The call for speaker proposals for The eLearning Guild's Realities360 and Learning Solutions 2020 Conference & Expo closes Friday, August 2. In addition to receiving free registration to the co-located events March 31 – April 2, 2020 in Orlando, Florida, speakers score a dedicated platform to showcase and share their work.
Bianca Woods and Mark Britz, senior managers of programming at the Guild, recently held a live YouTube chat where they answered questions from members of the community. If you missed the chat, this article recaps it and provides tips for crafting a conference speaking proposal that stands out. If you are currently working on a proposal and need help tweaking it, reach out to them directly at programs@eLearningGuild.com.
Q: What type of competition does my proposal face?
BW: When we open a call for proposals, lots of people submit. For example, for our annual DevLearn event, we tend to get 800-900 proposals for what is about 120-odd slots. Our goal is to select sessions that will give us an engaging, balanced program.
MB: There are a lot of factors that go into balancing a program. We want to make sure that we have balance in terms of the speaker’s background and in terms of gender. And we want a balance between the practical and future-leaning space.
Q: Is there also a balance between US and foreign proposals?
MB: The short answer is no. It’s really about the quality of the proposal. We know we have a large US audience, and we have to be able to speak and meet that particular need, but our international audiences have similar circumstances in their organizations. So if you are from Australia or a European nation, you’re not going to be put on a second tier.
BW: The more we can have an international view on learning and development at our events, the better. So if you’re someone not based in North America, we really welcome you to propose!
Q: What are some common mistakes you discover in proposals?
MB: We get a lot of submissions positioned to be about an approach or technology that was implemented in a particular setting, organization, or industry. When those make it on the program, it’s because those individuals speak to a broader audience. For example: A lot of proposals come from the medical field, but if you’re only positioning to an audience that would be in a hospital setting, you’re limiting the potential for that topic. Remember when writing a proposal to speak to the broader audience.
BW: Write your proposal as if you are speaking directly to your audience, and include specific details about what you’re planning to cover in your session. Someone might write: “I’m going to share my top five tips about how to design really engaging virtual classroom experiences,” but then they won’t tell us what the tips are. People say they do this because they think it makes it sound more intriguing…almost like a good movie trailer. But at least for Guild events, you want to go in the exact opposite direction! You want to be like a really bad movie trailer in that you reveal everything that is going to happen. Make it super-clear what someone’s going to learn.
When we’re evaluating proposals we might find two that sound very familiar on the surface but when you get into the nitty-gritty detail, they may be very different. For example: You could easily have two sessions on tips for doing virtual classrooms where none of the tips overlap. So giving us that extra level of detail helps us really understand your vision and not weed out your proposal because we think it might overlap with something else.
Q: Do you value audience participation in a session?
BW: Yes! The eLearning Guild event audience is really keen on engaging with the material. There are some events where people are much happier to take a more passive, “sit back and hear someone talk for the whole time” perspective. There’s nothing evil or wrong with that. I would say, though, that opportunities to involve the audience in your session helps people deepen their understanding or practice. Our BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) sessions are hands-on learning experiences where you’re teaching someone to do something right there in the moment. So if you want to pitch a really interactive session, that’s a fantastic option.
Q: Why might my proposal get rejected?
BW: It’s important to have a unique perspective. If you don’t get onto the program, it isn’t necessarily because your proposal wasn’t a fit. We tend to have substantially more proposals than we have space for on a program. You may have had a really good proposal, but you were one of 18 really good proposals on a particular topic, in a particular track, or about a specific tool or approach. That’s where we jump in and try to help everybody to differentiate themselves to bring a unique perspective to their proposal.
Q: Would you ever reconsider a proposal that was initially rejected?
BW: If someone cancels (and that happens reasonably often because we tend to start planning about nine months before the event, and a lot can change in someone’s life), we keep an alternates list. So when someone cancels, we go to that list and look for a session proposal that’s as close to the one that cancelled as possible. That’s going to be our first choice for who we reach out to about filling that slot.
MB: We also look to use proposals that don’t make it onto the program in other places. We do online events. If we didn’t get a chance to use a proposal for a [face-to-face] conference, we might use it in an Online Conference program. That’s another case where a proposal that’s great but didn’t make the program could also find a new home.
Q: Who is the audience for eLearning Guild events?
MB: It’s a wide spectrum of people in the learning profession. We have everybody from instructional designers and eLearning developers, to project managers and managers in the learning function, and we definitely invite and create space for the higher level C-suite at our events. For that group, for example, we have our Executive Forum at DevLearn.
Q: Specifically, what do you look for in terms of session proposals?
BW: Our events play at that intersection of learning and technology. eLearning is much more than just courses. We’re talking about things like online virtual classrooms, video, mobile learning, podcasts, games, and all sorts of different digital experiences. So it’s anything within that bubble. We also have a lot of management sessions related to L&D, so proposals that speak to learning from a strategic, organization-wide perspective, are really welcomed.
Q: Do you want sessions about specific tools or techniques, or more topic-centered proposals, such as accountability or leader styles?
BW: I recommend taking a look at the website from the prior year’s event. You’ll be able to see the different tracks and sessions that we covered. The tracks in particular can help you dig down into themes. They are slightly different at each event, but the core is very similar.
MB: Looking back at past events also gives you a good indication of what’s getting accepted on the program, how it’s written and structured, and the level of detail. It’s a good way of gauging where what you’re putting together might fit in, and also to recognize if you are going to be heading into an area that has a lot of competition.
Q: How about sessions on analytics, or how to personalize and calculate ROI?
BW: We usually have a data track at our events. We know our attendees are really keen on knowing more about how to leverage data in meaningful ways, and how to collect and use data.
Q: How much content should I include in my proposal idea?
BW: Think about how much you can cover in a session. Sessions tend to be 45 or 60 minutes on our main program, or a full day for workshops. One thing we look at when reviewing proposals is: Do we feel like this would fit in with the time frame it’s being submitted for? Sometimes we’ll look at a description and think it is a really interesting topic, but there’s no way they can deliver on everything they’re promising in 60 minutes.
MB: Remember that people are paying a great deal to travel across the country and come to the event. Be as clear as possible and cut to the chase as to what someone would gain from your session. Lean on the practical. What’s the intent, and what are the takeaways?
Q: What is the usual ratio between presentation and Q&A?
BW: What I tend to do as a speaker (Mark and I are both speakers, so we’ve been on the other side of this) is that for a 60-minute session, I budget about 45 minutes for the session, and then around 15 minutes of Q&A. If you want to do something that’s substantially Q&A, then I recommend that you propose leading a Morning Buzz session. It’s a much more casual experience where the speakers are more like facilitators. People show up for the session, and the person who proposed the topic facilitates a conversation. They don’t have a slide deck or an agenda. It’s really: Let’s all get together and share knowledge.
Q: Any final tips?
BW: We’ve put together a whole bunch of support materials to help you make a great proposal. We have Word versions of the proposal questions available. I strongly recommend drafting the copy in the Word document and letting someone else review your proposal before putting it into our submission form. We have a PDF document with tips and examples of what a proposal should look like. On The eLearning Guild channel there’s a series of short videos about how to fix common proposal missteps that are worth a view. And keep an eye on The eLearning Guild social media channels. We always share additional resources that can help you with your proposal.
MB: You want to present, but you’ve also been an attendee. You know from your own experiences what works and what doesn’t at sessions. Be aware that attendees will choose your session from a block of other competing sessions. When putting together your proposal, think about a clear, concise title because a lot of people might not move beyond the title.
BW: As we said earlier, if you have any questions that we didn’t cover here, reach out to email@example.com. Mark and I are both pretty active on LinkedIn and Twitter (my handle is @eGeeking and Mark’s is @Britz), so you can track us down there, as well.