How to get your submission accepted at Berlin Buzzwords

How to get your submission accepted at Berlin Buzzwords #

Disclaimer: Intentionally posting on my private blog - these are my own criteria, not general advice from the review committee.

Berlin Buzzwords is in it’s fourth year. Probably the most tedious task of all is having to select talks to make it into the final schedule. With roughly 120 submissions and roughly 30 slots to fill the result is that three quarters of all submissions have to be rejected. Last year I shared some details on how we do talk ranking given reviewers have provided their input.

Now the mechanics of ranking are clear, people have asked me what goes into the reviews themselves. Here I can only speak for myself: After doing reviews ourselves during the first two years, Simon, Jan and myself decided to spread the work of reviewing submissions among a larger team of people. As nearly all of them had attended Berlin Buzzwords in the past already (or had at least followed the conference remotely) we could assume they were roughly familiar with what kind of content would be a good fit. As a result review guidelines that we send out tend to be rather light:

Berlin Buzzwords is a conference from geeks for geeks: The goal is to get the people actively working in the field together to meet and exchange ideas. Content should have some technical depth - in particular pure marketing talks and obvious product placements without further technical value are not welcome. We usually invite both, interesting case studies as well as talks highlighting the technical details a project is built upon.

In the end judgement is up to the individual reviewer - so I can speak only for myself when listing what you should do to get your talk accepted.

  • Be on topic. There’s always a handful of submissions that look and sound like pure marketing, product placement or simply aren’t related to software engineering at all. Those tend to be easy to spot and weed out.
  • Tell us what you are talking about. An abstract is there to provide some detail on your presentation - don’t be just funny, promising overly generic content. In order to decide whether or not your talk is relevant please provide some details on which direction you’ll be heading.
  • Don’t be too detailed in the abstract neither - there’s no need to list the content of every slide. Make sure the abstract correctly summarizes your talk, making it catchy and nice to read usually helps if the content is solid.
  • We try to find those speakers that have not only an interesting topic to talk about but are also a pleasure to listen to, who can successfully get their point across. We cannot know every potential speaker in person though. As a result it helps if you list which conferences you’ve spoken at in the past, any videos of previous talks is helpful as well. As a general piece of advice: Choosing Berlin Buzzwords as your first conference to speak at ever usually is a great way to disaster. Get some practice at local meetups like the Berlin Hadoop Get Together, the data science day, the Java User Group Berlin Brandenburg, the RecSys Stammtisch Berlin or the MongoDB User Group Berlin to name just a few.
  • Make sure your talk is novel - submitting the same topic in 2012 and 2013 is a great way to ensure getting rejected. Also it is fine to submit a talk you have given at another conference earlier. However if everyone in the Buzzwords audience is very likely to have watched the exact same version of your presentation earlier already, we are less likely to accept your talk.
  • Finally: When drafting your bio make sure to include details that explain why you are the perfect expert to talk about the topic at hand. As much as I’d like to I don’t know every project’s committer by name. Provide some help by pointing out explicitly what your contributions have been or in what context you have used the technology you are presenting. Don’t be shy to list that you are a co-founder of a successful project. Not only does this information help with selecting talks, it also provides some background for the audience to judge the claims you make.

Two words on the role of free software at Buzzwords: There is no explicit requirement to only talk about software that is publicly available under a free software license however if some project or framework is presented it helps to be open source to raise the applicability for the audience. Most projects discussed at Berlin Buzzwords are developed openly. In order to get the maximum out of these projects it pays to know how they work internally, how to get active yourself, how to contribute. As a result discussions and talks on project governance are generally welcome.

A parting note: With way more than half of all submissions to reject making a final decision will always be hard. Being rejected doesn’t necessarily mean that your proposal was bad. Following the above advise may raise chances of being accepted - however it is no guarantee. We could raise the number of accepted talks by extending the conference by another track or even another day - at the cost of raising the ticket price substantially. However we want not only “big corp representatives” but a diverse audience, attendees that get active themselves, that help shape the conference:

There’s plenty of space and time to get active in addition to the main conference program. Use the time and space to shape the conference.