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.

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Karen Chace 2016 ©

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