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When it comes to submitting talks, how many is too many?

Dear Reader,

CFP season is once again upon us. Sunshine PHP’s CFP is open and I expect all the early conference for next year to open soon. PHP developers, regular speakers, and potential speakers all around the world are opening up documents and thinking through which talks they should submit and which they should retire. Every speaker who gets accepted has a list of potential talks they can present and I guarantee that as you read this, someone has that list open and is culling through it.

  • This one didn’t get accepted last year. Is it bad or should  I resubmit?
  • I know I gave this one last year but at which conference?
  • This one is outdated. Should I refresh it, give it a new title and start submitting it again, or should I retire it and write a new one?

During my heyday of speaking – meaning I got accepted to about 10% of the conference I submitted to – I had a Google Doc with about 10 talk ideas that I had either written or could write. When a CFP opened, I would open that document and “shotgun” the talks into the CFP system. 15 minutes of copy ‘n paste and I was done. I mean it’s a numbers game, right? The more I submit, the better chance I have of being accepted? Right? Well….no.

After a while, it dawned on me that shotgunning every conference with all my talk ideas was actually hurting me. After I had run a few CFPs, I understood why.

Most conference organizers want one good talk from you

Here that, one. One good talk is all you need to get accepted. Right, so which one of those 10 is going to get you accepted? That’s the million-dollar question, isn’t it. Thankfully, conference organizers give us clues before we even submit. Most conferences will give you a list of topics that they are interested in. Here’s a sneaky little tip. Unless they have taken the time to randomize the topics, the one at the top is the one they are most interested in. It was top-of-mind when they wrote up the list.

Tip #1

Filter your list to only include talks that match the list they gave. If it’s not on their list, don’t submit it.

Many conference organizers have to sort through 500+ talks to make the selection

Ok, you read their list and you have several talks that match the list. Which ones should you submit? Shouldn’t you submit all of them just in case one not on the list catches their eye? No, you shouldn’t. If you shotgun 10 talks and the conference organizer doesn’t like your first two to three talks, there is a chance that they will simply skip the rest of your talks. 500 talks is a lot of talks to sort through. Every conference organizer I know has taken shortcuts in the process. Don’t be a victim of shortcut.

If, after filtering the list based on the suggested topics, you still have five or more talks, keep filtering. Pick the four talks that you are really most passionate about. If you only have 2 talks you are really REALLY passionate about, pick the one additional talk that you think would be fun to give.

Tip #2

Filter your list down to a maximum of four talks.

Make your first idea you best

Almost all CFPs I have been a part of order talks by order of submission by default. So submit your best talk first. If this is the first time the organizer sees your name, make sure it is beside your best idea. Once you’ve submitted your best idea, flesh out your options. Submit your second best idea, then your third, and if you have it a fourth.

Tip #3

Submit your best idea first.

Many conferences are on a budget and need two talks from each speaker

After I have this conversation with people, many ask, well shouldn’t I just submit my best idea and be done with it? No, here’s why. Because of budget constraints, many conferences need each speaker to give two talks. Sunshine PHP is the conspicuous exception to this rule. Adam limits almost all speakers to a single session. So, to get selected, you have to have at least two talks that the organizer thinks will fit in the schedule. Conference organizer will sometimes pick a mediocre talk from a speaker that they have previously selected a “knock it out of the park” talk. We talked about having too many before though so don’t go back to submitting everything. Remember the rule of 4.

 Tip #4

Always give the organizer a second option, even if it’s not your strongest idea; a third option is even better.


Yes, submitting talks is a numbers game. Make sure you have the right number. Follow these four tips when selecting the talks to submit to each conference.

Until next time,
I <3 |<

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