Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Putting Your Proposal Pieces Together

Through the years I have served on numerous proposal review committees for a variety of organizations. When I attend their conferences I often hear, “I wonder why my proposal wasn’t accepted.”

While I have presented at a number of conferences I have also been on the receiving end of, "Thank you for your submission but you have not been selected to present this year."

Have I made mistakes? Absolutely! I don’t claim to be an expert, but I thought I would offer some insights based on my committee experience. Please consider the following suggestions, offered with a gentle hand, the next time you submit a proposal for either a local or national conference.

Ask Yourself:

  • Is it well written? If a reviewer knows nothing about your work or the subject, would they understand your process?
  • Have you submitted the same proposal for many years without offering anything new?
  • If the conference has a theme does your proposal complement it?
  • Did you spell check?
  • If you presented at the same conference in the past were you flexible to work with before and during the conference? 
  • If you previously presented did you follow through with items the conference coordinator requested? Examples:
  1. Sending your signed contract back on time.
  2. Registering for the conference on time.
  3. Did you respond to queries from the conference coordinator in a timely fashion? 
  4. Did you promote the conference, and your workshop, if it was a requirement of your contract? (Organizers do notice.)
Submission Guidelines

  1. Did you provide a workshop outline?
  2. Did you provide a timeline breakdown for your presentation    For example:  % of lecture, % for Q & A, % of participation. (Note: One and two are not the same.)
  3. Is your math correct for the above? Do your percentages equal 100%?
  4. Did you adhere to the word limit for your bio/outline/workshop description/resume?
  5. Did you offer complete references, including their contact information?
  6. Did you indicate where you have presented before? Don’t state, "I have presented at conferences around the country” and assume that is sufficient.
  7. Did you request equipment the conference does not provide, as stated on the proposal form?

  • Don't send a resume if it is not requested. Reviewers do not have the time to read more.
  • Don't add quotes from other workshop participants unless requested. Again, reviewers don't have the time to read more.
  • Don’t submit a four hour proposal and state, “I can also do this as a 90 minute presentation if necessary.” Instead, send in a second, full proposal for the 90 minute time slot. Reviewers want to know what will be different in a shorter and/or longer time slot.
  • Don't ask for a deadline extension.  The conference organizers are usually on a very tight timetable and the deadline is there for a reason.
  • Don’t use a variety of fonts or ink colors on your proposal; they make it difficult for the reviewers to read.
  • Don’t indicate a link to your website in place of requested information; answer the questions.
Before you submit your proposal:

  • Review it again.
  • Make sure all of the questions are answered.
  • Check the spelling.
  • Check the word count.
  • Ask someone who doesn't know your work to read over your proposal. A second set of eyes is always helpful to catch spelling errors and ambiguities.  
  • Review it again before you hit the send button.

Below are examples from actual proposal submissions:

  • Applicant ran out of room on the first page, which was handwritten. Instead of attaching a second page, they wrote around the edge of the first page, in circular fashion, numerous times.
  • Applicant attached a letter indicating their displeasure at not being selected the previous year.
  • Applicant only offered names in the reference section stating, “You know how to reach them.”
  • Applicant attached a letter stating, “If you don’t like this proposal I have others” and offered only the titles of the other workshops.
  • Applicant stated that they deserved to be selected as they were "a long standing member of the professional community.”
  • Applicant chastised the conference organizer, on their proposal form, for not offering expensive technical equipment they wanted for their presentation.

Your proposal tells reviewers a lot about you as a presenter, your professionalism, and the way your workshop might flow. If you are not paying attention to the proposal guidelines, deadlines, and other requirements, what else might fall by the wayside? Remember, there are always a number of reviewers and they may have no knowledge of you or your work. Always assume you are making a first impression and make it a good one.

You may do everything right and still not be selected to present your work. Don’t take it personally. Some years your proposal may not be a good fit with the overall arc of the conference. Other times you may need to ask yourself, what can I do different next year?


If you are presenting at a conference, my friend Bill Lampton, President of  Championship Communications, recently shared this article; terrific advice from entrepreneur Duane Cummings.

Please note, websites change at a rapid pace and web links may change or break without notice. I cannot be responsible for redirected or broken links.  At the time of this posting all links were in working order. Thank you for understanding.

Karen Chace 2016 ©

Permission for private use is granted. Distribution, either electronically or on paper is prohibited without my expressed written permission. For permission please contact me at Of course, if you wish to link to this blog post via your website, blog, newsletter, Facebook page or Twitter please feel free to do so; I greatly appreciate your support and personal integrity.


storyspace said...

Fantastic information . Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom and insight.

Karen Chace said...

Thank you for taking the time to read the blog and share your comments Andrea; you are appreciated.


Hope Lewis said...

I am so glad to see this post. It should be required reading for everyone offering a proposal. Like you, Karen, I have done my share of reviewing, and am always saddened and frustrated by proposals that must be declined based upon incompleteness, lateness, or general unprofessionalism.
Thank you for taking on this important topic.

Karen Chace said...

Thank you Hope. I know you have a lot of experience as well so your words carry a lot of weight. I appreciate your support ans wise counsel for all.


Simon Brooks said...

Long overdue and VERY well put!
Thanks Karen.

Karen Chace said...

Thank you Simon. I know you have been on the front lines as well when it comes to reviewing CFP's. Your support is appreciated.


Paulette D. Kilmer said...

Hi, Karen. I enjoyed your post. Sometimes people forget that manners and treating others as they wish to be treated permeate our work life as well as social connections. When we get busy, we may overlook the simplest things, like following the directions and keeping deadlines posted on our personal calendars. Conferences do not owe any of us the opportunity to present our research or insights. I think the choices of presenters frequently boil down to which mix will best suit the participants, and so incomplete or arrogant proposals err in assuming planners know them and their work when the issue amounts to finding that blend of workshops, story sessions, and lectures that create a meaningful experience for the attendees. Take care, Paulette

Karen Chace said...

Hi Paulette,

You hit the nail on the head! Conference organizers have the entire flow of the conference to consider and sometimes a proposal may not be a good fit. Other times, a lack of professionalism on the part of the potential workshop leader will deep six the opportunity. I think it is best to approach each proposal as if it were a personal job interview; make sure you put your best foot forward!

Thank you for taking the time to share your insightful words of wisdom.