Writing your 2024 PASS Data Community Summit Submission

It is time again for the PASS Data Community Summit Call For Speakers.

Some of you are very ready. You have a presentation idea that has percolated since at least last October. You have asked friends and coworkers if it is a good idea. You may have presented it at 10 SQL Saturdays to thunderous appreciation. You may have even tried to submit last year but were turned down and are wondering what else you might do.

In this blog, I want to describe some of the things you need to consider as you prepare to click [Submit] for your session and send it to the eyes of strangers who will decide if you will be one of the speakers at this year’s Summit.

You may also be a complete newbie with what you think is a great idea for a session. You too should get out there and submit it. You may find yourself on the roster of speakers for this year, even if you have that “they won’t pick me” worry. There were several speakers for 2023 who that was their first event.

Note: While I am writing this as part of the kick-off of the PASS Summit call for speakers, it is all pretty common stuff that generally pertains to all conferences.

Bottom line: think of this process as marketing. You want to present an advertisement to selection committees and attendees that your session is the one. Put yourself in their minds and think of what you see. It is easy, but it isn’t trivial.


The biggest choice you need to make when submitting to speak at a conference is choosing a topic. And this is something you must do for yourself, and there isn’t a lot of advice you can really get here. Pick a topic you know a lot about and are excited to stand in from of 10-300 people and talk about. It isn’t that difficult, and over the thousands of sessions I have reviewed, At least 80% of the submissions I have seen in a call for speakers are fundamentally, great ideas. And even many of the remaining 20% aren’t terrible.

The real problem is that there are so many submissions to fill a limited number of session slots. Sometimes a topic will also be filled with people submitting the same thing. What may surprise you is that many sessions are eliminated due to poorly telling the selection committee what the session is about.

When you are submitting a session for a conference (in this case PASS, but really any conference), You will be asked to give the essential details about your session. How clear and appropriate you give these details, the more likely you are to be picked.

Many sessions are eliminated due to poorly telling the selection committee what the session is about.


Think carefully about the details that the conference is requesting. Of course, they will ask your name, company, etc, but after the personal details, there will be questions about your session. For PASS in 2024, you need to provide the following for each session you want to be considered:

  • Category – The session format (mostly length). The point here is to tell them how much you have to say about the topic. There are lots of choices but pick the one that most matches the time you have to say. Note, you may want to submit the same topic in different categories, but I would be careful to adjust the rest of your submission. If you can talk about something in 45 minutes, why should they consider giving you 60?And if the session sounds simplistic, and you ask for a full day, it probably gets skipped even if YOU know you have good ideas that could fill a week.
  • Track – The major area of concentration for the session, such as DBA, Developer, BI, etc. This can be one of the tougher choices as your session may fit in all the tracks but think about which group will be most likely to think the session pertains to them. That is who you want to review and choose your session in any case.
  • Level – How deeply technical will this session be (to a person who works in the track area)? So, if it is a DBA session, how would this fit for DBAs? Be reasonable when setting your level and don’t set it so low that you will likely get the wrong group of people. You don’t want to submit bang-up presentation and then have the main comments be: “It was too much detail for a beginner session.” 
  • Title – Give your session a name that will clearly indicate what the session is about. Be concise, clear, and to the point. The more you can say in the least words, the better.

    Realize that this title will appear in far more places than anything else you submit. It will be the first impression point in listings, guides, session doors, etc.

    Especially important: you have given them the level and title so far, and now the title will be the true first impression that the reviewers will use to decide if they want your session. There is a full-blown impression made at this point. Everything else will serve to change their minds for or against. You have up to 12 words to boil down your entire session but work hard to keep it shorter than that. 

  • Abstract – This is a paragraph that explains the session in enough detail that the selection committee and prospective attendees can understand what they will be getting. It should complement the title, not decode it. This, along with the title, will be the primary “advertisement” for the session. 

    Conciseness is important here too, but don’t remove too much detail. Advertise the session and give the reader a feel for why they should go.

  • Prerequisites – Share any non-obvious, required knowledge the attendee should have before attending. This is a lot like the level attribute in that it can help the attendee and selection committee have a good idea of the session’s specific level, based on what they likely should know before coming to the session.
  • Goals – 1-3 big concepts you are trying to give to the attendee during the session. It is often the hardest thing to write because you feel you have already done this in the other sections. Here be a little specific and not repetitive of what you have written. Are there things you think the reader could expect to get out of the session that don’t mimic the title and abstract? Some nuggets that you really want to emphasize 
  • Comments – Comments are where you put private notes to a selection committee to help them know more about the unique needs of a session. It is not a place to beg to be chosen, but more to clarify things that you wouldn’t want to share with the attendees.

    Be careful to not spend much time explaining the abstract to the committee… if that seems needed, you probably need to change the abstract. A common use of session comments is to note that you are talking about tech that will be released later (currently under an NDA) and the session may need to change a bit once the technology has been released.  


One of the things that a lot of abstract writers do is mess up in style. In this list of items, there are a few that should really stand out (like grammar, but cohesion is big too). The biggest bit of advice is to keep things simple, straightforward, and to the point. Realize that they same process you go through to decide what session to go to is very similar to how sessions are chosen. And if things feel off in the first read, your session probably doesn’t get picked, even if your topic is so wonderfully specified.

So here are a few considerations I would keep in mind as you are editing your submissions, from the first edit to the tenth (or more!):  

  • Grammar – Misspellings and other poor writing skills have tanked more great submissions than topics or speaking skills ever will. When you have 100 sessions to review, grammar mistakes stand out when rating a session. Whether right or wrong, reviewers tend to have the mindset that if you can’t spell, can we trust your technical skills? Definitely try to use tools like Word, Grammarly, etc, to help with grammar issues. You don’t have to use their advice all the time but think about it.
  • Possible Technical Concerns – Best advice here, make sure your information in the abstract is correct, and state things in a way that makes sense to a general audience without dumbing it down. Any confusion as to what you are saying can turn the reader off and they are going to put you lower in the pile.

    Also, if you are trying to do an opinion type session, make that clear. Opinions are interesting, because they are harder to call “wrong.” But not impossible!

  • Cohesion of the Submission Parts – Cohesion is defined as forming a united whole, and for abstracts, this means that from title to goals (and even comments), you want it to seem like one piece of work that all goes together to do say what you want it to say. No tangents, no meandering, just a cohesive bit of information.

    There are a couple of major concerns here.  

    • Undefined topics. Quite often, a submission will have a title like “How to Do X” but will not even mention what X is in the goals or abstract, leading to some possible confusion about the presentation ‘s topic. Define any acronyms unless they are universally known because not every abstract reviewer will realize what X is without context. I emphasize universally, because acronyms really are only great in conversations where everyone clearly knows their meaning.
    • Poorly executed gimmicks. Some people really want to be cool and have a title like “Backing up your databases like Superhero X” and then NEVER MENTION superheroes again, much less who X is. If your title paints a picture, your abstract should color in the dots and use that gimmick. Prerequisites and goals should not need that gimmick…like to learn about Tech X, you should not need to know about the Marvel Cinematic Universe before attending. Anything that is important with your gimmick should be defined and not take up a lot of time.

      (Also, if you include a gimmick in your title/abstract, your presentation should use it too. I have gone to a lot of presentations just for the gimmick and been disappointed when it was never mentioned at all.)

      A dangerous gimmick is humor. A funny presentation is great (and I have seen some really great, even hilarious sessions), but not everyone can pull off funny.

Final goals

Think of your session submission as marketing, and one of the first goals of marketing is to know your audience and understand what they want. You want to stand out just enough and for the right reasons. Clarity is key. You want your submission to pop, but you also don’t want to make any of the readers guess what topic you are marketing. Simplicity, oddly enough, is one of the hardest things for many of us to do!

I will also suggest one final thing. Consider getting more eyes on your submission than just you writing it and submitting it. Read it aloud to see if you can detect anything… particularly where it doesn’t read very smoothly. Read it to a friend or family member, see if they are still your friend or family member 🙂