Top tips on proposals for conferences

This is the second of a three part series on conferences and how to make the most of them. The last session was on adapting your networking strategies for an online conference, this one is on proposal writing and the final one focuses on session delivery. A lot of what follows holds for any kind of conference, whether online or face to face.

What kinds of conference sessions exist?

There are many different types of conference sessions, some of which lend themselves to virtual formats better than others. 

Apart from keynote addresses, which is prestigious if you are chosen to give them, there are workshops, roundtables, panel discussions, paper presentations and poster presentations. A webinar can mean any of these formats if they are delivered online, apart from poster presentations.

A roundtable is a group of individual presenters who usually submit a brief 1-2 page summary of the research they will present and the discussion is meant to be based collectively on issues that arise from these.  A panel discussion is very similar, with participants focusing on a common broad theme. Each participant may need to keep to a time limit, then a more open conversation happens among panel members.

Are there any general tips for conference session proposals?

Mary Jalongo and Olivia Saracho’s (2016) Writing for Publication is a very practical resource and they suggest some guidelines.

For the title, check last year’s conference program and consider the theme for year to get some inspiration.

Consider the likely audience and emphasise the advantages and results of your research.

Identify concerns, issues and trends which are current in the field and in line with the general focus of the conference and adapt your content slightly to include some of this.

Above all, make the session purpose as clear as you possibly can. This means avoiding and including a broad audience.

Is there a step by step process?

Check the submission deadlines, format requirements, and word count restrictions before you begin writing. This saves you unnecessary editing at the end.

To avoid technical issues that might occur because the portal is busy, submit at least 24 hours ahead of the deadline. Make a Word document rather than writing the proposal submission online, then cut and paste it into the submission form.

To begin the proposal, write a general and fairly indisputable statement about the situation.

State your view on the issue, with the session’s focus and purpose.

List the benefits: “What will attendees do besides sit and listen? Begin each item in the list with a verb; list 3 or 4 main outcomes” (Jalongo and Saracho, 2016 p. 77).

Mention the resources that the audience will receive (e.g., an annotated list of websites, a checklist, a synthesis of the research).

Ask respected, experienced colleagues to review your proposal well ahead of the deadline and redraft it with this feedback.

I hope this has given you a step by step approach to making a proposal for delivering a session conference, whether a virtual one or face to face.