It was two months ago when BlueHat IL’s org-team approached me. At first, I thought they called to ask me to submit a talk. BlueHat IL is one of my favorite information security conferences, so you can imagine I was extremely flattered when I realized they wanted me to review others’ submissions.
The review process took place in the busiest month possible. I spoke together with Daniel in various conferences (Hackfest, DeepSec and Botconf) and taught a threat hunting workshop in my community, Baot. This was a stressful period, and I had to make sure my time was efficiently used.
There were dozens of submissions to BlueHat IL. Reading and reviewing all of them, I noticed which patterns made the reviewing process easier for me, and which behaviours drove me nuts.
I’m certain there are online recommendations for writing good abstracts and preparing quality submissions, but I decided to give my two cents as a checklist which anyone can quickly go through when applying for a CFP. To the list!
Do state what's new
Conference don’t look for plain overviews. Known techniques, previously talked-about approaches, existing tools - these rarely get more interesting when you group them together in one slide deck. If you think that’s the case, make sure you explain why this overview has a real added value. Also, if you submit a repeated talk - tell the reviewers what new material has been added since its presentation.
Do introduce the topic
Many of the BlueHat submissions dealt with topics I was not familiar with. It was always pleasant to be introduced to the basics at the beginning of the abstract. Of course, you should not explain the term “internet”, but make sure you introduce even basic terms in your field of expertise and not leave any nontrivial acronyms unexplained.
Do double check your English
Seriously, why do people submit without cross-checking? If you don’t have a native English speaker friend, pay someone $5 on Fiverr and have a native speaker review your text. I find submissions with language mistakes extremely distracting. It’s difficult to focus on the actual message when it’s surrounded with typos, grammar mistakes and incorrect punctuation.
Do signal that you're prepared
Fill in as many fields in the application form as you can - talk outline, slide deck draft, links to your previous talks, etc. - don’t hesitate to provide those. They make your submission stand out and make the review board confident that you have things under control.
Do make the most out of your application
You won’t necessarily have prepared slides or a YouTube link to an amazing appearance of yours. However, keep in mind that others may have them in their submission. Therefore, try maximizing the quality of what you do have (e.g. if you only provide an abstract, make sure it’s extensive enough). Perfect the parts of the submission you have.
Don't submit redundant attachments
Attachments are a wonderful tool to enhance your submission and show what you’ve got. Yet, if the PDF you attached does not add any information - refrain from using it. It takes the reviewer a few minutes to go over these documents and find out they are unnecessary - a few minutes too many.
Don't recycle names
While I was reviewing a certain submission, I read the title and wondered “Hmm this looks familiar”. A quick Google search showed a talk with a similar title (from the same speaker) in a conference agenda from last year.
Your research is diverse, your projects vary. Name them differently.
Don't write a 2-sentence-abstract, even if you're a "Big Shot"
Need I really explain? The fact you’re famous and renowned does not grant you the right to be accepted with a sloppy application. Arrogance does not give you credit.
Don't submit 8 talks
Yes, you read that right. No, this tactic does not increase your chances.
Never, ever, ever, submit 8 talks to a conference. Choose the best one or two.
Don't leave stupid sentences in your submission
Here is an example of an academic research paper we got. Around the middle of it, there was this mind-blowing piece of poetry:
I think the idea is clear.
Oh, and good luck :)