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8 Tips for Writing a Perfect Conference Speaking Proposal

Want to take your conference speaking proposal to the next level?

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Each year, members of our studio apply to dozens of conferences across the nation in the hopes of landing speaking sessions of their own. We win some, we lose some, but most importantly: we learn from our failures, applying lessons learned from failed proposals to better position ourselves for future success. Want to know our secrets for past speaking submission successes at popular conferences like Games for Change, ISTE, Grace Hopper Celebration, and more?  Check out our proven strategies – and let us know if you’ve got any additional tips or tricks to share!

Ask yourself: What’s my expertise?

What am I passionate about? What am I thinking about day in and day out? What am I doing differently from my peers/competition? These are critical questions worth considering prior to deciding the topic of your proposal. Let’s look at our studio as an example. We make video games! Great – but so do more than 2,000 other companies across the United States. With that in mind, how can we help our company’s speaking sessions stand out? The secret is simple: focus on highlighting what you already do best. Returning to our studio as an example – yes we make video games, but our company is unique in that we exclusively develop educational games. By coming up with topics uniquely capitalizing on our strengths – sessions like “How to Fund Your Educational Game Projects” or “Keeping STEM Real When Developing VR Experiences” – our studio is not only positioning itself as a thought leader in the educational games space, but also setting us apart from our competitors.

Next: Who is my audience?

Equally as important as the previous question – who’s going to be in the audience at your presentation, anyway? Perhaps the specific conference you’re applying to is geared towards individuals with a deep understanding of your industry – or maybe it’s an event designed to support those who are just starting their careers. It can be greatly beneficial to tailor the content of your proposal to your expected audience – we highly advise researching the makeup of your potential audience before beginning to draft your application materials.

Don’t submit a sales pitch.

Do you want your proposal to be instantly rejected by reviewers? Then submitting a pseudo-sales pitch disguised as a ‘talk’ is a safe bet. Those of us who wish to have our potential session accepted, though, will likely want to avoid blatant product or service promotion in our application materials. Reviewers are experts at reading between the lines and spotting blatant sales pitches hidden within proposed session descriptions. If you want your session to succeed, focus on highlighting the actionable insights you plan on sharing with audiences – not your products.

Clearly define what audiences will learn from attending your presentation.

Pro tip: identify three learning outcomes that audiences will be able to take away from viewing your presentation, and include them in your proposal. Feel free to use the following format: “Session attendees will learn:” followed by bullet points containing your learning objectives. Some applications feature a dedicated “learning outcomes” section – however we highly recommend including your learning outcomes at the end of your session description regardless. Defining learning outcomes can go a long way in helping reviewers better understand the point – and potential value – of your session.

Don’t skimp on the details.

Don’t worry about spoiling the good parts of your presentation! For better or for worse, it’s likely that the individual reviewing your proposal isn’t planning on attending your actual session anyway – which makes it critical to include as many details about your talk as possible in your application! Successful session descriptions are far more detailed than a simple synopsis of your presentation – make it easy for reviewers to understand the depth and quality of your content by including as much data, stories, and examples as possible in your application.

Craft a clear yet creative presentation title.

Keep it short and sweet – 10 words maximum is a good rule to follow. Bonus points for especially clever wordplay. Some of my favorites from last year’s Game Developers Conference (GDC 2018) include Martin Nerurkar’s No Booth, No Problem: Showcasing Your Game on the Go, Jared Cone’s It IS Rocket Science! The Physics of ‘Rocket League’ Detailed, and Frank Lantz’s This is Your Brain on Video Games. Of course, session titles don’t always need to be as playful as the examples mentioned above – but it can go a long way in helping your proposal stand out among a sea of less-than-thrilling proposal names.

Proofread! Then proofread again!

This step is essential. While a single grammatical error is unlikely to be the sole reason a reviewer might reject your proposal, it certainly doesn’t leave a great first impression. And worse yet, if your speaking application contains multiple grammatical or sentence structure offenders, you’re practically giving reviewers a reason to deny your idea – certainly not a position you want to find yourself in. Re-read your proposal closely. Have a trusted friend or colleague review it too. Then go home and sleep, and wake up the next morning for one last review. Still feeling confident? Time to submit!

Submit on time – and don’t forget supporting materials!

Don’t throw away your chance at speaking submission success by turning it in late! Many summits won’t even accept late submissions – and those that do often place applicants on a waiting list, dramatically decreasing your chances of landing that coveted session all to your own! As a final note, don’t forget to prepare supporting materials to accompany your application – items like your bio, speaking history, perhaps even the slides you plan to use in your presentation! If you want to go the extra mile – and the application form allows for it – consider making a brief video to accompany your submission. It doesn’t have to be all that fancy – just getting in front of your phone camera for a few minutes to introduce yourself and your proposed topic can go a long way in helping you stand out among a sea of faceless applicants.

Feeling inspired? Check out these relevant articles:

How to Avoid Getting Sick at Conferences
Creating a Culture of Play: A Creative Approach to Company Events
How to Show Up On Social Media for the People You Care About
4 Tips for Creating Successful Client Relationships
How to Embrace Failure


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