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Top 5 Tips for Writing a great talk abstract

Happy Valentine's Day friends around the world! Have a gift for your future public speaking self 😉. Only joking!

But in all seriousness, this is a post I wanted to write after reviewing submissions for a few conferences now, and realising there are a few places where people stumble when writing submissions, and I just wanted to share 5 tips that I think could help increase your chances of being accepted.

If you prefer to watch, I also released a video yesterday. But for now, let's get started!

Tip #1 - Setting the scene

Just like with a book or other kinds of content, the first few seconds or sentences, will make or break if the consumer is going to stick with it. So for this reason, it's important to start off with a good one or two sentences to grab their attention. Start off by explaining WHY you came to talk about this topic.

For example - one of the recent abstracts I wrote starts off by explaining how I saw a sheet of blood pressure and pulse readings from a friend, and it got me thinking about how that data could be used in a better way than just a piece of paper or a spreadsheet, and used to view history, track trends and even visualise the information in nice graphs.

Tip #2 - Explain what you'll cover

Now you have set the scene about how you came to pick the topic, it's time to then talk about what you will cover. This usually starts with a sentence like "In this talk...".

When choosing your talk for their conference, or choosing what they want to watch at the conference, people want to know what they'll hear. You don't need to spoil the surprise of the content but an overview is helpful.

In my blood pressure talk example, I explained that I would show the app I wrote that combines the power of Xamarin.Forms and MongoDB from Atlas to Realm to Charts, to create an app to log and visualise the data. I also said that I would discuss future plans for the app involving Apple's HealthKit.

Tip #3 - What they'll learn

OK so you have why you chose this topic and what you will talk about, now its time to discuss what they will learn from watching your talk. You don't want a super long list at this point as a long abstract tends to cause people to switch off from reading, but something like "You will go away from this talk knowing how to use X and Y to do Z" if its about using a product or whatever sounds most logical for your topic.

My blood pressure talk is more of a high-level demo as it is currently a shorter talk, so I just said that they will go away feeling inspired to do fun and powerful things with their data. This is more of an emotional take-away than actual knowledge, but it still rounds off the abstract nicely with a sort of summary.

I commonly give talks on Xamarin, so one of the final sentences I could put in an abstract to an intro talk for example would be that attendees will learn how to create their first Xamarin.Forms project.

Tip #4 - Don't add the above in notes to the organisers

These final 2 points are less about the actual abstract structure and more about general tips from things I have seen.

Tip number 4 then, is all about not adding any of the above in the notes to the organiser. The most common platform for gathering and evaluating talk submissions is Sessionize, and on there when submitting a talk, as well as the abstract and details about yourself, you can also add notes to the organiser. This should be practical notes like the presentation will have sound which will need to be heard by the audience, or maybe related content such as a blog post they have written about the subject before, showing their knowledge on the topic. What it shouldn't be is a place for stuff that should be in the abstract. The most common mistake I see with notes is where they list what technologies or frameworks they will discuss. This is the kind of information an attendee will want to know, so don't hide it away!


Now onto the last, and in my opinion one of the most important tips I can give - proofread! The English language is hard, English isn't everyone's first language, I get it. But there are tools out there to help make it easier so some of the typo's and mistakes I see in abstracts are just unnecessary. Read through your abstract two or three times after writing, even take a break in between. You will be surprised what things you spot. If you struggle with writing, then use a free tool like Grammarly. This will help you spot typos, grammar mistakes and even other things like sentences being too long.

Your abstract doesn't change normally between submission and publishing on an event agenda if you are accepted. On some rare occasions, events will have a period to allow for abstract refinement but usually not. What you write will end up on the agenda so make sure it looks as professional as possible, it will increase your chances of people attending.

Luce Carter

Dev 🥑 at MongoDB | Microsoft MVP | Twilio Champion | I help developers build confidence and battle Impostor Syndrome, one line of code or story at a time | She/Her