Submitted by: Dawn Kristy

“All the world’s a stage.” As You Like It – William Shakespeare

Why should you present at a conference?

If colleagues are suggesting that you join the speakers’ circuit, what are your thoughts? Before you decide, here are some potential benefits to you and your brand:

  • Networking
  • Building your resume
  • Enhancing your career
  • Advancing your knowledge
  • Travel
  • Fun!

Where do you begin?

If you are looking for useful tips from cybersecurity influencers, who happen to be stellar speakers, look no further!

Lessons Learned from Influencers

This summer, Diana Kelley, Alyssa Miller, Chloe Messdaghi, and Tennisha Martin had a candid discussion during a WiCyS and RSAC webinar entitled “How to Wow Submission Reviewers with a Stellar Proposal.” They offered some gems on how to progress from early rejections to wins, which we are highlighting here.

The trajectory of their path went from “No” thank you into “Yes” indeed!

Top Tips

Your Voice Matters

  • To showcase your skills, your voice matters. If you seek advice from others or emulate others, be sure to inject your voice back into your content. If not, your CFP abstract may be declined.
  • The trajectory of your path will depend on many factors, so you must be persistent and resilient during this process.
  • Be authentic and show your personality to be memorable.
  • Not everyone can be funny or self-deprecating, so do what works for you naturally.

Your Perspective on Topics

  • Topics that are trending could be rejected due to the high volume of submissions in that area. Find a way to stand out by offering a unique perspective.
  • Bring your special sauce to it because you have a unique background. What do you bring to the table that others have not heard yet?
  • If you put a different spin on it, the odds of being accepted are more in your favor.
  • For example, diversity is an important mission. It appears that the supply of speakers seeking to present talks on this subject exceeds the demand. Thus, abstracts may be declined.
    • Nevertheless, this is exactly when persistence and resilience play an important role.
    • Craft your abstract in your authentic voice from your unique perspective and continue to submit proposals.
  • For example, at the RSA Conference in February 2020.
    • Timely topic – Deepfakes (before the election).
    • Catch title – “Losing Our Reality: How Deepfakes Threaten Businesses and Global Markets”.
    • Abstract focused on threats to business rather than on the election (which most were discussing deepfakes).

Abstract Content is King

  • The abstract title must be interesting – even catchy.
  • The abstract must be interesting.
  • Tell the review committee the solution to a problem (they know the problem).
  • Write the abstract for the audience.
  • Address What & Why, but leave How for your talk.
  • Present research that you have conducted rather than referencing others’ research.
  • Sell your enthusiasm for the topic — for people to attend your track (if more than one track). However, do not pitch or sell your product!
  • Bio info is not part of the abstract.
  • Often double-blind reviews are done without your name (anonymized), so do not add it in the abstract content section.

How to be Accepted to Present

How do you get accepted at RSA, WiCyS, Black Hat, or Defcon, if you are new to the field or new to presenting?

  • Start at smaller conferences and work your way up to build confidence.
  • Large conferences make big investments and want speakers who are known with personal brand recognition.
  • Review committees will often want videos of you speaking. However, reviewers will look for educational videos if you do not have a presentation recorded at a conference, and even a short video to introduce yourself and your topic (recorded on your smartphone).
  • Check RSA and Black Hat websites for tips on how to get accepted.
    • For example, RSA liked the title as well as the mitigation strategies and research studies.  
    • For example, Black Hat likes outlines and takeaways.


  • Everyone gets declined.
  • Feedback is crucial, so ask for it.
  • Some conference organizers use a form for rating and then add comments.
  • Not all conference organizers give feedback.
  • If they do not give you feedback:
    • You may want to reconsider speaking at this conference.
    • Send your abstract to a few colleagues in the industry for their feedback and ideas.

Support for First-Time Speakers

  • Consider networking and reaching out to speakers for a quick review (say 15 minutes or less) of your abstract.
  • Organizations may allow you to do a test talk the first time.
  • Request feedback


A Stellar Proposal

  • Timely topic (e.g., ransomware is hot).
  • Catchy title (e.g., Losing Our Reality…).
  • Abstract with a very clear summary of what the audience will hear.
  • Show your personality, be memorable, and stand out.

Review Conference Websites

  • Take advantage of the stellar proposals and advice on what they like before your prepare your abstract.

Prepare and Rehearse

  • Emulate top speakers you admire and review TEDx talks.
    • Start with a story (like a keynote):
      • Makes you comfortable, is easy to do, gets you into the groove of talking.
      • Draws in your audience because they can identify with something in that story – so now they are listening.
      • Something you can go back to and refer to throughout your talk.
    • Improv classes, acting classes, Toastmaster, even Karaoke will help you become confident speaking on stage.
    • You must rehearse your talk!

If you decide to speak at a conference, you have plenty of resources and support, including from Women in CyberSecurity (WiCyS)!