Submitting to Present at a Conference? Four Tips to Help You Stand-Out




By Ryan Dedmon, MA

911 Training Institute




It is finally fall! That means several public-safety organizations have already started planning for their conferences next spring. Most of these organizations heavily rely on their conferences being a "membership driven experience". They want their members to contribute to making the event a success. The primary way they accomplish this is by opening a Call for Papers so that members can speak to share their passions and expertise.


A Call for Papers is a window of time in which the organization hosting the conference accepts proposals submitted by members, as well as other industry subject matter experts, who wish to speak and present at the conference. Generally, this occurs months in advance ahead of the conference so that the organizing committee has adequate time to review submissions and select speakers. Some organizations can receive hundreds of submissions, depending on the size of the organization and its respective field within public-safety. So, if you want to speak at a conference, how do you make your proposal stand-out from all the other submissions to increase your chances of selection?


Although there is no magic formula that will always guarantee any proposal you submit will always be selected, the following insight and tips are offered to help increase your chances.


Know the Audience

It is important to remember who the audience will be at the conference. If the conference is hosted by a 9-1-1 organization, then its members are likely 9-1-1 professionals, so you do not want to submit a proposal on detailed law enforcement policy and procedures. Even though 9-1-1 and law enforcement are both fields of discipline in public-safety, be sure to customize your proposal to the specific interests and needs of the audience.


Furthermore, some organizations create different attendance tracks at their conferences based on job title or classification. A 9-1-1 conference might have different tracks of presentations for front-line personnel and administrative staff. A front-line dispatcher answering emergency phone calls does not have the same interests and needs as the executive director who leads the agency, even though both work in the same communications center. Take special note if you are submitting a proposal for a specific track of attendance. Know the audience!


Choose a Topic of Interest

Once you know who the audience will be in attendance, now you can choose a topic of interest. You want to choose a topic that is currently relevant to your audience. Sometimes, that means what is interesting and important to you might not be to the audience. You have a great idea for a topic, but if it is not relevant to the audience then the likelihood of your proposal being selected is low. Read articles and do some research to learn about current trends and challenges. Find people who serve in the population of the audience and interview them to get their insight and feedback. Choose a topic of interest that is currently relevant!


Be Specific in the Description and Learning Objectives

You know your audience and you have chosen a topic of interest that is currently relevant. Great! Now it is time to write your proposal. Before starting, check to see if the organization has any specific conditions for the submission. For example, some organizations limit submissions to a word or character count. There is no point in writing a submission with a description that is paragraphs long if there is a condition that limits submissions to only 100 words. Some proposals are not even considered because the submitter did not follow instructions and comply with entry conditions.


Let's start writing the description of your presentation. This should be a brief description on the topic you chose, its relevance and importance to the audience, and the learning objective(s). Remember, if the organization has a specific condition that limits the word count, then that will determine how concise your description needs to be and how much you can elaborate. Regardless, you want to articulate what attendees will learn in your session and how you will accomplish your learning objective(s). So be specific in your description and the learning objective(s) you want the audience to take away!


Do Something Different

It’s not just your topic that needs to be unique; it’s also the manner in which you present it. Think about it for a moment… the conference committee is likely to receive dozens and dozens of submissions from different people who want to speak on different topics. There might be other people who also submitted to speak on the same topic you chose. Your submission needs to stand out. But how do you make your submission stand out without losing focus of your learning objective(s)? Do something different!


Use Multi-Media PowerPoint is great for sharing information, but it has widely become accepted as the primary medium used for public presentations. There is nothing worse than listening to a speaker read word-for-word the bullet points displayed on a slide. Hence the term, “death by PowerPoint”. So, if you use PowerPoint, be sure to strategically include videos, pictures, and music. Use charts and graphs for visualization that will grab the attention of the audience. Be creative with the ways in which you display and share information.


Use Props for Illustration Props are fantastic! Using a physical object for illustration can really help your content jump off the PowerPoint slide and come to life. Also, they can be powerful aids in creating that “Ah-ha!” moment for the audience when they understand your learning objective(s) and leave with takeaway(s) that will change their lives. Keep in mind the size of your audience. A small prop might be hard to see for people in the back of a large audience, so it will not have the same reach or impact. And remember, any props used will be provided by you, which means you will need to bring them with you or have them shipped to the conference venue ahead of time.


Ask for Volunteers to Assist Sometimes, it can be a hassle, and costly, to use props for illustration. Think about creatively using people from the audience to assist in demonstrating an action or behavior that will also achieve your learning objective(s). Audience participation can be fun! It creates feelings of personalization by demonstrating practical application. Suddenly, the information displayed on your PowerPoint slide feels more personal, rather than just theoretical. However, you have to be careful when selecting volunteers. You do not want anyone to feel uncomfortable or like you singled them out. Volunteers need to know what will be expected of them and they must freely consent to participating with you. Otherwise, your demonstration exercise could backfire.


Actively Engage with the Audience Do not talk AT your audience; talk WITH them. The best speakers actively engage with the audience in conversation. You, as the speaker, have just as much to learn from attendees in the audience as they have to learn from you. Make points throughout your presentation to strategically ask the audience open-ended questions to see what they think about the information you are sharing and then facilitate some discussion. This makes the audience feel like active participants instead of passive attendees. However, you have to be careful when doing this too. You don’t want a member of the audience to hijack your presentation by sharing something that strays far away from your learning objective(s). Remember, also, to be aware of your time management. You cannot allow a member of the audience to share a long-winded story that will eat away at the precious time you are allowed for your presentation. Be sure to have a plan on how you can politely cut someone short with courtesy in order to take back control of your presentation if necessary.



Conclusion

Do something different in your presentation. Actively engage with the audience in conversation and ask for volunteers to assist you with a demonstration. Find creative ways that you can use props for illustration and try to use multi-media in your PowerPoint slides. Be specific in articulating the description of your presentation and how you will achieve your learning objective(s). Choose a hot topic that is currently relevant to the industry and know the audience to whom you will be presenting.


Of course, you could do all of that and have the perfect submission, but still not get selected to speak at the conference. Don't be dismayed! Try, try, try again! Send it to a trusted colleague to review and get feedback. Make any appropriate edits to improve it and then submit it to a different organization for another conference. Organizations in fields of public-safety are always looking for passionate people to speak at their events. Be creative and find a way to share your passion with other professionals to challenge and inspire them in their own careers. See you at a conference soon!




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