Organised speaking – session abstracts

Last year I spoke at 10 different events (I think) and was very lucky to be nominated in the Tribal Awards for my Intro to R session. I did just a couple of different session titles and I don’t think I managed the whole process very well.

To be an easier speaker to deal with, I’m trying to be more organised so that the selection process of myself & topics is easier whilst also ensuring I don’t develop too many presentations at the last minute.

Having dealt with awesome serial speakers, Tobiasz Koprowski and Denny Cherry, from the organiser end they did a few things which made it much easier to deal with them, particularly given the breadth of topics they can cover!


Tobiasz had a spreadsheet that contained session info:

  • Title
  • Abstract
  • Level
  • Contains real examples or demos
  • Track
  • Whether it could be a session and/or a pre-con event


  • Spell checking – so long as you know can spell check or hit F7 in Excel, you can check to make sure your abstracts have correct spellings
  • Filterable – as an organiser you might be looking for criteria less about specific session content and more about fit in terms of levels and tracks. Having a spreadsheet enables easy filtering on such criteria to assist with decision making


  • Abstract variations – different conferences want different length variants and it would make the spreadsheet very wide to add all of these as columns, degrading readability
  • Text formatting and encoding – a persistent issue for event organisers is formatting of abstracts and bios due to myriad copy and pastes. The use of Excel means that there is a whole raft of formatting to start with before the transformations start


Denny had a .txt file for each session abstract.


  • Clarity – no risk of faff as it’s just plain text and no risk of confusion due to applied filters or other issues (it happens to the best of us!)
  • No text formatting or encoding – whether it’s Denny copying and pasting into a session submission form or an event organiser putting it onto a site or a guidebook, this is going to come through in the destination formatting and provide fewer issues down the line


  • No overview – a lack of a spreadsheet / summary document makes it difficult for narrowing down choices based on selection criteria like level and track suitability
  • No metadata or abstract variants – where no info is provided about the session other than the abstract, it makes it difficult to provide all the requisite information that can be required

Best of both worlds

So looking at their two methods, there’s some clear things I can do to provide a better experience for myself as form filler and for event organisers than the average speaker.

  • Maintain an easy to peruse summary of all my sessions
  • Keep plain-text files of each session

My own spin

Of course, just doing what others are doing isn’t enough for me – I have to tweak! So the further enhancements are:

  • Metadata in the .txt filenames
  • Consistent layouts that use markdown style minimal formatting
  • Include all necessary metadata like level and session length in the file
  • Use of Notepad++ and then Word to generate abstracts and verify spelling and grammar
  • links to the Dropbox folder of abstracts, to the session roster, and to my bio to allow easy referencing instead of sending it all via email

Where next?

It’s probably not a new system I’m using and I’m sure there’s room for improvement. For instance, if I made them more markdown heavy then that’s great for me as I can use R to knit them together into PDFs, Word docs etc, but not everyone works on markdown (yet!).

In the next blog posts I’ll cover the topic generation process, and the submission processes I’m using but for this post I just wanted to cover the management of the session abstracts.

If you’re an organiser, what are your pet peeves and what could I be doing better?

If you’re a speaker, what do you do to maintain all your sessions?