Why Your Abstract Wasn’t Selected

We’re anxiously waiting to hear from PASS which sessions were selected for the 2014 Summit in November.  It’s a big job to go through the hundreds of submissions and pick the sessions that will appeal to the people who will be paying over $1,000 to attend this annual event.  As I am also waiting to hear the results, I saw this article addressed to actors who didn’t get cast for the part they worked so hard to audition for, and it seemed appropriate to address the same issues for would-be Summit speakers.

So, given that I’ve been a speaker at many events, and rejected from many events, and have been, as a PASS Chapter leader and SQL Saturday organizer, in a position to select the sessions for an event, I hope I bring a little bit of perspective to the process.  With that in mind, here’s a list of reasons that may affect why your submission wasn’t selected.  (Note that I am not and never have been on the selection committee for the PASS Summit, so nothing that I say here reflects discussions that have directly impacted the Summit selection proces.)

1)  Your abstract was interesting, and your title was engaging, but Microsoft submitted a session almost identical to the one you submitted, and as the co-founding member of PASS, and the reason we’re all able to attend this great event, they have some pull.  If they want to present the session in question, their session will take precedence over yours. There’s nothing wrong with your submission, it just got bumped by another.

2)  Your abstract was interesting, your title was engaging, and it seems like it’d be a good session, but another session almost identical to yours was submitted by an industry leader, someone who has strong name recognition and has a great reputation for delivering sessions that fill the session rooms and consistently rates high in evaluation scores.  Remember that the goal of the conference is to get as many paying attendees as possible, and having a person who’s known to put “butts in the seats” is going to take precedence to your session.  This isn’t about you, this is about what’s best for the conference.

3)  Your abstract was interesting, your title was engaging, but there were too many sessions submitted for that particular track, and since they only had so many slots to fill, they had to draw the line somewhere.  It may not seem fair, and it may seem to you that there should be more sessions in that particular track, but the conference organizers had made there determination before session submission how many sessions were to be selected for each track, and there were just too many sessions in that one.

4)  Your abstract was good, the title was interesting, but you’d had some problems before with meeting what the attendees expected from the presentation.  Remember that they’re paying a lot of money, both in conference fees and travel expenses, to be at this event.  The conference organizers have to know that the presentations will be at the top level to justify those expenses, and they chose another session that more closely aligns with that goal.  You can work on those problems at user group meetings and SQL Saturdays to correct those issues and that’ll reflect well in future events.

5)  Your abstract was good, but the title was dull.  This is hard. How do you come up with a title that’ll grab people’s attention, but without going over the top? The best thing to do is to look at the sessions over previous events and see what wording grabs your attention.  It has to reflect what you’re planning to deliver, but a session title like “Improving Query Performance” just isn’t going to attract many people to your session.  Remember, the title will attract people to your abstract, and that will bring people to your session.  (Unless you’re Conor Cunningham, and then everyone will come to your session because you’re Conor Cunningham regardless of the title or abstract.)

6)  Your title was good, but your abstract was dull.  Dull is hard to define, but it could be uninteresting, or too long, or is written in a way that tells the attendee that this session may not live up to the title’s promise.  It’s important to be concise, but accurately convey what the attendee should expect to gain by attending your session. It’s also important to be enthusiastic about your subject, because if you aren’t, why should they be?

7)  Your title was dull, your abstract was worse.  Sorry, but this happens, too.  Look at the sessions from Summits past and work on developing titles and abstracts that will appeal to the selection committee.  Remember, this conference isn’t about you, it’s about getting people using SQL Server to come to the biggest SQL Server conference on the planet, and it needs to be the best.  You have good ideas, you just need to work on presenting them in a way that’s attractive.

So, those are my thoughts. I hope that sessions I submitted will be selected this year.  One of the things I love to do is to share what I’ve learned with others, to help them grow as SQL Server professionals. Hopefully I’ll get to do that again this year.

Best of luck to all of you.


(This blog was originally posted May 23, 2014.)