Speakers And Organizers: Dealing With Conference Rejections

September 2, 2015

giphy So you spent a good amount of time and thought into a speaker application for that special conference. It’s the conference that everyone in your circle is talking about. You get the application in… but a short time later you find out you weren’t accepted. That’s a disappointment. Granted in the grand scheme of things isn’t life or death – but with the message from many conferences (including local based events like WordCamps) about “don’t be afraid, apply!” – it does get frustrating at times, especially if the rejections seem continuous.

I’ve been on both sides – i’ve been a speaker coordinator for WordCamp Miami (also help organize the WordPress meetups in my area) and also have applied to speak at events. Here’s some thoughts I would like to share.


I think this is important to get yourself in the right mindset. Honestly ask yourself why you are applying to speak in the first place. You should have more than one reason but the number one reason shouldn’t be self-promotion. If that’s your number TWO reason, fine. But in my experience and from what other conference speakers have shared (speakers from large and/or “professional” conferences) is that organizers and attendees (assuming you get through and speak) have a good tendency of picking up your true motivations.

I believe this to be true – experienced organizers tend to pick up when a particular application sounds more like a piece of marketing copy. Attendees can detect self-promotion in your presentation and when it goes beyond an acceptable level. Again, not to say that promoting yourself can’t be a motivation – actually, I think it should be. It just shouldn’t be the primary one, and when that is the case then rejections for your presentation tend to feel less personal.

Realize Your Odds

If you have a humble attitude and realize that you are applying for a conference that has a small number of open slots, you’ll understand why you might not be accepted even if you are an experienced speaker with a great application. My only advice is to keep trying.

A nice response from Adam Culp on how many applications one conference gets:

Ask For Feedback

This one is simple… if you don’t get feedback on your rejection, ask for it. Explain that you just want to use the feedback as a learning experience, and if they have any tips for applying for a future submission. Have a professional tone and aim to ask privately (email or direct message) to avoid putting them on the spot (and therefore defensive).

Do More Local Speaking

Speaking at meetups and smaller events is a great way to scratch that itch for speaking, plus it gives you experience. Asking for feedback from other professional speakers and event organizers might be a good idea as well.

What Conference Organizers Can Do

Conference organizers have a responsibility to treat any applications sent on time with a measure of respect.

Acknowledge You Got The Application – A confirmation message after a form submit is great, but for most people an email is better. Both are automated but still an email feels personal and that they at least have your email address makes you feel like they have your entire application.

Let The Applicant Know They Weren’t Picked – This seems obvious, but some conferences (sadly both “professional” and community based ones) don’t email the applicant back if they weren’t selected. That’s not right. Even an automatic email is better then none.

Let The Applicant Know Why They Weren’t Picked – This is tricky because you are running a conference not a consulting service for speakers. You likely don’t have anywhere near the time to respond to each application on an individual basis. It might be helpful to categorize the rejections into a few categories (subject matter doesn’t fit with conference, similar talks were submitted, etc.) In your reply: honesty is good but avoid being blunt. It’s preferable you encourage them to apply again next time, and even suggest possible other events in the area (or that fit a similar subject matter) that they could also look at. But SOME sort of feedback would “soften the blow” so to speak while providing perhaps some sort of education.

Let The Applicant Know When You’ve Closed The Call And Reviewing Applications – This is a “nice to have” because in my experience prevents people from emailing you asking if you’ve reviewed applications because they want to book travel… it’s a “hey we didn’t forget about you” message.

Make Public the # of Applications – This is up to you but might people understand after the event how much competition they actually had.

It’s about communication. The better the communication, the better the receiving of the rejection. Perhaps even a bit of an educational experience for the genuine applicant.

Go Ahead And Do It

To wrap up this post, it’s good to understand why people should continue to submit applications EVEN when they probably know they’ll be rejected anyway. I thought these were excellent points: