How to succeed in a Call for Proposals



Having been involved in a quite large number of conferences over the last five years — from big ones like NEXT Berlin to mid-sized ones like Cognitive Cities to smaller ones like TEDxKreuzberg and Ignite Berlin to brand new ones like UIKonf and ThingsCon — I have seen many, many, many submissions in Calls for Proposals (CfP for short). Easily hundreds, more likely thousands.

From my own experience and conversations with peers in other events I can tell you that a good proposals can go a long way. In fact, your proposal is likely to make or break your chance to get into the conference. So if you really want to present (and why would you otherwise submit anything) make your proposal count.


Here’s how.

What’s a Call for Proposals?

First things first. What’s a CfP and what is it for?

As a curator, you usually have a pretty good idea who should be speaking at your conference. That’s the very core of your job: To know the best speakers you can possible get. (What “best speaker” means depends entirely on the context, audience and goals of the conference.)

But of course you cannot possibly know everybody. And that’s where the CfP comes in: It’s a way to open up the funnel of potential speakers that you might not be aware of.

Depending on the system you choose, speakers can either submit their own ideas for a talk, or third parties can submit speakers they would love to see on stage.

As an aside: Over at UIKonf, we ran a special version of the CfP that’s completely anonymous – this is to ensure that we don’t accidentally give in to our own biases. If we don’t know who’s applying, we cannot preferential treatment to people we know, or who are well known, or who work for organizations we strategically might pick otherwise. On top of that, the UIKonf CfP is completely public, so everyone can comment on proposals to help the submitters improve their pitch, and everyone votes on their favorite proposals. It’s a model that at other conferences really helped foster diversity onstage and it’s certainly worth trying. But I digress.

So concretely, a CfP is a basket for potential speakers to apply for a conference. Usually an email form that helps structure the incoming proposals and makes it easy for the program team to share and process internally.

Dos and Don’ts

If it works, a CfP will attract a lot of attention and hence a lot of proposals. So your submission will have to be better (more relevant, better written, etc.) than a lot of other proposals. Here are some concrete pointers of how you can improve (or ruin) your chances.



  • Don’t state generics. You don’t want to know how often I’ve read how many devices will be connected to the internet by 2020 or what share of the population will be living in urban centers by 2050 or that “we get more and more connected every year”. If it’s a topic discussed at that conference, assume the curators will know the basics. Note: If you’re coming in from an unusual angle or background, then absolutely provide the context.
  • Don’t copy & paste a lengthy essay. The style of your proposal reflects your style. So if the proposal consists of pages upon pages of text, the curators are likely to assume that your talk will be also be a long, meandering mess.
  • Don’t assume everyone knows you. Some praise is ok. If it’s not by yourself but a respectable third party, all the better. A statement like “I’m well known for xyz” either states the obvious (if you are well known for it, as in really, really well known). Or we don’t know you, then it’s awkward at best and we’ll have to start googling your name. It’s better to give a sentence of context.
  • Don’t bury the lede. Write like for a news article, pyramid-style: The most important thing first, then the second important thing, etc. Hiding the relevant stuff at the end just means lower chances of it being read.
  • Don’t follow-up on other channels unless something has changed. It’s not uncommon that speakers (or their speaking/PR agencies) try to follow up on their submissions by email, phone, twitter, IM, skype, and contact form right before they submit, right after, then again after a week… You get the idea. A follow up can be perfectly fine – if it’s friendly, non-invasive, or if relevant information has changed (maybe you changed jobs, founded a new company, have found an even better topic, etc.). Just, y’know, don’t make it awkward and distracting for all parties involved.

Those are some of the most frequent mistakes I’ve seen. And while I (and most curators I know) will try to look beyond any of these mishaps, it certainly never helps.

Now let’s look at what makes your proposal stand out of a mass of contributions:



  • Write a solid, concise teaser. That’s really all a proposal can be: a teaser for the talk you’d like to give later.
  • Provide context. Why is your contribution important, and why are you the perfect person to talk about this topic? It’s all about relevance for the audience in that particular event.
  • Be concrete rather than smart. Try to make your point clear rather than introducing a smart-sounding, artsy new terminology that you’ll end up having to explain.
  • Respect the curators’ time. The more concise and useful your proposal and information, the easier you make the curators’ lives. Make sure the links work, the copy is concise, the contact details are up-to-date. Do have a website.
  • Customize your pitch for the event. You don’t have to drop in the event name or anything, just make sure that your pitch shows as clearly as possible how your contribution adds value to the audience and event.


There’s never a guarantee to get into a conference through a CfP, after all there are only so many speaking slots available at an event. But if you stick to these basic rules – and common sense – you’re halfway there.


Good luck!

ThingsCon early bird tickets: available tomorrow morning


A quick announcement: We’re about to launch the website for ThingsCon. Along with the first few confirmed (and amazing, brilliant) speakers, we’ll also start sales of early bird tickets. Supply is limited, so be there on time – the shop goes live at 10am CET (that is, Berlin-time) sharp. First come, first serve!

Also, juggling Call for Proposal forms and Twitter accounts and emails really drove home one point:

Next May will be insane for me. I’m heavily involved in three conferences within just about two weeks:

This might turn out to be brilliant planning or a disaster — I’m guessing it’s a 50/50 chance — but as you know I somewhat thrive on these intense peak times.

So, see you on the other side – and if you consider coming to ThingsCon, make sure to hit refresh at 10am sharp tomorrow morning.

It’s time to take a fresh look at THINGS




We’re organizing Things, an independent two day event about the future of hardware and the hardware business. This is why, and what we’re planning.

Basic info

  • Date: 2-3 May 2014
  • Location: Berlin (details TBD)
  • Format: 2 day conference full of talks, demos, learning & networking
  • Website: thingscon.com
  • Twitter: @thingscon
  • Sign up for launch news here

Why ThingsCon? Why now?

Over the last few years, we’ve been seeing three trends — or rather, narratives — emerge.

1. Hardware and software are increasingly merging

Hardware and software are merging, and in many ways becoming more similar. This goes by many different names, all strongly related and with only slightly different focus. To name just a few: Internet of Things (IoT), connected devices, post-digital, smart things, machine-to-machine (M2M), physical web. (There are many more names.)

No matter which terminology you prefer, what we see is the culmination of a number of developments that lead to devices of all sorts being connected to the internet.

That kind of changes everything: Devices can communicate, so they produce data that can trigger actions beyond said devices. Devices can respond to external triggers. They stop existing as a discreet unit and rather become part of a larger system, an ecosystem, a responsive environment.

It also means that product design becomes a whole different beast. Now a device isn’t “done” once it leaves the factory, rather it can be updated like software (because it is part software), it evolves over time. We need to rethink obsolescence, maintenance, compatibility over time. Once connected, devices — more than ever — have implications for privacy, security and data ownership (see the Declaration of the Open Internet of Things Assembly).

Once devices are connected, it means they become more responsive, maybe even context-aware. The same goes for environments, like your city, once a layer of data covers the world.

All this is somewhat vague as terminology, understanding and ethics aren’t fully matured in this space yet – in fact the space itself isn’t fully defined as of yet, as lines are blurry. Yet, we see lots happening there, and the impact can be felt already – only, as so often, this particular part of the future isn’t equally distributed yet.


The Good Night Lamp from Good Night Lamp on Vimeo.

An example of how connectedness changes everyday objects: The GoodNightLamp, a family of connected lamps.

2. New manufacture changes production

Related, yet a distinctly different thread, is the emergence of new manufacture, or what’s often referred to as 3D printing and related technologies. (Here, the terminology is much more clearly defined, but in the mainstream discourse mostly turns up referred to as something like “3D printing and stuff”.) Additive and substractive production methods, rapid prototyping, open hardware all have reached a point of maturity where capacities once reserved to big industry is more or less in the hands of individuals that a few years ago wouldn’t have been able to access it.

As a simple example, think of 3D printing. The automotive industry has long been using additive manufacturing (laser sintering, etc.) for rapid prototyping of their models. Dental clinics are printing a good chunk of their dental replacements these days. Architects have been 3D printing and laser cutting models for ages.

Yet, only over the last few years amateurs (in the sense of “non-professional, interested individuals”) and tinkerers have gotten their hands on similar tech. Starting out in the hacker and DIY scene, these production capabilities are entering the mainstream. Not mom-and-pop stores just yet, but almost certainly in every major city you’ll find a maker space that lets you use a printer should you need it. And with more patents expiring every month, we see the field maturing to a point where the production quality gets very close to industrial grade manufacturing, and prices drop to allow for a wide range of new products, services and business models.


Makie Makies are dolls, made possible through custom, on-demand 3D printing.

3. Berlin’s emerging startup ecosystem

These trends lead to a whole new emerging ecosystem of startups, entrepreneurs, ideas, services around the globe. But it’s still early days. So far, the most promising hubs include San Francisco, New York, London and a few others.

I believe that Berlin is in an excellent position to establish itself as a leading hub for the new hardware business. The city’s emerging startup ecosystem, its strong hacker and DIY culture, relatively low cost of living that allows for experimentation, and Germany’s strong tradition in industrial production means Berlin should be capable of enabling a new crop of entrepreneurs to take their ideas from prototype to business, at scale. A number of policies and initiatives aimed at fostering innovation and the connections between industry (Germany’s famous Mittelstand) and the entrepreneurial scene certainly won’t hurt.

This isn’t about competing with other cities — it’s about realizing Berlin’s huge potential.


Electric Imp demo at IoTBerlin Prototype demo at an IoT Berlin meetup.

ThingsCon is where these three narratives connect

We put together Things because we think it’s important to interweave the three narratives laid out above — it’s where they culminate in a concrete time and space. Because it’s exchanging ideas and fostering lasting relationships — in other words, building a community — that in my experience helps more than any big initiative. Peer exchange, learning from each other, helping each other — and knowing who to call when you hit a wall of some sorts — is incredibly valuable.

We believe that Things can help with that, and provide the kind of space for these kinds of connection to be built. So let’s get this done together!

So what are we planning to do concretely?

Primarily, we aim build an awesome event for exchange, learning, networking. A space to connect and foster lasting relationships. To learn from others who’ve been there, done that. To learn how to best get from prototype to designing for scaling, to building a business. Hosted in Berlin, but with an international focus, the focus is on building connections between Berlin and not just the rest of Germany, but all of Europe (and beyond, wherever possible). We’ll get the most interesting folks from all over Europe together in Berlin, put them in a room, shake it up thoroughly, and surely some amazing things will emerge.


ThingsCon target audience Sketch: Our mental model of who ThingsCon is for.


Leading up to Things, we’re currently planning a road trip where we take a number of entrepreneurs, innovators, tinkerers, startups and what have you to meet more of the Mittelstand, to visit production facilities and industry representatives and researchers. By fostering that dialog, we believe we can help create lasting relationships and lots of value as both sides can help each other and learn from each other. And, of course, do business together.

Third, we’ll announce Hardware Day Berlin. Think of it as a flag in the ground for other events to gather around and turn Berlin into a hardware hub for the day, with lots of workshops, meetups, events of all kinds. Hardware Day Berlin will (most likely) take place on 2 May 2014, the first of two days of ThingsCon.

If you’re interested in attending, stay tuned for updates here, on Twitter and sign up for our newsletter. If you’d like to get involved in some role (as a sponsor, by organizing an event on Hardware Day, as a speaker, or as a partner for our IoT-meets-Mittelstand road trip), or if you just want to learn more, please ping us.

Thank you and see you soon at Things!

UIKonf 2014 is ON!


UIKonf logo


A couple of days ago we relaunched the website for UIKonf. All new and shiny now!

So that’s awesome to begin with, but what’s even better is the amazing positive feedback from UIKonf alumni. Who aren’t just the nicest folks out there, but who also trust us enough to put their money where their mouth is by purchasing tickets about seven months in advance. Which is amazing and incredibly helpful for us as a small team running an indie conference.


You guys all rock. Thank you!


So, details on the website. But the at-a-glance basics:

  • Berlin, 14-16 May 2014
  • Two days of conference plus a hackday plus lots of small stuff on the sides
  • Again, we’ll have an anonymous Call for Proposals as well as top food and coffee and some other nice stuff.

Early bird tickets are available now (first come first serve). Get yours now!


As a little thank you, we also have a special deal for alumni. (We only emailed those participants who last year gave us permission to get in touch with. So if you attended UIKonf 2013 and did not receive an email from us about a special alumni deal around Oct 7, please let either one of us know or drop us a line to questions_at_uikonf_dot_com and we’ll hook you up.)

We also weren’t all that happy with the way ticketing worked last time. So this time, it’s an all new setup: Ticketing itself goes through Tito, which is hooked up to Stripe for payments. Both services work like a charm, and particularly the Tito team has been incredibly helpful and responsive during the setup phase. Event organizers, if you use anything else for your ticketing you’re missing out.


So, that’s that. More infos at uikonf.com and on Twitter (@uikonf).

UIKonf: Some updates


UIKonf logo

Slowly, the pieces for UIKonf are falling into place. (Check UIKonf.com for updates.) As we’re just three people organizing it with support from our fantastic event manager Max, it’s very much a part time and low-budget project. It is, in other words, as indie as it gets, and that’s a good thing.

That explains why we haven’t communicated quite as much as we would have liked to. However, we haven’t been lazy – far from it:

  1. Tickets are up for grabs as of a few days ago. Supply is limited as we want to keep it intimate. Get yours here.
  2. As we got asked daily about the target audience for UIKonf, we sat down to phrase it as clearly as we could: UIKonf is for serious iOS developers: Great people, top-notch talks, an intimate setting, and space to think & hack. In other words, we’re building the conference with advanced iOS developers in mind. No intro-level talks; our speakers dive right into technical topics, and dive deep. We also have a small number of speakers to bring in an outside perspective, meaning they come from a design, strategy or service design context. We expect participants from all over Europe, and all talks will be in English.”
  3. We’re starting to announce the first speakers. We’ll go with roughly a 50/50 mix of curated speakers we invited, and of those qualified and voted in through our anonymous call for proposals (help to refine and vote). Why anonymous? Because as we learned from the good folks over at JSConf, it helps foster diversity.
  4. Speaking of diversity, we’re trying to set smart defaults and just, y’know, do the right thing. This includes things ranging from adopting the ADA Initiative’s anti-harassment policy to conscious choices for great coffee and all-vegetarian catering.
  5. We’re also trying to build UIKonf to be self-sustainable. That’s an important, big choice as it means we won’t chase any sponsors. If we happen to find a perfect match for a sponsor to contribute to the event without compromising the content, we’ll work it out, otherwise UIKonf will simply stay free of sponsoring. The idea is simple: We are convinced our very limited time is better spent on making the event as awesome as it can be for the participants than on cold-calling potential sponsors.
  6. The program beyond the main conference day is coming together, too: As things stand today, we’ll have a kick-off event the night before, with some short talks, drinks and pre-registration, we’ll have a party after the main conference and there’s going to be a hackday the day after where we’ll try to bring in some designers as well. So altogether we’re looking at somewhere near two and a half days of programming.

So that’s where we are right now. Let me know if there’s anything we’ve missed (I’m sure there is) or that we should be considering. Thanks!

Conference juggling



It’s amazing to me how many moving parts conferences have, how it involves always juggling a lot of balls simultaneously. Even moderately sized events for a few hundred people can easily turn into something massive, but the big ones – where the audience is counted in thousands – can be insane.

At Foo Camp last year, I learned a bit about the background of Maker Faire on the West Coast, where tens of thousands go to play – in many cases quite literally with fire, or at least electricity and heavy machinery and sharp objects. Crazy! Amazing, too!

Web conferences are a little less daunting that way, as there’s less actual danger involved. The logistics are, however, hardly much less intimidating. Over at NEXT, we’re looking at some 2K participants; at CoCities it was maybe 400 or so; our Ignite Berlin nights tend to be in the range of 200. And the logistics involved, the number of connections to make and dots to line up and connect, increase exponentially to the size of the audience.

An Ignite night, with a well-attuned team, can be a matter of a week or so of full-time work spread out over a couple of months if we’re lucky. CoCities was a massive effort for a small, new, and somewhat distributed team. NEXT, I can say without spilling any confidentials, is a professional effort that keeps a whole team busy for the better part of a year.

As an example, my responsibility over at NEXT is mostly in the programming, and even just arranging the program means handling lots and lots of mobile pieces and trying to fit them into a coherent puzzle, a good-looking, well-balanced picture.

Among the many things to take into account is your topic and speaker wish lists (what should be presented, and by whom), availability (which speakers could be available, which have other keynote obligations or a new born baby that makes travel harder), gender balance (wherever possible and without excluding or giving undue preferred treatment to anyone based on gender), travel costs (flying in one speaker from the West Coast to Europe can easily cost as much as five or six speakers from Europe), sponsor involvements (what’s the best way for sponsors to engage with the audience), logistics (which speaker is available at which exact point in time? after all many speakers also line up appointments or can only “swing by” for an afternoon or so), and many more.

All that with several people or teams working on aspects of it all, and with a massive amount of parallel, ongoing conversation threads both internally and externally, spread out over a wide range of channels.

It’s daunting, and very rewarding when you see the pieces come together. And now, about three months in, is the time where the pieces are starting to fall into place. It’s great to watch that happen.

Disclosure: NEXT is a client.

Ignite Berlin 3 is go!


Ignite Berlin


On Thursday we’re taking Ignite Berlin to round 3. And boy, what a line up of fantastic speakers we got:

No sign up needed, but if you could let us know via Facebook or spread the word via Twitter (#igniteberlin), that’s always welcome. Like the last two times, we expect a full house, so come on time.