Every spring, I help review talk proposals for !!Con, a conference of ten-minute talks about the joy, excitement and surprise of computing. Because distilling an interesting topic into ten minutes of material is hard, we ask prospective speakers to provide a timeline as part of their talk proposal, explaining how they plan to use their ten minutes of stage time. The timeline helps us make sure that the speaker understands the talk format, and that they’ve put some thought into what they’ll cover in their talk and how they’re going to fit the material into the allotted time.
We get a lot of talk proposals, so in order for a proposal to be competitive for acceptance, it needs to have a decent timeline, and a really good timeline can push a borderline proposal into the “accept” category. Conversely, a bad timeline can kill an otherwise promising talk proposal. So, this post is advice for people submitting talk proposals to !!Con (or, potentially, other conferences that also ask for timelines) about how to write a timeline that will make your talk proposal the best it can be.
Update (July 19, 2017): As it turns out, someone just told me that they used this advice in this post to improve a talk proposal that they had submitted to another conference and had been asked to revise and resubmit. They said that writing a timeline turned out to be a good way to rethink the proposal (even though the conference hadn’t explicitly asked for one), and that the proposal was subsequently accepted! So, the advice in this post might be more widely applicable than I thought.