How to present at a conference: Part 2 – Creating a proposal

One of the most rewarding ways of becoming more involved in your profession, I believe, is through presenting at a conference. For the large part, audiences are positive and encouraging and the prevailing atmosphere is one in which everyone has a feeling that they have something to contribute. Although it is a lot of work and stress and it can be a huge challenge, presenting at a conference is an important step for those of us who are looking to make a mark in this profession. Also, conference presentations may lead to you getting published, as you can get instant feedback on the degree of interest in your work, plus you get the chance to learn from your audience as they share ideas related to the subject and, hopefully, offer constructive feedback. Furthermore, you’ll be able to start networking with people who share your professional interests. Above all else, you’ll really start to feel more a part of a wonderful profession.

Me (!) - Photo from IATEFL Voices (March / April 2010)
In my last postI looked at the first steps a teacher should take when getting into the conference game. Today I’ll be focusing on the next step, creating your proposal. Here are three steps I recommend taking.

1. Follow the call for proposals

If you’ve no idea what I’m talking about, basically, the call for proposals is the announcement from the conference organizer inviting people to apply to present at the conference. This ‘call’ usually takes place six months or so before the conference actually happens, so bear this in mind when you’re considering making your decision to present. Carefully read and follow all the instructions regarding the submission of your proposal. This is really important: even though you know you have a great idea, your proposal probably won’t be accepted if you don’t follow the submission guidelines. Typically, you’ll need to write an abstract of less than 100 words (which will appear in the conference program), a summary of about 250-300 words (which the conference committee will use to either accept or reject your proposal), and a snappy title. Sticking to the specified limits is quite important here. To give you an example of how important this can be, I’ll describe what happened to a colleague of mine recently. She had done the research, written it up, and completed the submission form including a sixty-word abstract and a 300-word summary, only to forget to give her presentation a title. Her submission was rejected because of a missing title with a ten-word limit. It sounds tough, until you remember that the committee deciding what to accept and what to reject will probably have hundreds of proposals to look through; why should they bother with one that hasn’t followed the clearly laid out instructions. Basically, careful attention to detail at this stage is vital.

2. Make sure your title and abstract reflect your presentation

A clearly focused abstract will help conference delegates decide if your session is one that they want to attend. Really try to consider the conference theme. You’ll usually find that there is a particular aspect of the conference that you are able to relate your presentation to, so try to link your title to that aspect. It may not always be necessary to focus on the theme, but this will definitely enhance your chances. Back in October of last year I attended an IATEFL conference in Northern Cyprus. This was a conference specifically looking at the assessment of spoken English. Here is the abstract I submitted:

‘This paper presents findings of research conducted on student perceptions of what constitutes effective pre-oral exam practice. Findings indicate what students consider beneficial, what they find less useful, and overall feelings about oral assessment, while also highlighting key differences in what teachers perceive as beneficial and what learners actually feel is helpful when preparing for speaking tests. Also discussed is awareness, with regard to how sharing grading criteria and self-grading help learners enhance their performance.’

The word limit for this abstract was 75 words. I’ll save you the trouble of counting by telling you that I wrote exactly 75 words for this submission. Look at what I wrote and ask yourself, ‘do I have a pretty good idea of what Adam would present from this abstract?’ This is all the delegates will have to go on, so make sure you clearly explain what you’re going to do in your time slot, while also trying to pique their interest.

3. Where to submit?

Make the most of your work. You’ll generally find that you can’t submit more than one proposal to any given conference, but you can submit the same proposal to different conferences. This isn’t being cheeky, even the heavyweights of the TEFL conference circuit will do a presentation at a small national event and then do the same one at a larger international conference. Consider following this path to get the most mileage out of your work.

I hope this has given you a few more ideas if you’re thinking of making the leap into presenting. Next up I’ll be looking at how to develop your idea into an effective presentation.

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