hooks and pulls them through.
But in a newspaper article, in a journalist article, you need all the information upfront, because that’s the style that’s expected there. It’s like “I want to know right at the beginning what is the lede, what is the thing you’re trying to tell me”, and that is exactly what reviewers want to have in your proposal. What is it that you want to do? Tell me right upfront.
Yeah. Don’t bury your lede.
So just taking a beat and touching on a different thing that you touched on… I was really interested in how you talked about competition, and the fact that if there is a hot topic in the Go community, it’s inevitable there will be multiple proposals wanting to talk about that hot topic.
[00:43:53.07] I’m interested to hear your thoughts or your advice on how you can make your proposal stand out. How can you either acknowledge that it’s a hot topic, and then validate directly why you are the right person, i.e. “I know this is a topic that is probably going to be on everyone’s minds, and it’s probably gonna be something a lot of people wanna talk about. The reason I should be the one to talk about it is X, Y, Z”, should you directly address it… Or are there other ways that are perhaps not quite as direct to try and think about your proposal in a way that makes it feel unique, even if it is talking about a topic that either is the hot topic, or has been spoken about before… Which is inevitable. Everyone talks about everything they find interesting, and inevitably, someone would have done that talk before. I mean, you take my talk that I gave - it was literally like my journey story. How many journey stories have you heard?
So when writing that, it was “How can I make this feel different? How can this resonate in a different way from other talks that have been done on a similar topic? I’m a newbie, this is how I learned.”
If you anticipate that your proposal is going to be something that a lot of other people are going to submit things about, I think being explicit and upfront about it, like “Hey, this is a rather popular thing” is important. And I think also saying what is going to be different about your proposal versus the other ones that might come in, or other things that people have talked about before is very, very important, especially for GopherCon.
The program committee for GopherCon really tries to put new content out there. We don’t want you to submit a talk that you’ve done four times already. We want you to submit a talk that’s fresh, brand new, even if it’s a little rough around the edges. So I think if you want to talk about something that is something that we’re probably gonna get a bunch of proposals about, try and shift it or change it, or talk about it from a different perspective, or come at it from just a different angle, or suit it for a slightly different audience.
Maybe there’s been a bunch of talks on the new garbage collector improvements for advanced people, and now you’re gonna bring those things down into an intermediate, or maybe even a beginner level, and explain how this new garbage collection functionality helps new people to Go, or intermediate gophers write better code. So you can take these topics that might be very competitive and you can kind of twist them and change them into something that is less competitive at the end of the day.
I also think too the quality of your proposal means a lot if you’re in a very competitive space. Higher-quality proposals will be more likely to get accepted compared to lower-quality ones, just because there’s more information there. If there’s two proposal and one of them is “I’m gonna talk about this topic and I’m gonna give you four paragraphs, and no outline, and almost no information”, and then there’s another one that explicitly states how they’re gonna meet all the criteria, has a full outline, has estimated timings, has how they’re gonna wrap it all together and all the things that the audience will take away - from those two proposals, the latter one is gonna be the one that’s gonna likely get accepted.
So I think it’s important that if you do anticipate that your space that you’re talking about is more competitive, that you put in as much extra effort you can to push your proposal over the edge. And I think you should definitely do that, regardless of what your topic is, but I also think that there are some topics where that’s much harder to do.
And I would +100 that. Bring it back to basics. Check your grammar, check your spelling, make sure that it reads well… Because your proposal is gonna be the first interaction your reviewers have with your style of writing and your structure… And if I see a proposal that is beautifully written, structured well, they’ve clearly put a lot of thought into their word choice, their grammar is on point - I’m gonna have a lot of faith that that talk is gonna be crisp, polished, beautiful. Slides… No punctuation errors, no spelling errors… A lot of thought is going to go into that talk.
[00:48:03.10] If I see a really interesting topic, a really great proposal, but there are spelling issues, punctuation is all over the shop, the structure’s not great - that’s gonna lead me to believe, whether it’s true or not… When you’re giving your talk, the image that I get in my brain is a little bit of like someone who has all those great ideas, but it’s just like babbling on in a not very structured way, leaving that audience very confused. And honestly, as someone who tends to do that, I am often the bumbling ball of excitement that just babbles about everything… People don’t get all that much when I give talks where it’s just me getting excited about something and babbling on. Yes, they’ll be like “Oh, great! That made me feel happy! I felt the excitement, but I didn’t learn much.”
You wanna make sure people come away from both your proposal as a reviewer and your talk as a viewer excited, empowered; they can see you excited about your topic, but you also want them to take away tangible learnings, and therefore you have to go back to those basics - structure, punctuation, grammar, using the right words.
Part 3: Advice
This part consists of several pieces of advice that help frame my thinking when I sit down to write a proposal and assist me with staying on task. Together they’ll help you with adding the final touches to your proposal.
Paper time is slower than talking time
The time it takes for you to go through your talk on paper is notably different from the time it’s going to take for you to present it on stage. Time passes quicker for some and slower for others, so be prepared for either to happen. While you might nail your goal time in practice runs, when you’re on stage you’ll rarely hit the same mark, so plan for that in your proposal, even if you’ve already assembled and practiced the talk.
I often have more material than can fit into the allotted time but you may not; either way, the key is to plan for running over or under on time. How do you do that? Start with labeling each section of the outline in your proposal with a range of times. Next, choose some sections you could skip or include, depending on how much you run over or under. This provides you crucial flexibility. Labeling this in your proposal lets the reviewers know that you’ve thought about this scenario.
Your audience is fresh
By the time you’re on stage, you’ll have practiced a number of times and the material may start to feel stale to you. However, your audience is hearing this content for the first time, so it’s fresh for them. This applies to your proposal as well, since the review committee is reading it for the first time. Keep this in mind when putting the finishing touches on your proposal. If you follow my subsequent advice, be careful not to revise away the parts of your proposal that are necessary information on a first read.
Review, revise, review, revise
The best way to take something from okay to good, from good to great, or from great to amazing is to review and revise it multiple times. You don’t want to get stuck in an endless loop, however those first few rounds of reviews and revisions make a world of difference. Plan to revise or rewrite your proposal at least once.
Friends are great reviewers
Friends are an excellent source of feedback, whether you send them your actual proposal or just bounce ideas off them. They can serve as first-time filters for your ideas, ensuring the story you have in your head is translating well into your proposal. They don’t even have to understand the topic. In fact, sometimes those are the best friends to have as reviewers, because they might ask the basic questions that you forgot to answer. Including those may help assist some of the CFP reviewers in better understanding your proposal.
The final stage in polishing your proposal is to read it aloud. Since you are the person closest to the material, your brain is likely skipping over words in your proposal, making connections that aren’t written, or any number of similar things. Our minds aren’t compilers, so planning to read your talk aloud should catch those rough edges.
When in doubt, submit the proposal
As a writer, you never feel like your work is done. You can always do another edit, garner another person’s opinion, or refine the material, but there comes a point when you just have to stop and click Submit. Even if you feel your proposal is not complete or could use more work, a submitted proposal is better than an unsubmitted one. It’s better to submit a proposal that could have been 5% better than to not submit one at all.
[00:56:05.26] Step away for a couple days
A technique that I love to do and helps ensure that I don’t procrastinate too much is to plan for a couple days of completely stepping away from my work. This gives my subconscious some extra time to process and this short amount of time is often enough to return to my proposal with fresh eyes.
You have less (and more) time than you think
This is true for both the CFP window and your proposal. I tend to think I have more time than I actually do at the beginning of a process, which sometimes leads to procrastination, until it’s shockingly close to the deadline. This procrastination is an aspect of the creative process for many of us, but just make sure you keep it in check. Set some artificial deadlines for yourself; when you miss them, you still have a buffer to wrap up your work and submit it.
GopherCon Mentorship Team
If you’re still worried about your proposal and you’d like help crafting it or just want someone to review and give you some feedback, then I have exciting news for you! This year, we’ve created a mentorship team to support community members with the process.
This team consists of Go community members who have written and submitted proposals that have been selected as conference talks. If you’re interested in being paired with a mentor, please reach out to us by sending an email to email@example.com.
I feel like the key point I took away from this part was talking too fast, too slow, how your pace will change, and how it’s very difficult to work out how long your talk is actually gonna be, which goes to the wonderful piece of advice you gave around having that extra cushion content. Making sure that you have a very clear idea “Okay, this is my talk, this is my structure, this is the content I wanna go through”, but if I’m coming to the end of my talk and I can tell there’s another extra 5-10 minutes, I have this extra content in my backpocket… And what I’d love to chat through a little bit is how do you bring in that cushion content?
I think I’ll start with the perspective from when you actually have your talk, and then bring into why that matters for your proposal. I think it’s highly dependent on how you give a talk. I think there’s two ends of this spectrum, and everything in between. I think at one end of the spectrum you have people that are more like the news anchors. I have essentially a teleprompter, and I am reading through that story of my talk.
I think at the other end you have people who are a bit more like me, where it’s like “I’m just gonna riff. Here are the things I’m gonna talk about, and my practice is honed, so I know what roughly to say, but it’s never gonna be the same thing twice.”
I think if you’re at the first part, that first end of the spectrum, you should probably build in specific points where you know “Okay, I am here, I’m gonna skip through these next five slides because I’m running short on time” or “Nope, I have more time than I thought I would, so I’m actually gonna go all the way through these slides.” I think that’s how you should think about structuring your talk, from that perspective.
If you’re more like me, that doesn’t matter as much, because you’re not verbatim reading something. So I think in that case, you should just know the areas where you need to increase or decrease time, and try to stretch that over the course of your talk. So it’s like “I don’t have to cut from any one part, but I know that if I’m at this part and I’m 22 minutes into my talk, that I have to cut a little bit from all of the subsequent sections, so I can meet time.” Or “Oh, I’m supposed to be at 22 minutes, but I’m only at 20 minutes. I should either slow down how fast I’m talking, or add more nuance and some specific things along the way.” It’s more flexible you don’t have this rigid structure.
[01:00:04.19] I think that leads directly into your proposal, because in your proposal it’s important to mark out this sort of stuff, especially if you have a lot of content. As I was saying, it’s better to have more than have less. So you want to start off with putting in as much information in your proposal as you can, because if your proposal comes up short, that is definitely something that the reviewers will ding you on; they’ll kind of be like “There’s not enough content here for a 25-minute talk, or for a 45-minute talk.” And then you’ll be kind of stuck. Because reviewers can’t be like “Oh, we think that they’ll add more content.”
Whereas if your proposal has more content than you need, the reviewers can say “There’s too much here, but they can probably cut some of this out”, which is slightly better, because then they can still “I can still recommend it, and we’ll recommend they work with a mentor to hone their talk topic in.”
Where this becomes important is if you in your proposal mark down “Hey, here’s all the things I wanna do. Here are parts that I will cut out if I’m running low on time.” What that tells the review committee is “I’ve thought about the case where I don’t have enough content, or there’s not enough here to talk about, so I’ve added subsequent information that is related to the topic, but not core to what’s being talked about.” So you’ve thought about that case, and you’ve also thought about “This is too much content, so I need to whittle it down somehow. I need to remove some information”, which gives the readers a lot more confidence that you’ll be able to actually really hit your time slot… Because the idea is especially at an in-person conference we have to keep the schedule going. If you have a 45-minute slot, you need to fill that 45 minutes… And unlike other conferences, GopherCon does not have question segments, so you can’t just fill the last minutes with questions or anything like that. You have to fill the whole 45 minutes and the whole 25 minutes with your content.
So I think that’s kind of how it flows into your proposal… And I absolutely love when I see proposals that have this information in it, that have like “I have thought about this situation my talk is actually going to be in, and I am telling you how I’m going to handle it.” That just gives us more confidence as a review committee and as a program committee.
And in terms of the actual on (virtual) paper way to signal that, I’m interested in the actual logistics of how you advise people put that in.
There’s a couple of ways… If you’ve structured your outline enough that you’re very specific with the things you’re gonna be talking about, you can just explicitly mark it, whether that’s an asterisk and then you put somewhere “Asterisk is things that we will remove if we’re tight on time”, or just explicitly saying “Okay, here are the things we’ll cover. If there’s time, I’ll also cover this.” So I think those are two really good ways to indicate to the reviewers that “This is content that we can trim out if there’s not enough time.” I also think that the time ranges are where you can really, really convey this to the reviewers.
I think a good range of time would be if you have a 45-minute talk, have your range be the bottom end if you add up all the minimums, so you get 40 minutes, and on the maximums you get 50 minutes, something around there… So you get a window where the average winds up being 45 minutes. You’re gonna stretch that window as you feel you need. Don’t stretch it too far. Don’t be like 35 minutes to 55 minutes. People will be like, “Wha-what?!” But expressing that in a window time I think makes a lot of sense for your proposal.
As usual, if you can find a way that indicates this information without being too wordy or taking up too much space, that’s the goal at the end of the day. I would rather have people add a quick sentence, even if it’s – like, if you have your timing, just add it in. Even if you’ve listened to what I’ve said, add it in anyway, where it says “I’ve estimated these timings to adjust for slower/long runs.” Just put a little short sentence in there, and that way you’re telling the reviewers why it doesn’t add up to 45 minutes, or why it doesn’t add up to 25 minutes.
[01:04:11.09] We get fresh, new reviewers every year, sometimes everything doesn’t get disseminated to them… So putting it in there, like “This is why these times won’t add up.” It also reminds the reviewers, like “Okay, this is why these times don’t add up.”
So yeah, mark it any way that you can, that is lightweight. Don’t be too heavy-handed about it. I think that’s some of it. And with that, let’s roll into the fourth part, which is near and dear to my heart, about writing proposals if you’re a procrastinator.
Part 4: Proposal Writing for Procrastinators
At 3 weeks long this year’s CFP is shorter than most and some of us Gophers are procrastinators. You might have a great idea for a GopherCon talk, but if you haven’t even started your proposal yet, what should you do?
You’ve thought about this more than you know
I’m a procrastinator, so I know first-hand what it’s like to have plenty of time to get something done, only to wind up days before launch with much to do and little time to do it. It can be stressful when the deadline is looming and you think you haven’t done any of the required work. However, I’ve discovered that when I procrastinate I’m not fully tuned out from whatever I’m avoiding, instead I’m subconsciously processing it. So if you’re like me, trust you already know what you want to say, but you just have to form the words. This shift in mindset usually helps to shake off some stress and enables you to make the most of the time remaining.
Keep it succinct
Most of the proposals for GopherCon are received in the last 48 hours. This means that there are sometimes more than 100 proposals that need to be reviewed in a short period of time. Keeping your submission succinct will hone your focus on what is important to the reviewers. Additionally, I’ve found this cuts down the number of times I revise my proposal. After all, the fewer words there are, the fewer times I want to rearrange or rewrite them. This is difficult to do, because it requires stopping yourself from extrapolating on a particular part, and instead focusing on making sure the overall message of your proposal is conveyed.
Write an outline, skip the back-story
When you’re moving fast it’s best to be blunt instead of clever. While it’s nice to craft a narrative while capturing the essence of your talk, the reality is this style of writing is difficult to condense and takes time to do well. With limited time you need to ensure the reviewers glean the most important aspects of your talk, even if presented roughly. So first, write an outline including time estimates for only the major sections. Then go through the list of selection criteria and answer each of them directly. Finally, if time allows, fill in more elements of the proposal. For advice on those elements refer to the first three parts of this series.
Submit even if it’s unpolished
A submitted proposal is better than one that isn’t; even if yours is rough, send it anyway. Generally, reviewers approach proposals with an open mind and they’re looking for a reason to say yes to a proposal. Even if yours isn’t the masterpiece you envisioned, it’s likely the reviewers will be able to understand your topic if you’ve followed the advice in this guide.
Timeless topics work any year
Sometimes we procrastinate a little too much and we miss the deadline. In this case, it might be too late to submit this year, but finish your proposal anyway. You can use that same proposal to submit to another conference, or you can save it for next year’s CFP. If you’re a frequent procrastinator, then you can avoid the stress of deadlines next year by having an already finished proposal. You might revise it once the CFP opens for a future year, but you’ll have a completed proposal ready to submit.
[01:07:57.18] I would actually love to start by talking about the final point that you made, which is the fact that I 100% support you starting writing a proposal for a great talk this year, and not actually submitting it… Or submitting it, it gets rejected, and then you continue to work on that talk and submit it the next year… Because Kris, as you spoke about in your guide, especially if it’s an evergreen topic, there’s no shame in you writing the proposal, giving it a go… Maybe it’s not fully polished, but submitting it this year, and then taking the time to refine and bring it back, resend it the next year.
I really feel like we put a lot of superficial pressure on ourselves to make it perfect before we submit… But really, that pressure is not validated. You put the idea together, you absolutely make time to make it as polished as it can be… But as long as you feel like you’re getting your idea across in a cohesive manner, you have an outline that you feel like does give your key points, submit it.
At the end of the day - maybe, Kris, tell me if I’m wrong - even if it’s not entirely 100% there, you’ve tried to incorporate the advice that you can, it’s in a doable format, submit it anyway. You lose nothing. I would also emphasize, for those who maybe aren’t aware - it’s anonymous. I could submit a proposal every year on the same topic, no one will know it’s the same topic. And no one will know that it’s the same person. So really, you lose nothing by submitting it.
I think too, as a procrastinator myself, it’s important that you find a good balance… And I think that’s definitely the point that I was making there, and the point that you pointed out - you need to understand how you operate as a creative person. I would even venture to say that most people who are creative are procrastinators. I think that this is the ultimate type of setting an artificial deadline for yourself before you’ll submit it… So yeah, if you write it this year and you can’t get it in before the end of the deadline, for whatever reason, please do submit the same thing next year… Or at least you’ll have something submittable for next year’s CFP, even if you come back and you update it, or change it, or whatever, and you run out of time… It’s like, you can submit the thing that you had already ready to go the year prior.
So I think this applies to even right now, even at the end crunch, where we’re in the last week of the CFP… I think it’s important setting yourself an arbitrary deadline. If the CFP closes on Sunday, set your goal for when you want your proposal done; pretend as if it closes on Saturday. “For me it closes on Friday. I need to have it absolutely done and polished and finished by Friday.” And then you’ve just given yourself two days to clean it up. Or you can even go as far as actually submitting it on Friday, and then going back and cleaning it up as necessary.
I think it’s also important to touch on a little bit of why people procrastinate. I think sometimes there’s this idea that “Oh, you’re just lazy” or “Oh, you’re just not organized enough to get things done in a timely manner”, and I wanna emphasize that that is not the case with most procrastinators I know. I know for myself personally, I’m thinking about the topic. I’m doing this deep processing with this creative part of my brain that is non-verbal, so I can’t just demand that it comes up with the creative output I so desire. I can’t do that on a timeline; I have to sow the seeds and say “Please think about this. Please process this”, and then it’ll develop, and then it’ll start having the words I need for it.
Usually, I want to launch something or submit something at the latest point possible, because it’s given my subconscious the most amount of time to process what I’ve asked it to process. Because it’ll keep going for a long, long time. So I think that’s one of the first reasons why I tend to procrastinate on things.
[01:11:48.12] And the other reason is that I know myself, and if I give myself too much time to do something, I will get stuck in a gnarly cycle of revising, revising, revising, constantly editing and changing… And the more that you do that, the more information you strip out every time, because you don’t revise and add in more stuff. You might do that every few cycles, but most of the time it’s like “Oh, I don’t need this sentence. Oh, I don’t need to explain this thing. I don’t need this.” And it kind of whittles what you’re writing down into this thing that your brain understands, but everybody else is like “You’re missing all of the connective parts. I don’t understand what you’re writing.”
So I think that’s the other reason – I purposefully timebox myself so I don’t have enough time to do that doom spiral of revising… So I think it’s important to emphasize that if you are someone that has procrastinated, don’t feel bad about it. Just know the bounds and know the barriers of the particular way in which you procrastinate, and set really good guidelines for yourself, even if it is just that “I wanna have this done a day before the CFP closes.” Because that means that you’ll rush and get it done, and maybe you’ll be a little bit over; maybe you’re like “Okay, I want it done by midnight, because that’s when the CFP closes”, and then you’re not done with it by 1 AM… But “Oh hey, I have an extra day. So it still got in on time. So I don’t have to worry.” That’s a very, very nice thing to do for yourself.
It reminds me of this – I think it was in a book I read, somewhere… I don’t remember the exact place I got this from, but it was talking about video game development in the ‘90s and how the projects would always run over… And there was this one manager who was running this project, and the engineers came to him and they were like “We’ve tried to get the size of this game down. We’ve tried so hard, but we’re still 200k over the limit of what will fit on the media that we’re using to transport the game to people.” And he was like “Okay, have you gotten rid of everything?” He was like “Yeah.” He’s like “Are we completely done?” The guy’s like “Yes, we are completely done. We can’t get it any smaller.” He’s like, “Okay.” He goes in and he deletes this one megabyte block of memory he’d just reserved… And deleted it. And the guy was like, “Wait, what?” And he’s like “Yeah, I’ve put that in there because I knew that we would run over, whatever amount of space that we had left. So by putting it here, I could delete when we’re still over and then we’d come in under, and then we’re good to go.” And I think that is the type of thing that you have to do as a procrastinator - you have to give yourself that extra buffer space where you’re like “I know if I put the actual deadline as the main thing, that I’m gonna miss it. So I’m gonna put in an arbitrary buffer to make sure that I don’t miss it.”
I think that’s great advice. And honestly, I feel like on this topic specifically I’d love it if we can reframe the way we think about procrastination… Because I think there are a lot of negative connotations to the word procrastination… But I would really think about it more as kind of taking the time to really deep-think and giving yourself the time to really think through your idea, assess it, giving your brain, as you said, subconsciously or consciously, the time to think about one idea over a period of time, develop it, make sure it’s interesting, have a multitude of different opinions on your own topic before you submit, put it forward.
Honestly, as someone who is – I am not a procrastinator; I am someone who has a massive bias for action… I have to try and make myself procrastinate more, because otherwise I will sit down, [unintelligible 01:15:25.29] This is what I did last year, and it bit me in the bottom. I was very lucky in that my talk got submitted, but looking back on my proposal, I would have benefitted from some procrastination, because I sat down the hour that the call for papers opened. “Now, I’ve got this idea. Great, I’m gonna write it. Yep, I’ll have it structured”, sat down, dedicated maybe 6-7 hours, so a good amount of time to it… Submit. Done. I had 3,5 weeks left.
[01:15:58.06] In that time though, I was thinking about my talk, and were I to have gone and written my proposal and submitted it even a week after I actually submitted it, it would have been slightly differently framed. I probably would have written a more clean proposal, my idea was more developed… So I think the advice that I certainly took away from your post, Kris, was really about starting early, meaning start thinking about the talk early, but give yourself that time, and yes, submit late with your fake deadline, because you lose a lot by pressurizing yourself to just “Go, go, go! Submit!”, because to develop a truly interesting, engaging, high-quality proposal and talk, you need to give yourself time to think.
I think the term for the opposite of a procrastinator is a precrastinator. It’s someone that needs to get things done right away.
But yeah, I think the important thing is always find a balance and find a good way of getting done as much as you can with the time that you have… And I think that too means that if you’re listening to this on the last week of the CFP, if it’s Tuesday, you still have plenty of time to write a proposal. Literally, after this episode is done, open up a document and just write down the core parts. Write a title, write a quick abstract, write a description that is just to the criteria that you need to meet, and write an outline. And then you can just put it to the side, and then if that is just what you submit, at least you’ve submitted something… And at least the reviewers can try and glean what you are trying to talk about and what you wanna try and do… At least they get the opportunity to do that.
So give the reviewers and the programming committee the opportunity to get you up on the stage… And all you have to do is literally spend 15 minutes just writing something up. Because I would rather have to slug through a bunch of 15-minute proposals where at least someone put stuff together, than have too few good ideas or have too few things that we can put up on stage. I’d rather have more options than fewer.
So definitely, if you’re someone that knows that you would love to do this, but you tend to just wait until the very last moment, just take a beat and get this thing out; write this thing out, and wait a couple days… Absolve your mind, and if it’s Tuesday, say “I’m not gonna look at this again until Thursday.” And then look at it on Thursday, polish it up, and then say “I’m not gonna look at it again until Saturday”, and then Saturday polish it up and submit it.
There’s the [unintelligible 01:18:34.05] that’s five days right there. You have the time to do this. If you only have three days, write it, wait a day, polish it up and submit it. There’s ways that you can do this that if you’ve waited until the last moment, you can still get your proposal in and it can still be great. In fact, the vast majority of proposals that GopherCon gets come in at the last moments of the CFP. It’s like this long slug of like a month where we’ll get a trickle, and then in those last 2-3 days it’s just like a rush of proposals…
So if you’re one of those people submitting at the end, you’re not the outlier. You’re part of the majority. You’re part of the group of people that will be up on the stage, even if you submit at 11 PM on the last day of the CFP.
So as I said in the other parts of this guide, please just submit. Please do it. You never know what the reviewers might glean from what your proposal is, even if it’s really rough around the edges.
[01:19:36.14] And honestly, to emphasize the fact that we are not just doing lip service to this, I am thinking about submitting a talk to GopherCon. I haven’t decided what it is, I haven’t thought about it at all, but as a perfectionist, I know that I can make the decision to do that even just 2-3 days before the deadline [unintelligible 01:19:55.03] and I know that I’m gonna be able to produce a really high-quality, thought-through proposal… Benefit being, again, it’s anonymized, so nobody’s gonna know who it is, and therefore the reviewers won’t know whether I’ve been thinking about this for years, months, weeks, or I’ve just thought of this proposal yesterday. As long as you put the idea down, you take a few hours to structure it, make sure you get the core idea, the root idea - that’s the most important thing.
Absolutely. And yeah, our review process is in fact double-blind. I will say that the program chairs will know who you are we do unmask the names but the reviewers never really get to see that… So year to year, when your proposal rolls in, it is nameless and identityless, just like every other proposal that the reviewers see. So yeah, you’re 100% right there, where it’s just like - submit it, and even if it’s been submitted in previous years, it doesn’t matter. Try and try again, tweak it, change it…
I will say there’s one big thing that we didn’t talk about, that was part of part three… We have a brand new mentorship team for GopherCon this year, that’s focused on both helping you with your proposal, as well as helping the selected speakers to develop their talk.
So if you’ve been thinking “I really wanna give a talk, but I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. I’ve given some public speaking before, I’ve done a couple of meetups but I’ve never done something like GopherCon”, submit anyway. You can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and you can get paired with a person that has written plenty of talks, has submitted plenty of proposals and been on stage many times, to give you some good feedback on your proposal or on your talk if you could select it, to help guide you through the process of developing a great talk.
So if you’re worried about not having the resources to actually be able to develop a talk, you have no idea how to write one, don’t worry, we have mentorship opportunities for you. GopherCon does have a preference for people that are new to GopherCon speakers… So if you haven’t spoken at GopherCon before, or have only spoken at meetups or local things like that and you wanna make a break into the national scene, GopherCon is a great conference for you to do that.
So yeah, if you’re looking for that type of mentorship help, then definitely send an email to email@example.com and we can help you out with your proposal. With that, I am so thankful for you, Angelica, joining me on this wonderful episode of Go Time. I hope you, our dear listeners, really enjoyed this content and this new format that we’re trying out… And as per usual, we will see you all next week.
Our transcripts are open source on GitHub. Improvements are welcome. 💚