An Insider's Look at Proposing a Session for DrupalCon

DrupalCon is a conference and global community gathering that takes place usually twice a year in North America and Europe. Past DrupalCons have spanned the globe and also taken place in India, Colombia, and Australia. DrupalCons are organized by the Drupal Association, a non-profit organization that supports the Drupal community through funding, infrastructure, education, promotion, distribution, and online collaboration on Drupal.org.

DrupalCon North America attracts thousands of users, frontend and backend developers, software engineers, system administrators, designers, UX specialists, content strategists, site owners, site builders, content managers, community leaders, site administrators, business owners, project managers, documentation specialists, trainers, and others that interact with Drupal as a website, as code, as a community, or as an integral part of their organization.

This year in 2017, DrupalCon North America is taking place in Baltimore, Maryland, USA from April 24-28.

DrupalCon Baltimore will feature presentations in 13 session tracks, informal Birds of a Feather gatherings (BoFs), code sprints, social events, pre-conference training workshops, topical summits, and events for first-time attendees and code contributors alike.

Session tracks

The DrupalCon Baltimore session program will include presentations in 13 tracks:

Each track has a track committee consisting of a local chairperson and two global chairpersons. These three people craft the track description and decide which session submissions will be chosen for their track.

Drupalize.Me happens to have two team members serving as local track chairs at DrupalCon Baltimore. Joe Shindelar is the local track chair for the Being Human track and Amber Matz is the local track chair for the Horizons track.

On being a track chair

Here are some thoughts from Joe and Amber on being a track chair:

  • Joe: Local track chairs define the theme for their track with input from their global chairs and the other track chairs. As the chair for the Being Human track, the definition of the track as a category for "content about the humans that create the software" was already set. My job was to take that very broad definition and refine it for this specific DrupalCon. What are issues that are important in our community right now? What about the larger tech industry as a whole? What am I personally passionate about? So, we tried to take that broad definition and provide people with a bit more guidance about what we are looking for in session proposals.
  • Amber: The Horizons track has a personal place in my heart because I got to speak in that track last year. This year I sent out a survey to the general public and also polled our sister company Lullabot for some ideas about what they considered "emerging technology" in the Internet world. So our topic suggestions and track description were heavily influenced by the responses to those surveys.
  • Joe: Our process so far has been mostly weekly meetings in which we've worked to define the tracks, proof each others' descriptions, discuss ideas for increasing the diversity of people submitting sessions, and make decisions regarding the various questions on the session submission form, scholarship funds, and other things related to: 1) getting people to submit sessions so that we can have a diverse pools of speakers and topics to choose from, and 2) putting things in place to make decisions about which of the submitted sessions will be accepted.
  • Amber: We've also written some blog posts: Built by Humans for Humans and Wanted: Explorers of Tech Horizons
  • Joe: Regarding communicating with people interested in submitting a session -- I've had a few people reach out to me asking me to review their submission and provide feedback, and a couple others who wanted to chat about either picking a topic, or narrowing the focus of an idea. Pro tip: The number of session submissions increases exponentially during the last week, so submit your session and/or contact the track chairs early if you want feedback. After a certain point there's too little time and too many new submissions for us to provide feedback to everyone.
  • Joe: Another thing we've done is reach out to people in and out of the community in an attempt to solicit session proposals. I've done this mostly via Twitter, email, and a few from the local community in person.
  • Amber: Same here. While it's easy to Tweet messages out, it's challenging to know what the impact is. Nevertheless, I have made some interesting new connections with folks in my attempt to reach out.
  • Joe: I've been working to read and consider sessions as they are submitted. Knowing that there will be a surge of them coming in at the end, I feel that it's important to stay on top of things so that I'm not overwhelmed trying to read everything in just a few days. I'm a little nervous about reading too many submissions in rapid succession and having them start to blur together. So I would rather tackle a few at a time. That's another good reason to get your session in early -- there's less chance of it getting lost in the torrent of new submissions in the last 24 hours.
  • Amber: I'm excited about the sessions we've received so far in the Horizons track. It's definitely advantageous to get your session in as early as possible because many track chairs, like myself and Joe, are reading them as they come in and inevitably the later ones will get compared to what we've already read. So get yours in early and set the bar high!

Anyone with previous speaking experience (not necessarily at DrupalCon) is invited to submit a session proposal by February 1, 2017. Be sure to read each of the session track descriptions and topic suggestion lists to find the right track for your session proposal.

Tips for submitting a presentation proposal

Here are some suggestions for submitting a proposal:

  • Pick a topic you're passionate about. That passion (or lack thereof) will show in your submission, your slides, and your presentation. If accepted, you're going to put a lot of time into this, so you'd better pick something that's interesting to you.
  • Even if you're not "The Expert™", on a particular topic doesn't mean you don't have good things to say. Everyone is at a different place along the spectrum of Drupal expertise, and I promise you've got good information that others will benefit from.
  • Browse session submissions from previous DrupalCon speakers and compare yours. Is the writing and explanation on the same level?
  • Pick a pain point, something you have personal experience with, and have some ideas about how to resolve it. Explain that this is what you're going to cover.
  • Proofread your submission -- better yet, have someone else proofread it for you.

Resources for people submitting session proposals

  • Here's good article from Gus Childs at Chromatic about his experience getting a session selected at DrupalCon New Orleans: The Road to Speaking at DrupalCon.
  • You can get feedback from veteran speakers before you submit from the group of volunteers at HelpMeAbstract.com
  • Contact the DrupalCon Program Manager who will put you in touch with a Session Submission Mentor.
  • Contact a Session Track team chair. Track teams are listed here and you can contact track team chairs via their Drupal.org contact form.
  • Find out more about resources and support for speakers here.
  • Don't neglect proofreading. Have someone else read it through.
  • Do you identify with an underrepresented group? The people behind the DrupalCon program are dedicated to increasing the diversity of of speakers at DrupalCon. One of the ways they are doing this is through the Inclusion Fund. You can request up to $350 for travel and lodging expense assistance. Find out more on this page.

We hope to see lots of great session proposals in all the tracks. Your contributions as a speaker will help make DrupalCon awesome.

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