The Anatomy of a Well-Written Conference Proposal

Posted by: Kate Baker, Edmodo Certified Trainer and 9th grade English teacher

September 1st, 2016

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While large, international conferences such as SxSw, ISTE and Edmodocon, require potential presenters to complete an online application process detailing the title, description, standards, and outcomes of a proposed session, all conference proposals must have a strong idea and concise wording. As American author and communication expert, Dianna Booher stated, “If you can’t write your message in a sentence, you can’t say it in an hour.” You don’t need to literally write your session proposal in one sentence, but having a well-thought out and well-written proposal will effectively and efficiently communicate your ideas and objectives to those who are reading submissions.Screen Shot 2016-08-28 at 6.13.42 PM

On what topic will you present?

Consider how you can put a new spin on an old concept, showcasing a unique use of an instructional tool or methodology. Start with the big picture by examining the purpose, audience, and scale of the conference to focus your conference proposal topic.  What is the subject area, grade-level, and range of the attendees of this conference? You wouldn’t, for example, submit a proposal exclusively on elementary mathematical concepts to the National Council of Teachers of English, but you could submit a proposal on cross-curricular instruction where English Language Arts teachers across all grade-levels incorporate other content areas into their classes. Additionally, some conferences expect proposals to align with a provided theme. If the conference theme is “Innovative Leadership” you wouldn’t want to propose a session on “old school” behavior management techniques nor would you want to propose a session on how to learn the basics of word processing. Likewise, if a conference, such as EduCon, features authentic conversations and debates, you wouldn’t want to submit a proposal that is presenter-centered and audience-passive. Your proposal should be broad enough to reach a wide spectrum of audience members, but focused on a specific theme or concept. If you limit your proposal to a specific subject area or grade, you are limiting your potential audience. Rather than concentrating on a specific subject area, instead focus on skills or concepts that can be incorporated into any subject area and grade. The greater the intended audience, the greater the appeal of your proposed session.

While I’m an Edmodo Certified Trainer, many of my conference presentations go beyond the scope of a basic tutorial of a “How to Use Edmodo” presentation. When Liz Calderwood and I presented at Edmodocon 2013, we focused on how Edmodo can be used in a blended or flipped BYOD classroom. While Edmodocon didn’t necessarily have a theme, we decided to pun on the word “flipped” and centered our session proposal on the theme of gymnastics:

Classroom Gymnastics: Flipping, BYOD, & Blended Learning with Edmodo

Session description *5-7 sentences about what you will present

How can teachers implement technology in the classroom  when not in a 1:1 environment?  The Classroom Gymnastics session will show teachers how to blend Edmodo, free BYOD, and 1:1 (when you can be) to create a classroom routine that accommodates all learners.  This paperless-flipped approach is based on the idea of not reinventing the wheel, but taking previously designed paper lessons and making them digital using Edmodo, various free BYOD apps and web 2.0 tools.  By using Edmodo as the hub to facilitate synchronous and asynchronous classroom practices and assessments, successful flipped instruction and collaborative learning are easily achieved in the main class page and in small groups.  Students and teachers will flip, spin, and cartwheel using Edmodo as part of their learning routine.

Who is the intended audience? *Ex: Science teachers, Elementary teachers, etc.

All subject areas, middle & high school teachers

How will this benefit educators? *

Attending the Classroom Gymnastics session, educators will benefit by being provided with solutions for the problem of not being a 1:1 classroom. Budget constraints prevent many districts from implementing a 1:1 technology program, and educators will take away from this session  innovative teaching techniques, formative and summative assessments, and instructional design that can be implemented in any middle or high school classroom for any subject.

Do some research on the conference prior to writing your proposal, then after you have written your proposal on a saved document, close-read your wording. Since Edmodocon is an Edmodo-centric conference, using Edmodo had to be at the forefront of our session, but If you were to examine the proposal above, notice how many educational buzzwords are also included: 1:1, BYOD, synchronous, asynchronous, technology, facilitate, web 2.0 tools, etc. And while the wording seems focused on the educational trends of blended and flipped learning, the focus really is on providing participants with actionable items and practical application of using Edmodo in a specific learning context.

What are your expectations for audience participation?

During our session for Edmodocon 2013, attendees were not meant to be passive listeners. Liz and I shared the techniques that we use with our students, provided student exemplars (with prior permission), and asked attendees to participate in the Edmodo group created for our session by acting as students and posting their session work to the group. As you craft your session proposal, think about how you expect attendees to participate and include that information. In addition to what you will share with attendees during the session, you need to include what folks should take away from your session. You don’t have to share all of the nitty-gritty details in your proposal, but you should provide a clue as to the benefits and learning outcomes of your session.

Additional Tips and Tricks

Even though proposals are often submitted via online forms, write and save drafts of your proposals in a separate document, including the questions asked on the form. Not only will this prevent your writing from getting lost if you accidentally close the browser, but it will also allow you to reuse session proposals for other conferences. I have a Google Doc of all the session proposals I’ve written over the years and will copy/paste and edit as needed. This document also gives me space to reflect on the session (if it is selected) and write down notes as to what went well and what needed to be improved.

The last, but certainly not least, thing to write for your proposal is the title. I recommend starting your titles with words from the beginning of the alphabet so that when your session is selected it may be listed first among the conference session descriptions. Another idea is to use all capitalized words (sparingly) and punctuation marks to visually grab the reader’s attention. The wording of your title should be intriguing, as well as give a clue as to the content of your session. Here are a few of my session titles, some are better than others:

  • Classroom Gymnastics: Flipped and Blended Learning with BYOD
  • Flipping the English Language Arts Classroom
  • Technology Tools to Flip Reading
  • Collaborating on a Digital Curriculum: Strategies for Creating, Sharing, & Housing
  • STOP BLEEDING RED INK: Collaborative and Paperless Assessment Techniques
  • Leveraging the Power of Digital Literacy
  • Wear Your Thinking cAPPS
  • All Together Now– Using Edmodo Groups to Foster Student Community and Collaboration

When writing your session proposal, ask yourself the basic questions of Who? What? Where? Why? How?  Your answers will ensure that you have a well-written proposal that meets the word count and content specifications. And, of course, don’t forget to spellcheck!

If you have any questions or tips and tricks you’d like to share, please comment!

But what if, you are full of self doubt and one of your questions after reading this post is What if I’m not good enough to present at a conference? Let me give you this to consider:

it is only when we break down walls and share what we do with each other that education will evolve. My very first session presentation was at the local conference, TeachMeetNJ, in 2012. This is where I met Liz Calderwood as we were thrown together to do an impromptu presentation on Edmodo. Our instant synergy (and really the safety of the buddy system) enabled us to take a chance and submit the Classroom Gymnastics proposal for Edmodocon 2013. Edmodo staff, thrilled with our presentation, encouraged Liz and I to reprise our Classroom Gymnastics session for ISTE 2014, where we presented to a sold out room. Our collaboration gave me confidence to continue submitting proposals to and presenting at NCTE, CEL, SxSw, Flipcon, and ISTE (to name a few). I now have a network of folks, including Liz, that I am able to collaborate with virtually throughout the year and meet up for face to face reunions at annual conferences. I am a better educator because of attending and presenting at conferences with innovative educators. Be confident in what you do with your students and be confident that others can benefit from learning from you. #BetterTogether

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