Want to be killer? Here’s how:
Sell your idea
You’re writing to impress the reviewers. They have been to plenty of conferences before. They want to see topics that are either new, or presented in a way that’s original and thought-provoking. Write an abstract that sells your idea to them - it should summarise the topics and methods you’ll cover and why people should come and hear you.
Pick a descriptive title
It may sound odd, but if reviewers don’t understand your one-line title, it can make them uncertain that they they’ve understood the rest of your multi-page proposal. I’ve watched reviewers talk themselves out of accepting a borderline proposal because a confusing title made them uncertain what the presenter wanted to cover. We all like a clever title, but it make it descriptive and don’t feel you need to be clever. (Most of this advice on writing page titles is highly relevant.)
The biggest complaint we get from reviewers is that conference submissions are vague or lack detail. Be concrete and specific. Don’t say ‘I’ll describe some approaches to this problem’, tell us which approaches you’ll cover. Don’t say ‘I’ll discuss several methods’, say ‘I will discuss these five methods…’. Specific details will give your reviewers confidence in your proposal.Don’t worry about giving away too much in the proposal. The reviewers are just a handful of of the 500 who’ll be at the conference. Your presentation will be fresh to the conference audience.
Make your writing clear and easy to understand.
- Write in the first person using active voice (‘I interviewed 30 people’ not ‘30 people were interviewed’)
- Short, simple sentences are better than long sentences joined with words like ‘and’ or ‘therefore’.
- Avoid empty phrases that sound pompous (‘We should revise our opinions’, not ‘At this point in time we should revise our opinions’.)
- Be positive. It’s better to write clearly about what you think is right than to defensively waste space discussing what’s wrong with other ideas or approaches.
- Be brief.
Think about audience participation
Most of the presentation sessions at the next UPA Conference will be an hour long. That gives plenty of time to involve the audience in some way. Try to be more inventive than just saying you’ll stop a couple of times for Q&A. We’ll be offering detailed advice on audience participation in a later blog post.
Give people something solid to take away
People coming to conference want to learn specific techniques or ways of thinking that they can apply to their work. Explain how your presentation will help them the day they go back to work.
Explain why you’re qualified to present it
Again, specific details are more impressive than vague generalities. Telling the reviewers ‘I’ve been working in UX for 10 years’ is less impressive than ‘I’ve just interviewed 30 users on this topic’. What matters most is relevant, first-hand experience.Less important, but still useful, the ‘References’ section is a chance to show that you’ve done some background reading on the topic. It helps when your references are either specific to the topic or show some interdisciplinary reading. This can show you’re able to bring some depth to your presentation.
Be a great presenter
When we’re assessing your proposal, we’re thinking ‘what will this person be like at conference?’ It’ll help your proposal if you can show us you’re comfortable and engaging when you present. If you’re an experienced presenter then you want to link to reviews of your talks in places like speakerrate.com. We’re especially keen to find new presenters, too, so we’ll let you provide a link to a video of yourself (either presenting to an audience or a 30 second clip of you talking about why you’d be great at UPA 2012). It’s optional - but it will improve your chances.
Read it aloud to yourself.Get someone else to read it. Ask them what they think. If they don’t ‘get’ it, don’t waste time defending it, re-write it.
Start writing early
Writing a good proposal takes time. Not a lot of time, to be sure, but if you leave it all until deadline day, you will spoil your chances of getting accepted. Start early.