Tips for Submitting a Security Conference Proposal

If you haven’t presented at a security conference, maybe you should. Speaking at an event can motivate you to conduct interesting research, spreads the knowledge that might otherwise remain solely in your head and also helps build your personal brand. I’m not talking exclusively about large venues, such as Black Hat and RSA conferences, but also about mid-sized events such as SOURCE, community-driven gatherings such as Security BSides and the meetings organized by specialized groups such as OWASP and ISSA.

Security conference organizers typically issue a call for proposals. Many proposals are rejected, because the number of people wishing to present typically exceeds the number of speaking slots. The proposals are also rejected because they don’t fit the event’s or organizers’ objectives, because the topic is not interesting or because the proposal isn’t well written.

Here are a few tips on preparing a strong conference proposal:

  • Research the conference to understand its focus and audience. Look at the speaker and talk listing from the previous year to see what proposals were accepted. Search blogs and social networks which talks were well-regarded by attendees and which were boring.
  • Propose to discuss a topic that’s personally interesting to you—something you feel passionate about. At the same time, the topic should match the focus of the conference and be somewhat unique. The topic should also match your personal brand—conference organizers need to recognize that you have the expertise to speak authoritatively on the topic.
  • Submit proposals to multiple events, so you don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Statistically speaking, the more you try, the greater the likelihood of getting in. Moreover, practice will improve your proposal-writing skills.
  • Consider submitting a joint proposal with another well-regarded expert if you don’t have the personal brand to get a solo speaking spot. Also, consider whether it would be appropriate for submitting a proposal for a panel discussion.
  • Set time aside to carefully draft the text of your proposal in a way that best describes your topic, your technical expertise and your speaking abilities. Check spelling and grammar. Be concise.
  • Don’t get discouraged. If you aren’t getting rejected, you are probably staying too much within your comfort zone.

Once your proposal is accepted, work hard to prepare for the talk so that you shine at the event. You’ll need to deliver upon the promises made in your proposal and present in a way that will want people to invite you to the next event.

Lenny Zeltser


About the Author

Lenny Zeltser develops products and programs that use security to achieve business results. He is the CISO at Axonius and Faculty Fellow at SANS Institute. Lenny has been leading efforts to establish resilient security practices and solve hard security problems for over two decades. A respected author and practitioner, he has been advancing tradecraft and contributing to the community. His insights build upon real-world experience, a Computer Science degree from the University of Pennsylvania, and an MBA degree from MIT Sloan.

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