How to get your JavaOne talk accepted

Putting on a conference like JavaOne is no small task.  The centerpiece of the conference is, of course, the technical sessions, and numerous reviewers spend a great deal of time combing through the proposals.  This year, we had over 1300 proposals -- more than five times as many proposals as we had slots! That's some tough competition.

Submitters are often frustrated by the binary answer they receive about their talk (accepted or rejected), but the reality is that it is impractical to compose an explanation for why each talk was rejected.

So, just what does make a great JavaOne submission?

•  Be aware of the tracks, and make sure your talk really fits one.  The message is partially shaped by the choice of tracks, and they differ somewhat from year to year.  Make sure your talk fits into one of the specified focus areas, and submit it to the \*right\* track, otherwise your talk will garner reviews like "Nice talk, but doesn't seem a good fit for this track." (Also be aware that each track has a separate review committee.)

Talks that submit to too many tracks are really at a disadvantage, not just because you will annoy the review team by "spamming" the tracks, but because of how the review process works -- review scores are aggregated across all reviewers for that talk, not just within a track.  So if your talk was bang-on for track A, and off-topic for track B, those bad marks for "not a good fit for this track" from B will get averaged in with the great marks from A, and your otherwise excellent talk will float to the middle of the pack. And the middle talks don't get taken.

So pick the right track, and submit to that track only.  If the talk doesn't fit any track, you should probably propose a different topic.

•  Be current!  Technology moves fast.  A topic that was a big hit two years ago may be old hat this year. 

•  Easy on the marketing.  Sure, there's plenty of marketing at JavaOne, but talks that read like marketing pitches will not make the cut.  The reviewers are all engineers, and they hate that sort of stuff.

•  Carve a niche.  Bear in mind that you are facing some tough competition. Searching through the submissions database, a search for Scala hits over 100 talks, a search for "concurrency" over 35, and a search for performance over 200.  Whatever you are talking about, you're likely to be up against some stiff competition -- especially in the core topic areas -- so make your talk stand out by offering a unique perspective, topic, or presentation approach.

Oh, and the #1 thing you can do to improve your chances:

•  Tell us what you're actually going to talk about!  You would be amazed at how many talks are absurdly light on details.  Believe it or not, we see lots of submissions like "I would like to present on <general topic>.  <General topic> is great!  I'm going to discuss the pros and cons of <general topic> in great detail.  It will be great!"  More talks get rejected because of not enough detail than anything else; talks that are light on details are just too risky to accept when there are plenty of more detailed submissions.   Don't leave any room for guessing about what you'll be talking about.

I blogged about how your JavaONE proposal will be rejected. I've just been engaged in a conversation with a co-submitter about why our proposal was rejected. We submitted in core which in retrospect has to be one of the most difficult tracks to get accepted into. In fact, about 14 out of 15 abstracts were rejected. But this talk of rejection isn't fair because the discussions didn't focus on "we need to reject this abstract". Instead the primary focus was on how do we find a slot in the schedule for this abstract. Most of the time was spent agonizing over the fact that a brilliant looking talk wasn't going to make the cut.

The process wasn't anything about rejection, only about how to get more accepted.

That said, I think that there can be a lot done to improve transparency in the process. I also think that more transparency would help both those that were rejected (at least I know why my abstracts were rejected) and JavaONE/Sun. I'd call on Sun to release reviewer comments starting in 2010. I'd also suggest that reviews attend at least 4 conferences a year (not just Sun events) and/or be involved in a review process for another conference. I make this last suggestion because I found that some of the reviewers didn't have as much information about speakers as I thought that they should have. Lets face it, JavaONE is also about a good performance and getting to watch speakers at other events will give you a better idea to the amount of depth behind the abstract.


Posted by kirk on March 31, 2009 at 09:01 PM PDT #

Brian, thanks for the article. Can you give us some more detail on the "Scala" search you referred to? 100/1300 talks containing "scala" is very exciting, but surprising. Would this have included unrelated words like scalable? How many submitted talks referred to Scala the language? How many talks included "Scala" in the title? Just curious, thanks.

Posted by Jeremy Norris on April 30, 2009 at 02:06 AM PDT #

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Brian Goetz is Java Language Architect at Oracle Corporation.


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