How to Submit a Proposal

I just finished as a reviewer for the IA Summit submissions and I have a whole new respect for how difficult it is to select and craft a program for a conference.

That said, I think I also learned a few things about how to better create a proposal for a submission. I think these thoughts would be applicable to any conference proposal. These thoughts come from reading a host of ill-prepared and unclear proposals.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind for the future:

1. What is the point
Be clear about the point of the presentation. Stick to one major theme. Not 10, not 4, not 3. Don’t ramble on aimlessly about the kind of work you have been doing and the articles you have been reading unless there is a point.

2. What will the audience learn
If you can’t clarify what your audience will learn from the presentation—what they will take away—then the likelihood of acceptance is slim. A conference committee isn’t going to accept a presentation without knowing what the audience will take away from it. Your presentation must complement or even support others and knowing this is critical to putting together a meaningful program.

3. Be Original and Interesting
You may give the best presentations in the world, but chances are the reviewers are reviewing in a blind review process. That means we don’t know who you are. Your submission must stand on its own. Allusions to your style of presenting must come through—if you generally keep people entertained through lots of images and a quick style—say so. Give an example. It helps.

4. Do Your Homework
Have presentations on this topic been given before? Are there experts in this area already and have they contributed to a large body of knowledge for the community? Be clear on how your presentation adds to that body of knowledge, challenges or builds on what has come before. If your idea caters to a beginning audience, because you, yourself have just overcome this particular problem, then chances are someone has already presented or written extensively on this topic. I am sure your excitement for the idea is real, but will several hundred others who may be quite senior in their experience feel that same excitement? Justify it, explain how this is different or challenges the status quo and you have a better chance.

5. Give enough detail
I can’t tell you how many submissions I read that barely scraped the surface of what the presenter intended to talk about. There was not enough information to make an informed decision on whether or not the submission should be included.

If you want your proposal accepted make sure there is enough information to stand out from the pack and to truly inform those reading it as to why it should be included.

I hope these tips help others in the future. I know that for me, they will help a lot when I want to put together a submission and will make my proposals stronger. Let me know if I have forgotten anything important.

current: experience matters design :: senior level interaction design and systems strategy consulting former partner, tangible user experience; Yahoo! founder of the public and internal Yahoo! pattern library. design director of ued teams responsible for designing solutions across key yahoo! platforms: social media, personalization, membership and vertical search.