Tips for Writing Your Abstract

July 19 – 22  |  Online

How to Increase Attendance to Your Event Sessions with a Well-Written Abstract

Far too often, we give truly valuable talks (or even put on whole events) that don’t get the audience they deserve.

The content is great, the price is right, the appropriate target market has been contacted, and yet still people aren’t showing up in the kinds of numbers you had hoped for.

When this is the case, 99% of the time the problem is your Marketing Message. As a speaker at an event, your “marketing message” is more commonly know by other names, i.e. your Session Title and your Abstract.

Unless you’re already famous and your name alone can draw a crowd, nailing your session title and abstract are absolutely key to getting people interested in your talk. In most cases, it is THE one chance you have to reel them in.

Luckily, there is a way to fix this problem that so many speakers face. Marketing professionals figured it out years ago. It’s simple. It’s easy. And it works like a charm.

Let’s take a look at how to do it.

Part I – Two Questions to Ask

Perhaps the easiest ways to attract attendees to a session is to help them solve a problem.

If you can help people solve their problems, they are guaranteed to be interested.

Given the above, the easiest way to know if your messaging for an event session is on target is to ask two questions:

  1. What does a potential attendee want? (What’s their goal?)
  2. What is the problem that is stopping them from getting what they want?

Part II – What the Answers to those Two Questions Give You

Answering the two questions above gives you a lot of material to work with in order to convince potential attendees to attend your session. In short, you can do the following:

  1. Talk about their end goal and how much better things will be once they achieve it.

This emphasizes the positive in the situation and gets them motivated about getting what they want. They’ve thought about this plenty. You just have to fan the flames a little.

  1. Talk about their end goal and how bad things will be if they don’t achieve it.

This emphasizes the negative in the situation and agitates their “pain.” Only when their pain is great enough will they actually take action to get rid of it. You don’t want to go too overboard with this and put them in a negative space. Just remind them a little of the pain they’ve been living with.

  1. Talk about the problem that’s keeping them from getting to their end goal.

This shows you understand what’s getting in their way, and you understand their situation. People feel much more comfortable with someone who seems to understand them. They also naturally trust that person more.

  1. Talk about how you can offer a solution to that problem.

This emphasizes that your talk in particular can help them solve their problem and that they will get REAL VALUE from it that will directly affect them. Your talk isn’t simply a discussion about an issue. Your talk should literally help them solve their problem.

Part III – Your Talk Needs to Deliver

You may have noticed that we didn’t really mentioned you or your talk at all until the very last part of section #4 above.

There’s a good reason for that. Your potential attendees need to be at the center of your messaging, not you.

In addition, your talk needs to be able to deliver what you promise in your messaging. In other words, your talk needs to solve the problem that’s keeping your attendees from getting what they want.

Does it do that? … Does it REALLY do that?

Most session events do solve some kind of problem in one way or another. The talk may be somewhat vague, and the solution may be somewhat unclear in the end, but most people do hit on some kind of problem to solve.

The big question is this: Does your talk solve the problem your potential attendees want solved, and does it do that clearly? Or are you really talking about some other problem that’s somewhat related but not really very important to your attendees and won’t help get them what they want in the end?

This can be a real eye-opener for some people when they really think about that question and discover that their talk isn’t quite as valuable as it could be. It can even be a little shocking and, of course, disappointing.

It shouldn’t be.

Asking these questions should be a normal part of the process of creating a talk. And discovering that you might be off course (sometimes just a little, sometimes maybe more than a little) is also part of the process and extremely valuable.

Trying to get your messaging clear can also help you get your session content clear. They both obviously should go hand-in-hand, and they both need to be addressing the same idea: Your attendees have a problem and you can help solve it.

Part IV – An Agile Spin on Things

If you’re used to working with Agile stories, then all of the above may have sounded somewhat familiar.

This, of course, is the classic Agile story format:

As a [persona], I [want to], [so that].

We can easily put the basics from above into that format:

As a [session attendee], I [want to overcome what’s blocking me], [so I can get what I want].

Part V – Example

Your best (and sometimes only) opportunity to get your message across to a potential attendee comes in the form of your session title and abstract. So, let’s look at an example.

Scenario

A Scrum Master is finding that their team isn’t happy, and it seems to be affecting their work as well as the atmosphere. The Scrum Master doesn’t know why their team isn’t happy.

Scrum Master’s Goal: To have a happy and productive team.

Scrum Master’s Problem: They don’t know what’s causing their team to be unhappy and unproductive.

Or put in story format:

As a [Scrum Master], I [want to find out what’s negatively affecting my team], [so that I might help to fix it, and we can be happier and more productive].

Session Title:

How Scrum Masters Can Discover What Their Unhappy Teams Won’t Tell Them: A New Way to Run Retrospectives

Abstract:

Everyone wants happy and productive teams. When things are running smoothly and everyone is in sync, “work” hardly seems like “work” at all. But if your team is unhappy, and it’s affecting everything from their production to the work atmosphere, it’s not always easy to figure out exactly what the problem is. You know things can’t continue as they are because everyone is miserable and the work is suffering, but no one seems willing to tell you what the issue is or how you might help. Traditional retrospectives, which are designed to get at such problems, can often fail because of the way traditional retrospectives are run and the questions they ask. This session is designed to give you a new approach to retrospectives than can unearth the true problems affecting a team in such a position. This new style of retrospective, affectionately called the “Getting Real Retrospective,” has been successfully used with dozens of teams large and small inside a wide range of industries and across multiple cultures.

Breakdown

As mentioned in Part II, answering the two basic questions of what the person wants and what’s stopping them from getting that can give you a lot of material to work with.

You don’t always have to use all the information you might get from that in your abstract, but it may help. So, let’s look at the example abstract above and break it down according to what was mentioned in Part II.

  1. Talk about their end goal and how much better things will be once they achieve it.

Everyone wants happy and productive teams. When things are running smoothly and everyone is in sync, “work” hardly seems like “work” at all.

  1. Talk about their end goal and how bad things will be if they don’t achieve it.

But if your team is unhappy, and it’s affecting everything from their production to the work atmosphere .… You know things can’t continue as they are because everyone is miserable and the work is suffering ….

  1. Talk about the problem that’s keeping them from getting to their end goal.

it’s not always easy to figure out exactly what the problem is.

but no one seems willing to tell you what the issue is or how you might help.

Traditional retrospectives, which are designed to get at such problems, can often fail because of the way traditional retrospectives are run and the questions they ask.

  1. Talk about how you can offer a solution to that problem.

This session is designed to give you a new approach to retrospectives than can unearth the true problems affecting a team in such a position. This new style of retrospective, affectionately called the “Getting Real Retrospective,” has been successfully used with dozens of teams large and small inside a wide range of industries and across multiple cultures.

Part VI – Creative Titles are Fun!

Let’s talk about session titles for a moment, specifically creative titles.

Creative titles are fun. … They’re also killing you.

Unless you have a name that can attract a crowd no matter what your title is, you’re wasting your most valuable space in order to ask a potential attendee to solve a puzzle just to figure out what you’re talking about.

If you think about that for a minute, you can see how crazy it is. “Yes, I want you to attend my session, but first I want you to guess what it’s about from this vague, completely out-of-context clue.”

In most cases, you only have a title and an abstract to get someone’s attention. People will read your title in order to decide whether they’re even going to give your abstract a scan or not. If you waste that space by confusing them or asking them to work for it, you’re going to lose them.

This goes back to the principle of putting your audience first. You need to communicate, as clearly as you can, about them: about their goals and their problems and the solutions to their problems.

Title Breakdown

Let’s take a quick look at the title used in the example above:

How Scrum Masters Can Discover What Their Unhappy Teams Won’t Tell Them: A New Way to Run Retrospectives

There’s a lot packed into it.

  1. It identifies the ideal audience: Scrum Masters with this specific problem.
  2. It also promises to solve that problem: “How Scrum Masters Can Discover ….”
  3. And it also gives a clue as to what the solution is: a new way to run retrospectives.

In short, it’s doing a lot of work. And as your most valuable space, it SHOULD be doing a lot of work. If it’s not, you’re not taking full advantage of it.

Part VII – Summary

In summary, all of this really comes down to two things:

  1. Create a talk that helps your attendees solve a problem.
  2. Make sure your messaging clearly states that you can help them solve this problem.

If you can solve people’s problems, and they know that, you’re almost guaranteed to have them beating down your door.