Speakers and Call for Proposals

This section describes how to:

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

CFP timeline

The CFP should be scheduled to end around 3 months prior to the conference. This allows for time to book travel for speakers, but also keeps the topics fresh and ensures the speakers are still passionate about them.

After the CFP ends, reviews should be given 1 week to review all the talk proposals. After this, we will have rate them following the below process, and have 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 is the conference and when will close the CFP.
  • “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.
  • “Question?”: 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
  • 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 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

How we rate talks. Please use the following rating system:

  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.

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.

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.

The intellectual stuff

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

It’s not an exact science. Use your discretion and take lots of notes, come to the meeting ready to discuss.

Sharing proposal decisions

We send emails out to everyone who submitted a proposal. They either get an acceptance, rejection, or waitlist email. The templates for all of these are linked below.


These templates are out of date and subject to a rework.

Speaker Acceptance Template

Hi {name},

The Write the Docs talk selection committee has just wrapped up the review process and we'd love it if you could join us as a speaker!

Write the Docs {city} is held in **{city} on {date}**.

We think your '{title}' talk would be a great fit for the conference. We'd love to have you prepare it for a **30-minute** time slot. 

So, from here, your first step is to reply to this email as soon as possible, to confirm both of the following:

* You're still interested in presenting in {city} on {date}. We'll confirm the specific day and time for your talk at a later date.
* You'll be attending most of the conference. So much of the value of Write the Docs comes from the community interactions, so it's really important to us that our speakers are around to participate.

Next, head over to our accepted speaker form and fill it in with your details: <{speaker_form}>

Finally, get your free speaker ticket at: <{tickets}>.
*NOTE: If you already purchased a ticket, let us know, and we will issue you a refund.*

Okay, with all that out of the way, it's time for the fun part – preparing your talk! To make sure everybody's on the same page, here are a few important things to keep in mind:

* Remember that one of the biggest strengths of the Write the Docs community is that we come from a huge variety of professional and personal backgrounds. When you're writing your talk (just like you're when writing documentation), think about the diverse needs and interests of your audience, avoid (or define) any jargony language, and make sure you clearly express what people are going to learn from your talk.
* Remember this is a community conference. If you're representing your employer it's okay to mention that, but please don't treat your talk as a marketing opportunity.
* If you would be interested in having another member of the Write the Docs community mentor you through the talk preparation process, please tell us! We'll do our best to connect you with someone to bounce ideas off, to review drafts, and to help you refine your talk before the conference.
* Make sure you plan your talk to fit in the allotted time. Also, note that we will not be pausing for questions after your presentation. Instead, we encourage attendees to chat with our speakers during the breaks, or in our unconference space.
* Please review our Code of Conduct (http://writethedocs.org/code-of-conduct/) and make sure your talk content adheres to it. As a rule of thumb, if you're on the fence about whether something in your talk could be considered inappropriate or offensive, leave it out. If you have a question about the code, feel free to email us and ask!

Before you get too absorbed in talk prep, though, please **send your confirmation email and take a few minutes to fill out the speaker form :)**

If you're concerned about travel details or expenses, let us know. We have a budget for speaker travel, but it can't cover all our speakers. As we confirm your details, we'll publish your abstract, headshot, and information on the conference site. We'll also be emailing attendees so they can share in our excitement about the talks we'll be presenting this year!

Thanks again for submitting your talk, we look forward to seeing you up on the Write the Docs stage! As you share the good news, remember to tag your posts with #writethedocs. And in the meantime, feel free to email us with any questions, concerns, or ideas.

Thanks for helping make this year's conference another great one!

The Write the Docs Team

Your submitted abstract:



Speaker Rejection Template

Hi {name},

Thanks so much for submitting a proposal to speak at this year's Write the Docs {city}. Every year we receive a growing number of proposals, and we're always blown away by the amazing breadth of knowledge that our community brings to the table.  Unfortunately, presentation spots are limited and the talk selection committee wasn't able to include your talk in our program this year.

We would still love it if you could join us in {city} on {date} though! You can pick up your ticket from the following link:


During the review process, each member of the review committee considered each proposal carefully and then compared notes to make their final selections. We thought it might be useful to share a couple of the common themes for why talks may not have been included for this year’s event:

* We had too many good talks. The quality of our submissions gets higher every year, and we always – heart-breakingly – end up having to pass up on some talks that we’re really excited by. 
* The subject of the talk was too specific for a larger audience. One of the biggest strengths of the Write the Docs community is that we come from a huge variety of professional and personal backgrounds. The committee looks specifically for talks that appeal to a good mix of our attendees.
* The subject of the talk was too broad and didn't have a strong enough connection to the core interests of the community.
* The talk focused heavily on documentation tooling. We think these talks are important, but we tend to showcase higher-level concepts that progress the way we think in the documentation world.
* There were multiple talks on the same topic. We try to choose talks that cover a wide range of topics, which means making some hard choices between multiple great talks on similar topics.

Keep in mind that we do run several batches of lightning talks that you can sign up for at the event. We also have an unconference space which is a great chance for more informal discussions. We'd love to have you, your ideas, and your passion at the conference--on stage or not, they're what make this event great!

Thanks again for your proposal. We strongly encourage you to submit again, for future events, and in the meantime we hope to see you in {city}!

The Write the Docs Team

Speaker Waitlist Template

Hi {name},

Thanks so much for submitting a proposal to speak at this year's Write the Docs {city} conference. Our selection committee has just wrapped up our review, and we had such a hard time choosing from so many awesome proposals. We'd like to ask if you'd be willing to be on the short list of alternates – talks that we'd really like to see, but ran out of room for on the schedule.

Basically, what this entails is bearing with us for another week or two, while we get confirmations from our other speakers. If we have a speaker turn us down, their slot is yours! We'll let you know, one way or the other, in the next couple of weeks, so you won't have be in suspense for too long. Please reply as soon as you can and let us know if you'd be willing to stick it out.

Thanks again for your proposal, and either way, we hope to see you at the conference!

The Write the Docs Team

Your submitted proposal: 



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.