What I Learned from Giving a Conference Talk That Got Rejected

This year, I presented at the Music City Tech conference. It was my "Elegant Software is UX" talk. My submission was rejected, and the only reason I got the opportunity to speak is that Nashville Software School was a sponsor, so I got a sponsor slot.

When I showed up to give the talk, I was expecting to have a small handful of people in attendance because if the reviewers didn't like the idea, then I assumed few attendees would as well. Plus, my talk was over the lunch break, which makes attendance plummet. Maybe I'd see a few old friends, but that would be it.

As my time slot grew close, I played some music while people ate, waiting for the presentation to start. A few friends wandered in and I chatted with them for a few minutes. Imagine my surprise when the time rolled around to start the presentation, I had a packed room, and a few people had to stand at the back.

I had fun with my presentation. I said my usual repertoire of awful Dad jokes to loosen the crowd up. After it was over, several people approached me and let me know how much they enjoyed it and wanted the slide deck so they could talk to their teams about it. All in all, a great time.

As I was driving home, I pondered about the disconnect. Plenty of people wanted to come to my talk, and I received substantial positive feedback once it was over. What caused the talk to get rejected? Here were some of my possible reasons.

  1. It wasn't on-topic enough.
  2. The title or abstract wasn't interesting enough for the reviewers.
  3. There were so many submissions, mine didn't make the cut.

I recently read a great article by Geoff Mazeroff entitled Conference Talk Abstract Submission: A Reviewer’s Perspective. It's a great take on how to utilize good writing skills to make sure that your submission has a greater chance of enticing the interest of reviewers and get accepted by the committee.

Next time, I will make sure that my abstract is much more clear on what attendees will take away from my talk. With my submission for this talk, I failed at that. I will also make sure that the information in my talk is fresh, relevent, and be clear who the intended audience is. Again, I was weak on those.