A Call for Proposal (or sometimes described as a Request for Proposal) is an open invitation from conference organizers asking for session presentations that are interesting and relevant for fellow industry professionals.
Getting your proposal chosen can be of great benefit to an association professional, vendor, or partner. These presentations can add value to the attendees, allow you to become a thought leader in the industry/add credibility, or add brand awareness to your association.
Often times though, many association professionals don’t know where to begin when starting the proposal process. Don’t worry though - we’ve made a quick list of do’s and don’ts on how to have a top notch proposal for your next submission.
- Have a clear description - The ultimate advice we can give you is to be very straightforward when writing your proposal. Typically, the proposal form will have a couple of components: Session description, key takeaways, length of presentation, audience interaction, and speaker biography. While you want to keep it interesting enough to get chosen, be wary of coming off as too vague. The goal is to have it be very clear about what information you are going to share as well as what your audience members are going to take away from your session.
- Talk about something new - Think about when you go to a conference and begin to check out the session list available. We all know that feeling that arises when you look over and see the same topics over and over. A good proposal will present information that is either new or have a new take on an old topic. The conference organizers want to make sure that your presentation is going to provide real value to their attendees and not just be a “filler” session. Make sure to take your time and think about information you would want to know. That leads us to our next point...
- Pull from experience - If you are having a hard time thinking of a new topic, reflect on your own professional experience and think about something you wish you would have known off the bat in your industry. Many strong session ideas come from someone realizing there is a hole in a workflow, see the way to efficiently update a current process, or want to revolutionize the way you think about your industry or an idea. Also, don’t be afraid to do additional research if you feel like your experience can only take you so far with a topic.
- Be catchy without content - Sometimes it’s easy to come up with a fun headline or an enticing description, but without real content to back it up. Be careful of this as you'll end up leading on your audience and they will come out being disappointed by the presentation. As obvious as this may be, please try to avoid pitching a topic that you can’t discuss at length. The typical session time is 45 to 60 minutes long (unless you do a lightning talk), so make sure to consider proper pacing when creating your outline.
- Plagiarize - Unfortunately, this does happen on occasion throughout any industry. While it’s fairly common sense, stealing ideas from others will just come back to tarnish your reputation. Like we mentioned above, if there is an idea that you identify with while you are researching, try to take a different spin on it to make it your own. Otherwise, we recommend steering clear and thinking of alternative topics.
- Lack a Personal Touch - When submitting your proposal, make sure you personalize your session description and key takeaways to target the conference you are submitting it for. Typically this will only require a few small tweaks and will make your proposal more appealing to the selection committee. Otherwise, your proposal may be ignored when compared to other submissions who take the extra time.
Whether you’re a presentation pro or you’re just starting out, figuring out the right topic can be challenging for anyone. If you are having a hard time, don’t be afraid to ask the conference organizers if there is a certain theme or subject they are looking for. The goal here is to remember that you are providing an exchange with your audience. You are providing information of value for them and they are providing you their time and focus.
Already planning ahead for conference season? No matter how big the conference you're attending is, we've got a guide to help you get through it. Take a look at our 2017 Conference Survival Guide for more tips on how to best maximize your conference experience, whether you’re an attendee or a speaker.