PASS Summit Submission Tips

PASS Summit 2015 Last week it was announced that the PASS Summit 2015 call for speakers will be open from February 18 to March 15. For those who are hoping to present there in October, it's time to start getting those submissions ready!

If the past few years are any indicator, this year will see more submissions than ever before, probably over 1,000. While this will translate to tremendous variety in terms of speakers and topics, it also means some very tough decisions will have to be made by the members of the PASS Summit Program Committee, which is charged with selecting which sessions make it into the schedule. (And if you'd like to be part of the program committee this year, applications are being accepted until February 18. Apply today!)

I've had the pleasure of serving on the program committee for 4 years and have performed a variety of tasks including abstract proofreading for the guide, speaker qualification reviews, and abstract reviews. Having to read through and rate several hundred abstracts in just a few weeks is no small undertaking. And while the overall quality of the submissions increases each year, I've also seen some of the same errors time and time again. While they won't necessarily kill your chances of having an abstract accepted, they definitely won't do you any favors either. Based on the few years I've been reading abstracts, here are my tips for making sure your submission is in tip-top shape.

Complete all fields

PASS Summit session submissions involve filling in forms with multiple fields such as summary, abstract, prerequisites, and 3 goals for the presentation. Please make sure all of these are complete. In past years, the web interface has enforced this and not let you save a submission with empty fields, but some people still try to get around it by doing things like putting a few spaces or periods in a field. If you can't take your submission seriously enough to think it through and fully complete the form, why should those on the reviewing end take it seriously either? When so many others fully complete their form, your chances of being accepted with an incomplete submission start to nosedive.

Have 3 goals

The list of goals tends to be a popular place to slack off. I can't speak for 2015 yet, but in the past PASS has always asked for 3 goals your presentation will achieve. I've seen lots of cases where the same goal is copied and pasted into all 3 fields, and many other cases where whitespace or random characters are used to avoid listing actual goals. If you can't come up with three distinct goals for your 75 minute presentation, I would start to question the strength of your topic.


Once your submission is complete, proofread it. Again. And again. You can never proofread too much. Fresh eyes help, so have others look at it too – maybe your coworkers, friends, or spouse. Even if they have no clue what you're talking about, they can help you with grammar, spelling, and punctuation.

PASS Summit attracts presenters from all over the world, and for many of them English is a second or third language. I have tremendous respect for those people, as I don't think I could ever feel comfortable enough with another language to present in it. This is one of the reasons I've never been one to nitpick on proper usage of "who" vs. "whom" or the presence or lack of oxford commas. My command of the English language is far from perfect, and I don't expect anyone else's to be perfect either. However some mistakes are so glaring they simply can't be ignored. I can recall a submission talking about "SLQ Server". Slip-ups like that are exactly why proofreading is a necessity.

Explain why your topic is important

Topics you submit to PASS Summit are clearly important to you because you've invested considerable time into writing a presentation and submitting an abstract for it. Make sure this importance is not lost on your audience by telling them why your topic is awesome and how it will help them. "Attend my session and learn how XYZ will help you quickly relieve the pains caused by issues A and B."

Explain abbreviations

Abbreviations can be very helpful, especially for title fields with short character limits, but you can't assume everyone knows the abbreviation you're using. On more than one occasion I've had someone come up to me at a SQL Saturday and ask what "SSMS" meant. Fortunately the fix for this is very simple. If you're going to use an abbreviation somewhere in your submission, make sure you spell it out fully elsewhere. For example, if your title is "SSMS Tips and Tricks", maybe start your abstract off with "Most SQL Server DBAs use SQL Server Management Studio (SSMS) on a daily basis…"

Choose appropriate session levels & prerequisites

This one's always tough. As part of a session submission you must assign it a skill level from 100 to 500. The PASS Summit 2015 information isn't available yet, but the 2014 Definitions page defines these as:

  • 100 (Novice) Assumes some knowledge of the technical concepts/features, but not necessarily coding skills; 1 year experience.
  • 200 (Intermediate) Assumes comfort with technical concepts and basic coding skills; 1-3 years' experience.
  • 300 (Advanced) Assumes solid knowledge of technology and strong coding skills; 4-6 years' experience.
  • 400 (Expert) Assumes advanced understanding of technology; 6+ years' experience.
  • 500 (Advanced Expert) Assumes deep technical knowledge of the technology; 8+ years' experience.

I can't tell you what skill level to assign to your session, but I can tell you that whatever you pick, the abstract and prerequisites should support it. Don't say that your 500-level session has no prerequisites and that you are going to walk attendees through the topic from the very beginning. Similarly, don't say that a 100-level session is for people who have been using a feature for 2-3 years.

Avoid metaphors & sarcasm

I love humor, metaphors, idioms, and sarcasm, but their downfall is that they can lead to lots of confusion. While sarcasm can be fairly obvious when speaking to someone, it doesn't usually work very well when it's being read. Just think about all the times you see things like "" or "totally being sarcastic" in tweets and posts online. I'm all for making PASS Summit as fun and light-hearted as it can be, but I think a little humor will get you much farther being included in your presentation than it will in the abstract.

Keep it positive

PASS Summit is an incredibly positive experience; don't take away from that by adding negativity to your submission. There is absolutely no need for titles such as "5 Dumb Mistakes Rookies Make" or abstracts like "Attend my session and learn how to show those stupid developers who's boss!" We're all there to learn from each other, and nobody is stupid. Not only can negative wordings discourage people from attending, but they can also set the tone for the entire session.

I hope this helps, and good luck with all your submissions!