Conference proposal season is open! It is an exciting time of year filled with potential and possibility. If you are looking to submit a proposal for the first time, or maybe you have struggled to get your proposals selected in the past, let the following tips help guide you in the process. I offer these tips from my experience as a program reviewer and as someone who has presented on the local, regional, and national level.
Focus on themes & objectives
Every conference is going to have a theme, set of objectives, or learning outcomes. These are purposeful. The conference planning committee identified these areas to provide direction for the conference and focus participant learning. Use this information as the road map for your proposal. Align your proposal with one or more of the identified outcomes. Make sure that your proposal continues the conversation that the conference committee is trying to facilitate.
Like most things in life, I learned the best lesson about conference proposals through failure. Several years ago, I worked with a colleague to submit a proposal for a regional housing conference. We were excited and thought we were going to revolutionize RA staff supervision. Subsequently, I also served as a program reviewer for the same conference. When I received my assigned programs for review I immediately contacted my colleague and said, “We don’t have a shot at getting selected.” More than half of the programs assigned to me focused on RA staff supervision. My colleague and I were one of many, and as I observed, there was nothing in our proposal that was unique or innovative.
While your proposal does not need to be a brand new idea, it should add value in a unique way. For my colleague and I, the reviewers were likely unable to differentiate our proposal among a saturated pool of similar topics. Our approach to RA staff supervision was not different enough to add value by comparison. So, as you probably guessed…our proposal was not selected.
Be specific, relevant, and tangible
When I serve as a program reviewer, I typically ask myself three questions: What is this presentation about? Is it relevant to the purpose of the conference? What can participants expect to take away from this presentation? Consequently, these are similar to the questions found in the evaluation tools used by all program reviewers.
When developing your proposal, work to answer those questions. Identify the specific topic you will address during the presentation. The emphasis should be on depth of content. If you try to cover too much information, your audience will likely get confused. Make sure your presentation relates to the theme of the conference – is it relevant? Feel free to integrate the theme into your title for added emphasis. Finally, and perhaps, most important, identify the tangible takeaways of your presentation. How is an attendee going to benefit from choosing your session? You will have anywhere from 50-75 minutes to convey knowledge, so make sure that it is something that the attendee can integrate into their work.
Have a solid foundation
In the evaluation of your proposal, reviewers will analyze the theoretical or research basis for your presentation. Unless you are considered the expert on your topic (which based on the fact that you made it this far into the post, I am guessing you are not) it is crucial to have a solid foundation. A good program proposal connects theoretical content with real world application; it takes an established best practice and provides a practical perspective. This is your opportunity to demonstrate your credibility as the presenter. Show the reviewer that you have a strong knowledge of the topic.
Consider these tips as you prepare for submission season. Now go out there and make those proposals great!