Just last month at the ACI conference, I had several conversations with people wondering “How do I get to present a session?” For about a decade I volunteered for the committee that reviewed proposals (whew—that was an excruciating ordeal, made worthwhile be the people we worked with the and end result). Based on that experience, I’d suggest that a great way to get on the agenda is to submit a good session proposal—and the call for proposal is out right now. (Submit a proposal the the ACI 2014 Conference.)
Now, I won’t be reviewing proposals this year, but I daresay I can offer a few pointers. Your proposal needs to stand out from the hundreds of others submitted in terms of interesting content, how well you communicate it, and whether you dot the “i’s” in your submission. In other words, how easy do you make it for the reviewers to understand and to get excited about what you want to talk about in the context of the destination home performance conference?
Make the “What” Compelling
This is the premier home energy retrofit conference in the world. I’d find discussions of at green museum in Barcelona very interesting—but this isn’t the right place for it. Assuming you’re in the industry, what do you think will be of interest to others?
- The right topic: If it’s a new topic, do you have data or case studies? Is it relevant to people at the conference? Is it something that people are talking a lot about—or should be talking about whether among colleagues, or on one of the many social media forums from LinkedIn to the Green Building Advisor?If it’s what ACI calls a “fundamental” topic, are you a recognized expert on the matter or do you have a new angle, insight, or presentation mechanism?Talking about a specific project? What’s different about it? What is interesting about the results?Want to present what your efficiency program did? Can you show what worked (and what didn’t) with real results and conclusions to inform other programs?
- The right slice: If you’re submitting on a 90-minute topic is you topic at the right level to be useful. You likely can’t teach “Everything you need to know about Air-Conditioning” in a hour and a half (but if you can—explain how you can!). On the other hand, “Why I Like the CREE CR-6 LED lamp?” probably doesn’t cover enough grounds or have broad enough appeal.
- The right audience: Think about who you are trying to reach—and make sure they are at the conference. Obviously a topic that energy-minded home improvement contractors (or utility program implementers, or building science trainers or….) would find relevant is in the ball park. If your message is targeted at city mayors, you likely not in the right place (but if you have reason to believe 100 mayors are attending in 2014, spell that out).
- The right objectives: To help reviewers and attendees understand, ACI wisely spells out learning objectives. Pay attention to these, and make sure they make sense. These objectives clarify that you’ve got the right topic, breadth and depth, and audience.
Make a Clear Case
You might have the perfect session in mind, but if you don’t explain it well, it’s not likely to get accepted. That’s fair. Think of the proposal as an audition. If you can’t communicate the intent well when you have the time to write and review and reflect and refine, others won’t be to convinced that you’ll communicate well at show time. And they can’t even evaluate whether the topic would be compelling if you don’t explain yourself well.
- The title is important. It should be tied to the description and the objections. It’s the first start at explaining what your proposal is about. The most important element of the title should be clarity. But you do get bonus points for wit and being concise—as long as that clarity is there.
- The description to get to exactly what you want to cover. You don’t have too many words to do this, so make them count. Make sure someone reading this knows what you mean. If you’re able, have someone else read your description and see if they can tell you in their own words what it’s about.
- Make sure the objectives align. See above! Ditto.
Make it Easy for Staff and Reviewers
If you want them to say “Yes!” don’t make it difficult to say yes!
- Fill out the proposal form completely.
- Give the right references. Where possible, use references that are known in the industry and know your expertise and ability to present on the topic.
- Put the ducks in a row. If you’re proposing a panel or debate, check out the other suggested presenters, get their buy-in ahead of time, and note that in the proposal. BTW, this is true even if they’re human instead of ducks.
I may have drift a bit into hyperbole with the “Fame and Glory” bit. But giving a good presentation in front of a room full of your peers and industry colleagues can be fun and rewarding. A good session can help move the industry forward. It is usually a lot of work, too. The proposal is a good opportunity for you to see if you’re up for the work—and how well you nail the proposal, while not a perfect predictor, certainly sends a signal to reviewers about the effort you’ll put into pulling a session together. (Yeah, you can fool ‘em once, but not too many times!)