Abstracts, Reviews and Conferences, Oh My!

So yes, I’ve been involved in a number of conferences and in a number of different roles.  I started out presenting, then volunteering  at conferences,  reviewing abstracts, then as a track lead and now as a conference director for RMOUG.  This year I also am the database track lead for ODTUG’s KSCOPE for a second year in a row.

A lot of folks have asked me recently what they need to know to submit a great abstract, how to get accepted and why they may not have been selected.  It’s often a lot more complicated than what it may first seem and I hope to shed some light here.

I’ll begin by recommending a post from Gwen Shapira on Pythian’s site, as it is an excellent blog post from a very established and gifted presenter.  I think the biggest change is to the opening line-  no longer is October the abstract writing month, as many conferences have started to push for earlier and earlier abstract submission windows hoping to capture the presenter before the others.  We opened RMOUG’s abstract submissions in early July and a number of conferences were right on our tails!

Like Gwen, I recommend starting with a sentence(s) to capture the reviewer/attendee’s interest, then dig into the subject deeper as to why they will want to attend.

Abstract Writers:


Find a main area that is of strong interest, but I recommend finding an interesting twist on it.  Something unique that makes your abstract stand out.  Try to stay in this area and don’t jump too much around or try to fit too much into one presentation.  The more features you are covering in one session, the higher level the session will have to be.


1.  Be clear about what the attendee will gain by coming to your session.  What value does this offer to their career and/or their day-to-day job?  If it’s not in the standard core knowledge for their jobs, why would they be interested in learning about your topic?

2.  Always list out at least three “take-away” items that the attendee will gain.  These should also offer the reviewer value to the score they submit for your abstract review.

3.  Do not write a “novel” regarding the topic in your abstract.  If your abstract is so long that it causes issues with the abstract review software, you have a problem.  Keep it to 175 words or less.  Most abstract review forms will tell you what the maximum word count is for a submission.  If you require more that what the maximum listed, then you are presenting at the wrong conference…:)


1.  Fill out all areas of the abstract submission form.  Do not be surprised if some reviewers score an abstract lower if the biography or other areas aren’t filled out by the submitter.  Remember, many would like to know a bit about the presenter, not just the abstract.

2.  Its alright to paste the abstract also in a summary area, but I would recommend taking the time to fill in a simple and clear “interest capture” statement that will look nice in the handout and/or mobile app to attract attendees to your session.  This is what most of the attendees will be seeing when they make that last minute decision of which session to go to.

3.  If you don’t get accepted for a conference, email and ask for any feedback/advice that might assist you in your next abstract submission.  Many conferences are more than happy to share overall score information and any comments about your abstract.

Recommendations for Reviewers

The reviewer is a valued volunteer.  Many conferences rely on their expertise and their time to gather valuable scores on abstracts to eliminate much wasted time when choosing the final abstracts to accept.  Being the best reviewer possible is knowing the needs of the conference and so you can offer the most educated reviews.

Questions to ask

1. How many overall sessions and what is the breakdown for each track?

2. What percentage do you commonly see for each score level?  (5-5%, 4-25%, 3-60%, etc…)

3.  What tracks are there and what ones should I be reviewing?

4.  What are the rules about reviewing my own abstract or those for my own company, etc.?

5.  Who do I contact if I have a question about a review?

6.  Are there any per company speaker limits?  Are there any per company minimum accepted slots?

One more recommendation:  If you aren’t [really] knowledgeable about a subject, DON’T REVIEW IT.  No one should ever ask you to review an abstract that you aren’t comfortable with the content for.

The Limitations of Conferences

Conferences, in general, often have different requirements that they have to fill.  Where one can offer an acceptance another can’t.  Why?

  • Limited session slots.
  • Limited number of compensated speakers per tracks vs. open slots.
  • Limited accepted per company speakers.
  • Low interest in topic caused low scoring on abstracts.
  • Too many abstract submissions for any one topic.

How to increase your chance for acceptance to a conference?

1.  Introduce yourself to the conference director.  For RMOUG, this will not improve your score of your abstracts, (we have around 50 reviewers) but if you are a new speaker, I’d like to be aware that you are interested in an introduction to present to our members.

2.  Offer to volunteer.  Help the conference out with abstract reviews, be an ambassador or find another way to volunteer and help out.

3.  Present at smaller venues, get your name out there and network with some of the better known speakers and introduce yourself to those that are involved in the bigger conferences.  If folks see someone who presents well, word will get around.

What You Shouldn’t Do

1.  Do NOT try to get your abstract in by coercion or continually attempting to go around the conference director or track/chair lead.  I have seen those that push to get things their way work for maybe one or two conferences before it starts to impact their reputation.

2.  Be impolite to the folks supporting the conference.  This means all the volunteers, conferences staff, etc.  A conference is hard work and these folks deserve all our support and courtesy.

Following these guidelines won’t guarantee you a slot at any conference, but it may help get you speaking opportunities at a few.

Good luck this conference year to all the great seasoned speakers, the new speakers and all the great content to come!



4 thoughts on “Abstracts, Reviews and Conferences, Oh My!

  • October 22, 2013 at 6:27 pm

    I have never presented. Stage fright and too scary to imagine people naked :=) But do you think acceptance is because of clique. I have seen slides with 15 lines of text and the presenters reads line for line during the presentation. Now how that got accepted in beyond me.

  • October 22, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    If we get to talk to chance, I’ll share with you my first presentation story from RMOUG… Trust me, it gets better the more you present and the reason I started was to deal with my “brain shutdown” when I’m nervous, (yes, it does help deal with this problem…)
    Reviewing one sentence or limited abstracts happened to be a discussion just yesterday- new reviewer asked what to do if there was someone who had great credentials, but had very limited abstract. I recommended that he review it just like any other abstract. If someone can’t even spend a couple minutes explaining to a conference what he/she is going to present on, what does that say about the quality of the presentation to the attendees? Just my 2c, but building good content is a complex process. We can’t do it without great abstracts, great speakers and great presentations.

  • October 25, 2013 at 7:21 pm

    Thanks for the response. I guess there’s always time for a first and it will be my first one of these day.

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