Getting your presentation selected for a UserCon



One of the many questions I was frequently asked by sponsoring vendors of VMUG UserCons was “How do we get our presentation selected?”

As UserCon sponsorship becomes more and more popular, it means upping the ante to secure a speaking slot. In the UK there are 12 sponsors speaking slots and in 2015 we had nearly 20 submissions. Thus, making your presentation stand out from the crowd is crucial. I know that VMUG HQ provides input to vendors, but as they traditionally deal with the marketing teams, I’m not sure the advice always gets to the presenters. Having been on the selecting committee for the successful 12 slots for the past 5 UK UserCons, I thought I’d share some advice on my blog for future UserCon submissions, particularly as we’re starting to get into the swing of 2016 UserCons!

VMUG HQ does try to limit the amount of gold sponsorships sold, as it only leads to disappointment if a speaking abstract isn’t selected. However, I think they handle the situation very well and I’ve never heard any negative feedback from vendors, disappointment yes, but not in terms of anyone retreating completely from the event!

Whilst some of my advice points might seem glaringly obvious, it is always the obvious that is ignored in my experience, so here goes:

  • Remember the audience – >80% of attendees are in a technically related role, i.e. architect, sys admin, engineer, etc.
  • Make title relevant – I once witnessed an abstract that was related to Patch Tuesday, I’m not sure many VMware admins would want to attend a session on MSFT inadequacies!
  • Don’t let marketing convince you into talking about product/company – Marketing departments clearly want to get leads from sponsoring a VMUG, that is, after all, the name of the sponsorship game. However, don’t let them influence the presentation into being too “salesy”, this is why point 5 below is critical!
  • Involve your technical team – my experience of involving your technologist, evangelist, best SEs, etc. ensures a good combination of commercial and technical content
  • Select your best technical presenter – even better if they’re well known in the community and are respected for their knowledge/blog/evangelism etc.
  • Include a customer – to co-present if possible, if not reference one in your presentation
  • Listen to advice from VMUG HQ – while the ultimate selection of submissions is decided by the VMUG leaders, VMUG HQ has been doing this for years and provide great input at the start of the process

To highlight my points above, I’ll share audience feedback from one vendor’s presentation from last November’s UK UserCon. Their speaker scored a 4.63 out of 5 and their session did include a live demo (brave!) and focused on a customer success story, all delivered by a great techie speaker. Feedback from the audience was very enthusiastic, including “A very informative session, the presenter was very knowledgeable,” and “Presenter knows his stuff, very enthusiastic and interesting product.”

As I said, this is not rocket science, but by taking it back to basics I hope it helps to remind you of what’s required to achieve a successful speaking submission!  Finally, the leaders try hard to provide constructive feedback as to why sessions were not chosen and VMUG relays this to the sponsors.  Take heed of this feedback and I hope you’re successful next time!