Ten Tips for Top Notch Conference Proposals by Sheila B. Robinson

Greetings! I’m Sheila B Robinson, aea365 Leader Curator and sometimes Saturday contributor with tips for tackling conference proposals.

Lesson Learned: 

Acceptance is not a sure thing. Just because you’ve written a good paper, have a skill to demonstrate that others want to learn, or have stellar results from an innovative evaluation, you must be able to communicate effectively to proposal reviewers in order to be able to present at the conference.

These tips apply to almost any conference, not just Evaluation 2021. Most emerged from years of reviewing proposals for AEA and other organizations. While it seems some should go without saying, I can tell you from experience, they cannot.

  1. Consider which work, project, or skill you want to share. What are you most excited about? More importantly, why are you excited about this work? This is what you need to share in a proposal.
  2. Read the request for proposals (RFP)… carefully!
  3. Understand session types and choose one that aligns well with the work you want to present. Did you write a paper, or do you want to model a skill for an audience? Do you have an idea that you would like others to spend time discussing and contribute to? Do you enjoy designing research posters?
  4. Follow the rules. Look for guiding information in the proposal form itself. Many fields have descriptors of what information belongs in each. Reviewers do not look favorably on proposals that violate word count or other posted guidelines.
  5. Consider your audience – not just reviewers, but those who will attend your session. What do they care about? What interests them? Why would they want to attend your session?
  6. Connect to the theme of the conference, but don’t stretch! Make a reasonable and credible linkage. Reviewers can detect when a connection to a theme feels forced.
  7. Stay within word counts, but try to use most, if not all of the space allotted. Some reviewers will see it as a lack of care and effort if a proposal field (e.g., a relevance statement) is allowed 500 words, and you only use 50.
  8. Write for clarity and understanding. Reviewers are familiar with the field in general, but not necessarily with your specific topic.
  9. Proofread! Remember MUGS – mechanics, usage, grammar, and spelling. Consider engaging a second set of eyes. Too often, though we are capable writers, typos and simple mistakes (e.g., a missing word in a sentence) make their way into our work and we’re too close to the work to see them.
  10. Submit by the due date! Proposals for Evaluation 2021 are due 11:59 PM ET May 10, 2021.

Hot Tip:

A very common complaint of AEA conference goers is that presenters spend too much time explaining the details of the program, when the audience wants to hear about the evaluation. Audience members are looking for take-aways, how-tos, lessons learned, innovative ideas, resources, and information they can apply in their own contexts. Think of program details as an appendix. Offer participants a way to access that information or contact you with questions after the conference.

Cool Trick:

Read the conference FAQ for even more information on Evaluation 2021.

Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365@eval.org. aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators. The views and opinions expressed on the AEA365 blog are solely those of the original authors and other contributors. These views and opinions do not necessarily represent those of the American Evaluation Association, and/or any/all contributors to this site.

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