Preparing a Technical Session Part 3: Writing an Abstract

So you’ve come up with a great idea for a session and now you have to translate that idea into a thorough abstract that helps both organizers and attendees understand what to expect from your session. This can make the difference between you getting a session at your favorite conference or not so don’t take this step lightly.

In this post I’ll walk you through some tips for writing a session abstract. Now there’s still no guaranteeing your session will get picked because there’s a lot of factors that go into a conference selection but I hope these tips will make your submission somewhat less stressful. Just as a reminder in this blog series on preparing a technical session I’ll cover the following steps:

  1. Picking a Topic
  2. Coming up with a Title
  3. Writing an Abstract
  4. Building the PowerPoint
  5. Building the Demos
  6. Delivering the Presentation

Writing the Abstract

Think of your session abstract as the appetizer to your meal. If you have a bad appetizer then you probably don’t have high hopes for the upcoming meal. The same is true about a session abstract. If an abstract is not put together well then it’s hard for the consumer (event organizers and attendees) to imagine a great session. Having said that let’s look at a few tips to make a great “appetizer” or abstract.

Grab my Attention

How is your session different than everyone else’s?  Why would someone reviewing hundreds of abstracts pick your session?  Do you think your topic is just that original?  In most large conferences you are bound to pick a topic that someone else has also submitted so what sets yours apart from the others?  Don’t let these questions haunt you but genuinely use them as a tool to ensure your session grabs the attention of the abstract reviewer.

Try to hook the reader in with the very first sentence.  This can be done by starting with a bold statement.  For example, you could say, “Stop struggling to tune your nightly data load when you could be running 60% faster”.  With a statement like that you’ve got my attention and I’m curious how you are going to accomplish such a feat.

Make the Audience Clear

It should be very clear who your session’s target audience is.  If you need to be straight forward and call out who the session is for in the abstract then do it!  You will likely have a large audience of unhappy people if the expectation was given that attendees would learn advanced query tuning strategies but your entire presentation is in Excel.  So help your audience understand that your session is for them.

Get to the Point

You don’t have much time to draw the reader in so don’t waste they’re valuable time explaining the details of what page latches are.  That’s what your session will do!  Instead of going through everything you’ll cover in the session do these things instead:

  1. State the problem (ideally in a way that hooks the reader in)
  2. Describe why it’s important or why the attendee should care
  3. Without getting into the details describe how you’re going to solve the problem

Be Specific

Yes, I know I just said don’t get into the details but that’s different than being specific. Giving the details would mean you write a 3 page abstract.  While, being specific means you’re clear on how you’re solving the problem. For example, don’t say you are going to create a BI solution to solve the problem.  Instead, say you’re going to create a BI solution that uses the following tools in this way.  You should also avoid acronyms that aren’t obvious to every attendee at the conference.

Explain the End Goal

Your abstract should tell the attendee what they will have learned after watching your talk.  For example, you may say “By the end of the session you will have learned how to load a Data Warehouse using SSIS”.  This gives attendees a clear idea of what they are getting by attending the session.  If I already know how to load a Data Warehouse then I know this session is not for me and I won’t be disappointed by it.

Read, Reread and Have Someone Else Read it

If you’ve decided to submit a session to a major conference I know you’re very passionate about the topic.  Unfortunately, the most common reason why sessions are not accepted is because despite your passion you don’t save time to review your abstract before submitting it.  Common spelling mistakes and grammar errors can cause what would likely be a great session unusable to a committee in charge on reviewing sessions.  So do yourself a favor and after you write an abstract read it, then reread it, and then have someone else read it because often we read a sentence how we want it to sound rather than what it actually says.

Other Good References

If you have other references please share them and I’ll add them to this list.

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