writing letter 2Dear Innovation Women,
Recently my friend and I submitted a topic to a local group. It was rejected and now we’re awaiting feedback on why. What makes a good speech proposal? How can you shape an idea to best fit the audience? Any suggestions? Sandra

Dear Sandra,

Thanks for writing!

There are lots of speaking opportunities that speakers need to apply for. (Our weekly speaker newsletter lists more than 100 every week!) There are formal calls for speakers as well as the proposals we do to conference and event managers when we have speakers to speak at their events.

Here are some suggestions on creating great speaking proposals.

The Topic

What do people want to know?  What do they care about? What do they worry about? What are the big trends in your industry? What are the pain points? The answers to these questions will drive the most popular sessions at any event.
If the conference has been held before, look at the agenda for ideas. If possible, go back a few years. Are the same sessions held year after year?  If so, it’s unlikely a new topic will make an appearance so you might need to fit into what exists. You also want to make sure you are different from what else is being presented. If there are 6 other cyber-security presentations, don’t be #7.

If you get a chance to talk to event managers, do so. What are they looking for? If there is a specific Call for Speakers or Call for Papers (a holdover from the academic world), read them carefully for clues as to what topics the organizers want.

Otherwise, look to the industry analysts and news media for trend articles. We often consult documents like the Gartner Hype Cycle to see what’s hot and what’s not. We’ll visit Q&A sites like Quora and find out the top questions people are asking. We look at industry publications to see what topics they are writing about.

Look ahead. Often speaking engagements are booked months in advance. Timely presentations are great but you need to keep in mind that the thing everyone’s talking about today might not be so important in 6 months.

And, of course, since you are working in this field, you likely know a great deal about the topic! What are the questions and concerns you have? What have you learned lately that you think others might be interested in?

There are two basic perspectives to consider when choosing your topic – yours and your audience’s.

You should choose a topic that makes sense for you. Do you know the topic? Do you have experience and expertise that others would find useful and interesting? Do you have a unique perspective? Do you understand the nuances of the major issues in this space? Do you know the topic well enough to answer out-of-the-blue questions?

Then consider the audience. Will you be speaking to an audience of experts or neophytes? Is it a general audience or an industry-specific audience? Are they looking to dive deep, or just get an introduction to a topic? What would their goals be if they were to attend your talk?

The Title

One of the most common complaints about trade show and conference presentations isn’t the speaker’s expertise, or the material.  It’s more common to hear that a presentation wasn’t what the audience member thought it was, or what they expected.

Now think about how you can quickly and clearly communicate the topic, select your target audience and indicate the level of your talk.  Your headline can help.  Example: “An Introduction to Social Media Marketing: Facebook Live for Retailers” is a title that says it all – what level, what it is about and who it is for. It gets the job done on multiple levels. Getting creative on your title isn’t always your best strategy. The number one rule of proposal titles is “Be clear.”

The Talk

The next part of your proposal is the basic abstract. An abstract is a short description of your talk – NOT the whole talk. Think 100-200 words. (Those words you read in a conference program are probably the abstract.) What problem is the talk addressing and how will you solve it? Tell me. And tell me in just a couple of sentences. If you really know your subject, you should be able to easily boil it down.

The Takeaways

As part of your proposal, you want to include the takeaways. What will attendees learn? What tips can they put into immediate use? What new knowledge will you be imparting? Are you sharing tips and tricks, or will they be leaving the room with a head full of new ideas? Give us a bulleted list of what we get.

The Talker

How can you reassure the conference and event organizers that you are the person for the job? Have a body of work that demonstrates your expertise.

Have you been writing on the topic, whether on your blog or your company’s blog? Do you engage in public conversations about the topic? (Think tweet chats or even the comments section of articles?) Did you work for either one of the Big Name companies in the industry, or a hot, up-and-coming startup? Do you have a patent? A dissertation? A survey? Have you done other presentations on the topic? (I know this sounds like a chicken and egg situation, in order to get speaking engagements, you need to have gotten speaking engagements.) If you have it, mention it!

The biography of the speaker (or speakers) is an important part of any speaking proposal. Include a concise, well-written biography to reassure the “committee” standing between you and your opportunity that you are the best person for the job. (Speaking of well-written, most of us assume well-spoken people provide thoughtful well-written abstracts. Proofread your submission! Proper spelling, grammar and punctuation counts.)

Another proof point for you as a speaker is a video of you speaking. This is the ultimate proof that you are a clear, articulate speaker. If you need speaker training, get it.

And, to close us out, here are a few additional tips:

  • Don’t make your proposal all about you and your business. Event managers are nervous about their audiences getting a long and boring sales presentation.
  • Don’t be the presenter giving a long and boring sales presentation. That practice is not popular with anyone, event managers and audiences alike.
  • You won’t get accepted every time. There are a host of reasons that have nothing to do with you. (“We got 50 proposals for 10 speaking slots.” “Last year’s keynote gave the same presentation.”) Submit more proposals.
  • Follow the directions! Give the event manager what they asked for.
  • Don’t just cut and paste your abstract into the form. Take some time to customize your proposal for THIS audience and THIS event.

Good luck on getting your proposal accepted.

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