Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Abstract Sumission Advice

Yesterday, I was part of the KScope 14 APEX Abstract Review call.  This call is used to discuss the rankings that the Abstract Review Committee has previously given each session.  Naturally, we use APEX to help with this process - specifically WebSheets.  The call allows us to ensure that the selections are as fair as possible.  We make sure that no single presenter has too many slots, ensure that there are enough first-timers vs. veteran presenters and keep the topics of the accepted abstracts balanced.  This process has been extremely useful in the past, and really makes for a much better conference.

In reviewing the abstracts, I could not help but keep mentally creating a do's and don't list when it comes time to submit an abstract.  While most of them were fairly decent, there were a few that were sub-par in relation to the others, and there were a couple that stood out.

Based on this, I've come up with an ad-hoc list of things to consider when submitting an abstract for any conference.  It's in no particular order and by no means complete, but I figured that I'd blog this out while it's still fresh on my mind.  Here goes:

Catchy Titles

Catchy titles can definitely draw attention to your session.  While the title "Intro to APEX & jQuery" clearly spells out what is covered, it's a bit bland.  A more creative version would be something like “jQuery & APEX: 10 Must-Know Commands in an Hour”.  Be careful not to use too long of a catchy title, as that's one of the sure-fire ways to not get accepted.  If you can't spell it out in just a few words, then perhaps the topic needs to be re-thought.

If you're going to use a catchy title, then keep this in mind: you immediately raise the expectations of the reviewers.  Nothing is more disappointing than a catchy title followed by a sub-par summary & abstract.  So make sure that you spend at least as much time on the abstract as the title itself!

Less is More

Being succinct is key.  We had well over 100 abstracts to review, and if your abstract doesn't stand out in the first sentence or two, then chances are the rest of it may get ignored.  You’re not writing a book or even a chapter of a book here, so there is no time to build up what you want to say.  Simply just say it!

KScope gives you two places to sell your session:  Summary & Abstract.  A sure-fire way to sink your session is to copy & paste the same text in both of these.  They are different, and if you can’t take the time to fill them out correctly, don’t expect much in return.  The Summary should be a paragraph or so that sells the session.  This is what most reviewers read first.  If it’s good & compelling, we’ll read the abstract.  If not, then perhaps not.

Consider this example of a presentation summary:

Starting with APEX 4.0, Oracle began to include jQuery bundled with APEX itself.  jQuery is an open-source JavaScript library that makes developing easier and faster. This session will cover the basics of jQuery and how it is integrated with APEX.  It will also cover some best practices to use when utilizing jQuery from APEX.

Now, consider this one:

Want to learn how to enhance your application’s visual impact without learning any new commands or languages?  Then this session is for you!  We’ll show you 10 quick & easy ways to utilize jQuery to add some sizzle to your APEX application - all without more than a line of code each!

Clearly the second one just feels more exciting.  It asks a question - which acts as a hook for the reviewer.  It then spells out pretty clearly what it will cover, and throws in the added benefit of “one line of code each”.  It doesn’t waste any time defining jQuery, but rather almost leaves that to the reviewer.  If they know what jQuery is, then there is no issue.  If they do not, they can either look it up or come to the session to learn more about it.

One note of caution about being succinct: there is such a thing as too succinct.  Have a peer or two read your summary and then ask them to describe what they think will be presented.  If they are too far off the mark, you may need to add some more content to it.

The abstract is where you’re going to spell out what you highlighted in the summary.  Here’s where you can and should get somewhat technical.  In the example above, spell out the 10 things that you’re going to cover.  This is the only chance that we’ll get to see the outline of your presentation.  If you fail to do this, then you’re less likely to get accepted.

Buzzword Bingo

Google it.  Now print it out, and read your abstract.  Did you get bingo, or even come close?  If yes, then you have too many buzzwords.  Nothing aggravates me more then reading a sentence, pausing, and wondering just what the heck the point of that sentence was.

Know Your Audience...

There are less than 50 available slots at KScope in the APEX track.  While that’s a relatively large number, it’s actually not, especially based on the large number of submissions that we had this year.  Throw in things like the Intro track and some of the deep dives, and this number gets even smaller.

Therefore, one of the key criteria that we consider is how wide of an audience will your session appeal to.  There’s probably no such thing as too wide (as long as it has to do with APEX), but there is definitely such a thing as too narrow.  A topic that covers IRs or Charts or jQuery will have a wide appeal, because we all use those components.  Something like mobile will have a narrower, but still wide enough appeal, because many of us use it.  However, once you venture into the more obscure corners of APEX, the audience starts to get dangerously narrow, and the likelihood of acceptance goes down as well.

…And Your Audience Should Know You

Speaking at a large conference such as OpenWorld or KScope is something that is earned.  Thus, getting accepted may also take a little bit of work.  If you did submit an abstract and not get accepted, don’t give up.  Rather, try to start establishing a name for yourself.  You can do this a number of different names: blogging, Twitter, and presenting at smaller, local conferences, just to name a few.  Nothing delights the reviewers more than seeing a name of a popular blogger show up in the KScope APEX track.  

The best part about blogging & social media is that everyone starts on the same level.  If you start a new blog, your content and content alone will determine how others perceive your understanding of the topics that you blog on.  If your posts are very detailed and contain a lot of good information, it’s more likely that people will share them, thus increasing your exposure.  If they are not well written and technically incorrect, people will remember that, too.

Summary

While this post is clearly too late to matter for KScope '14, I hope that it can be helpful for any other conference whose submission deadline has yet to pass.  Feel free to add your own advice in the comments.