What's You're Missing in Your Conference Abstract: Spoilers

I've had the unique honor of participating in the program committee for Agile Testing Days for 2021 and 2022. I get to see anonymized submissions for talks and workshops (not keynotes), rate the entries on a number of criteria, and provide a few sentences of feedback for the author and the conference organizers to understand how and whether the submission fits in the program. I've also helped review papers in the Ministry of Testing call for papers. Anyone can.

Almost all of them are missing one thing: spoilers. I want spoilers. I want them to tell me how they faced a problem or general trend in the market at their job and what they did about it. I want enough detail, any detail, to know what I'll be seeing beyond the first two slides.

Here's what that looks like for a talk and a workshop.


For a talk, I'm expecting a particular format:

  1. Description of a problem the author has experienced
  2. Journey or decision point that led the author to change their behavior
  3. Details about the direction going forward

Sometimes I'm missing the author's personal connection in 1. (looks like they'll summarize a book, article, someone else's work, etc.) or why a change was needed in 2.

But it's 3. that I long for. Authors tell me that they solved a problem, or had trouble solving it, but not how. "I spent three months migrating our tests from Selenium to Playwright and faced trouble." Where did you face trouble? Was it because of differences between the languages? Developers couldn't read the failing test output anymore? What happened?? Tell me about the journey of what that looked like.


For a workshop, I want to see:

  1. Description of a skill the author was missing
  2. Journey where the author built this skill
  3. Journey participants will go on to build this skill

Workshops ideas are great with 1. and often include 2. But you know what participants will mostly care about before they get trapped in a room for hours with you? That's right, it's 3. Will this be a lecture disguished as a workshop so the author has more time to speak? Will participants be working in groups? Will this get them on the first step towards building a skill? How much will they be able to do differently at work on Monday? Give me some sense of what the activities are, how long they might take, and how much you expect people to achieve during them.

More tips on conference submissions

Anytime I submit an abstract to a conference, I find something in Rob Lambert's Blazingly Simple Guide To Submitting To Conferences that makes me reconsider what I've written. Read it if you're anywhere on the journey from "do I even have an idea for this conference?" to "you mean I'm supposed to speak on stage in front of all these people sitting before me?"

Lisi Hocke also has a soup-to-nuts overview of conference speaking that will get you feeling like you can do this.

Photo by Brandi Redd on Unsplash