Monday 2 February 2015

How To ... Write a Conference Proposal

Presenting at a conference can be a great way to gain some professional experience and share your ideas with your colleagues. Aside from the obvious hurdles of a fear of public speaking and actually giving the presentation there is something else to overcome first - writing the conference proposal!

Following on from my post on writing book reviews I thought I would gather some thoughts on how to write a conference proposal. I don't claim to be an expert but this a collection of tips I gathered when I wrote my first (successful) conference proposal last year. I hope you find some of them helpful:
  • take the time time to actually read the proposal criteria. This might sound obvious but it can be easy to miss important details in the excitement of crafting a proposal. Make sure the topic/approach you want to use is suitable for the conference in order to save yourself a lot of wasted work. Each conference has slightly different criteria so pay attention to these
  • show enthusiasm for your topic in your proposal. If you sound bored then those reading it will think this will come across in your presentation. Zzzzzz...
  • link your proposal to the themes of the conference. Look for keywords in the call for papers and use them
  • consider your audience when writing your proposal. If they're experts in the subject then assume that they know what you're talking about and don't outline the basics as this will give you less space to pitch your actual idea. Provide a brief introduction to your topic but don't talk down to people
  • don't waffle. The person/panel reviewing your proposal are likely to have many to get through so make sure they don't get bored of yours. Hiding behind big words can send up a red flag with reviewers. Focus and be concise
  • don't be too ambitious with what you want to include. All presentations have a running time which will be clearly stated in the call for papers. Chances are you could talk about your research or project for hours but you may only have time to focus on one aspect. Pick the one that most closely reflects the theme of the conference. The good news is that this can result in multiple chances to present based on one project!
  • come up with an attention grabbing title but don't forget to include a subtitle that tells people what the presentation is about. Many attendees only skim titles so make sure that they know what they're likely to attend
  • get someone to give you a second opinion, or even a third or fourth. You may understand what you mean but you also need to know that it is clear to those reading your work. You will have spent time crafting your proposal and it would be a shame to let jargon and mistakes let you down. Proofread!
  • get your proposal in on time. Much like job interviews sending a proposal in late indicates that you might not be the best person for the job
  • prepare for rejection. Chances are that this will happen more often than acceptance and you need to be realistic. If it's appropriate then ask for feedback about the decision as this can help you prepare in the future
  • keep a record of your proposals, especially the ones that don't make the cut. You will have put a lot of work in to them and you may be able to use them (with some tweaking!) in the future. As with job applications remember to tailor your proposal to the conference rather than just recycling it. People will notice and it won't reflect well on you
These are just a few tips to get people started. As always if there is something I've missed then let me know and I can add it in. Happy conferencing!

Photo: Vincent Lock via Photopin

Academic Writing Librarian - a great source for calls for papers
Writing a Successful Conference Paper Proposal
How to Write a a Paper or Conference Proposal Abstract
How to Write a Killer Conference Abstract

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