Monday, 26 December 2016

How to Become a Successful Agile Conference Presenter

This article show cases my experience at becoming an Agile Conference presenter. Specifically at Agile Tour Vienna 2016 [1].

These days if you have something interesting to share, Agile conferences seem the best place to do this. However how does one become a conference speaker? Originally I applied to a Scrum Alliance Global Gathering [2], but I was rejected. So, failed at the first hurdle.

For my first submission I did not back check the previous conferences topics to see what type of presentations had been selected. The type of talks the particular conference likes. I also targeted one of the top conferences/gathering. Competition was too high against very experienced presenters. I had no chance as an unproven new comer. Why would they the organisers take the risk? They did not.

What I learned from the failures ended up becoming the solution to the problem. Inspect and Adapt [3].

To even be considered for selection one has to create edgy and interesting talks. Otherwise why would anyone take a risk on you?

What I have noticed is that if you look at many conference sites you can see the type of talks which are in fashion. At time of writing these seem to be Agile Transformations, Agile Coaching approaches, Scaling frameworks, big name sexy companies like Spotify, Google, Thoughworks etc. Even if you do not work for these companies, by having a talk about them seems to generate interest.

Quite a few conferences allow multiple submissions. So, having a few abstracts pre-built and ready to go will obviously increase your chances. They will also show the organisers that you really want to present at their conference.

I found selecting Agile conferences abroad also increased selection as the organisers liked to have foreign speakers to make their conference look international. It also meant you as talker would soon become an international speaker. And most importantly the attendees may get a different perspective than they usually would get. However there is a catch and that is as you are unproven and not a name you will have to pay for your travel, accommodation, food and local transport yourself. So, this activity is not free until you become a name on the circuit.

Agile Tour Vienna 2016
Check past talks to see the type of speakers and submissions they have been known to select. Then you can selects the ones closest from your ready list. Then submit probably no more than 3-5. Some conferences like the Scrum Alliance ones limit to two!

I have created a list of activities I go through to increase my chances:

  1. Create abstracts for submissions and make them interesting, edgy and topical.
  2. Have several abstract submissions for talks readily available.
  3. Select small Agile conferences abroad.
  4. Be prepared to pay your own way on travel, accommodation, food and local transport.
  5. Align content to past conference subjects as then you can guess what they like to select.
  6. Submit more than one talk, as many as you can.
  7. Always ask for feedback on rejection and if you get the response “there were a lot of high quality presentations”, then respectfully ask for more detailed feedback than that. This way you can learn from that feedback and improve.

Proof of this success is a talk I conducted with Chris Nikitas for Agile Tour Vienna 2016 entitled Large Scale Agile Transformations (in IB): Lessons Learned” [4]. This was the first talk I have performed in the community. Using the approach above I have since conducted many more talks. Here I present:
  • Agile Tour Vienna 2016 submitted abstract [5]
  • Video of the talk at the Conference [6]
  • Actual Slides from the Talk [7]

Agile Link:
Sharing knowledge is the best way we can as a community improve the change of mindset in anyone and everyone to that of Agile Mindset.

[1] Agile Tour Vienna 2016:
[4] Large Scale Agile Transformations (in IB): Lessons Learned:
[6] Video from: Large Scale Agile Transformations (in IB): Lessons Learned:
[7] Slides from: Large Scale Agile Transformations (in IB): Lessons Learned:

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