Speakers and Call for Proposals

This section describes how to:

  • Manage the CFP
  • Select talks
  • Wrangle speakers before/during/after the conference

CFP timeline

PLan to end the Call for Proposals around 3 months prior to the conference. This gives speakers plenty of time to book travel, but also keeps the topics fresh and ensures the speakers are still passionate about them.

After the CFP ends, give reviewers 1 week to review all the talk proposals. After this, the reviewers rate the proposals following the review guidelines, and hold the final group meeting where we talk through the final schedule.

How to write a CFP?

Announcing [conf name] Call for Proposals
Say hi and don’t forget to mention when the conference is and when the the CFP will close.
Conference Goals
Invite everyone who care about docs to contribute!
Topic ideas
To help potential speakers find a topic, list different subjects that make good talks. Add a few links to previous talks: it will help people get a better idea of what you want.
Presentation format
Format is 30 minutes but invite people to contact you if they want to do something longer/shorter.
Speaker Benefits and Logistics
Say if you cover ticket, travel cost and lodging for speakers.
How people should contact you.
Submit a Proposal
Link or form where people can send their proposal.

Call for Proposals examples from previous WTD conferences:

Talk review and selection

Talk proposals are reviewed by a panel of 6-10 people from the conference organization team and community. We use a tool called Pretalx, which lets us store, review, and record our selections collaboratively.

Each member of the review committee will need:

  • Access to Pretalx
  • Around 6 hours of time for proposal review
  • (Optional) Review meeting (usually two hours)

Reviewing starts as soon as there are propsals to review, although most proposals usually come in in the last week or so. We usually end the Call for Proposals around 8 weeks before the conference, aim to hold the review meeting within one week, and give the speakers around a week to confirm, then reach out to alternates if needed.

We encourage our reviewers to comment on each proposal as well as rate them, since it makes for a much more productive review meeting.

Reviewing Guidelines

Grade the quality of each proposal on a 5 to 1 grading scale for overall content, originality, relevance, and speaker(s):

  1. I will argue strongly against including this in the program.
  2. I’m not a fan, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world if we included this.
  3. (DO NOT USE. Three means you don’t have an opinion. We don’t believe you. No threes.)
  4. This is a decent talk. I’d be cool with including it.
  5. I will fight to make sure this talk is included in the program.


  • Leave comments for each proposal you review, with the reasons for your score.
  • Do not leave a score of 3.

Review Process Best Practices

Time Commitment
Please plan on committing 4-6 hours total to review all of the submissions in your track, depending on the amount of submissions. Aim to do a few at a time then take a break. This helps prevent burnout and allows you to see more proposals with fresh eyes. Some folks have found the Pomodoro Technique for this.
Revisit your first ~15 talks
When you’re reviewing this many talks, it can take a while to get the feel of the rating system since, at first, you only have a small sample to compare to. To solve this problem, we recommend that, when you get to the end of your reviews, you go back and take another quick look at the first 15 or so talks you looked at, to make sure your rating holds up in the context of the whole pool.

It’s really useful, when you’re doing these reviews, to think not just about the things that you, personally, are most interested in, but also what talks are a good fit for the spirit of a Write the Docs conference. You’ve been before. You know the vibe. Try to keep that energy in mind when reading proposals and think about whether they would be at home in lineup of fun, educational, and often out-of-the-box speakers.

The other thing to consider is balance. One of the things that makes this process so hard how many different spectrums across which we need to balance our talks. Here are some of the ones we try to keep in mind:

  • Writers/Developers/Product/Support
  • Gender
  • Technical level
  • Speaking experience
  • Open source vs. not
Process Integrity
It is very important to protect the integrity of the review process, and to avoid undue bias, by keeping the submissions and your comments on them confidential. Please review and adhere to our Code of Conduct.
Public & Author Interaction
To ensure an unbiased review process, program committee members should not discuss submissions with authors and/or the overall public (i.e., please no tweeting). Of course, please feel free to tweet about accepted sessions that you are excited to attend once the schedule has been published.
Conflict of Interest
Reviewers are asked to wear their “Write the Docs” hats rather than the company or other affiliation when scoring submissions so that you rate all submissions fairly. If a submission was written by a colleague you work closely with or someone that you are seen to be associated with or in competition with, please skip the review. Mark it as a conflict of interest.
Review Metrics

Highlight your level of confidence in your recommendation, as well as the reasons for your score. Consider the following criteria:

Does the content provide takeaways that are new and exciting instead of information that was “so last year?” Is the content relevant to the conference?
Is this an original presentation, instead of one that a speaker repeats at every conference?
Does the content make sense in delivery or is it all over the place? Is the proposal focused?
Quality of Presentation
Is the proposal engaging and well thought out? Does the background material suggest the speaker will deliver this presentation effectively?
How important is the content for the Write the Docs audience?
Is this speaker a good person to deliver this presentation? Does their experience with the subject matter align with the proposed content?
Speakers with multiple submissions:
We will not accept more than one talk from the same speaker. Use your comments to indicate why you prefer one talk over another.

The review meeting

This can take up to two hours. We sort talks by Median rating, and move quite quickly through the top six or so talks (although if there is a 1 as well as a high score it might need some discussion).

Dealing with conflicts of interest:
Basically, if you have a conflict of interest with a particular proposal, don’t vote on it. This includes your own proposals.

Sharing proposal decisions

We send emails out to everyone who submitted a proposal. They either get an acceptance, rejection, or waitlist email. The CFP related templates are in the current conference folder (as of Portland 2022).

Building a Schedule

There are an infinite number of ways to arrange a schedule. We’ve found it best to just randomly assign speakers to the schedule, taking into account their availability (some folks can only speak on certain days). After that, you can shuffle speakers who you know are good to the following slots:

  • Talk after lunch (should be high energy)
  • Last talk of the day (should be memorable)

After this, you send each speaker their time slot, and confirm it works for them. Give them a couple days to make changes, then we can publish the schedule.


  • New people
  • Community members
  • Previous lighting talk speakers

Speaker Mentoring

We offer to pair any speakers who’d like guidance with an experienced speaker from a previous year.

Mentor selection

Mentors have usually spoken at several conferences in the past and have a good sense of what preparation is needed.

Meeting structure

Flexible according to the needs and availability of participants. The general guideline is to have four meetings, each two to three weeks apart: an initial introduction, presentation of an outline, presentation of slides, and a practice talk. However, mentors and speakers should adapt the structure to meet their needs.

Meeting 1 - Introduction and level-set:

Speaker pre-work: None.

The speaker and mentor meet one another for the first time. The speaker also introduces their topic and experience with it. The speaker and mentor decide on a meeting structure and schedule that works for them. If needed, the speaker and mentor develop the talk idea more to help prepare for the outline step.

Meeting 2 - Present outline:

Speaker pre-work: Prepare an outline of the talk. It should provide a fairly high level of detail, including all main topics and supporting points.

The speaker shares their talk outline. The mentor asks questions to help clarify the details of the talk. For example:

  • Topics or supporting points that might be missing or need more detail
  • Feedback about the likely talk length and whether the talk should be expanded or edited down
  • Feedback about possible slide structure based on the outline
  • Feedback or questions about the order of topics
  • Feedback on building up the information narratively
Meeting 3 - Present slides:

Speaker pre-work: Prepare the slides. The slides should reflect outline updates and slide feedback from the last meeting.

The speaker shares a loose presentation of the talk using the outline and slides to guide them. The mentor provides feedback on the order, images, colors, formatting, and so on. The mentor also addresses any accessibility concerns, such a contrast and font size.

Meeting 4 - Practice talk:

Speaker pre-work: Practice the talk several times. Prepare speaker notes in the slidedeck if needed, but aim to reach the point that you don’t need to reference the outline.

The speaker presents a semi-final draft of the practice talk. The mentor provides feedback on the presentation, asks questions they anticipate the audience might have, make suggestions on the flow and speed, and so on. If the speaker and mentor agree that additional practice talks are needed or desired, they can schedule them.

Session considerations

Meeting admin and scheduling

  • Ideally, mentors and speakers should be in the same time zone or no more than two time zones apart. Severe time zone discrepancies make scheduling very dififcult.
  • We suggest you schedule the first meeting for at least eight weeks ahead of the conference date. This provides a minimum of two weeks between each meeting as well as two weeks between the last meeting and the conference date.
  • Sessions should last at least an hour, but can run longer if both mentor and speaker think this would be helpful.
  • The pandemic notwithstanding, virtual meetings are generally easier to coordinate. Even if the mentor and speaker are co-located, consider whether meeting virtually will help ease the time burden on both parties.

Other stuff

  • Mentors should provide thoughtful feedback and genuine questions to help improve the speaker’s talk. Remember to follow the [Code of Conduct](https://www.writethedocs.org/code-of-conduct/) during the meetings.
  • Mentors: if at all possible, attend your mentee’s talk! It’s comforting to have a familiar face in the audience.