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Tech4Learning Blog
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6 tips for submitting sessions to education conferences

Posted by Melinda Kolk on Apr 30, 2013 9:48:00 AM

The call for proposals has come out for your favorite educational conference and now it’s time to submit your presentation or workshop. If you aren’t feeling confident or have been rejected before, don’t despair. Just because you don’t have experience, doesn’t mean you don’t have something valuable to share.  If you have been rejected one too many times, take solace in a few famous authors who were rejected many, many times.

I have been presenting at educational technology conferences since 1994, and have been on the submission as well as the review side of the equation.  I have found that submission reviewers are looking for several things: presenters they already know are great, presentations that will interest and benefit conference attendees, and submissions they can quickly delete so they can focus on the good ones.

Before you even begin writing or envisioning what you want to present:

1. Read the guidelines

This one seems easy, but be sure to read the guidelines, follow the rules, and complete all requirements. If you think it takes a long time to write up a presentation submission, think about how long it takes to wade through (I mean evaluate) them all and choose which ones to accept! If conferences have an overwhelming amount of submissions, don’t have yours automatically thrown because you forgot to proofread and made a glaring error or omission.

2. Choose from a range of presentation types

A lecture-style presentation isn’t the only way you can share information. Many conferences are also looking for presenters who are willing and able to lead round table discussions, poster sessions, or even workshops. For example, this year’s ISTE conference only accepted around 20% of submissions for lectures and panels, but 65% of proposals for poster sessions.

Hands-on workshops are generally and additional cost and a way many conferences generate income. If you can attract people to and deliver a great paid workshop, many conferences will see you as their partner and actually ask you to submit in future years. Most conferences provide a small stipend for giving a workshop, helping you pay for the additional cost of attending or coming early. 

3. Start small

Doing great things in the classroom does not prove you are able to pull off a great presentation. I have sat through the most AWFUL conference presentations about the MOST FANTASTIC classroom projects. If you have never presented before, session evaluators probably won’t feel confident about your ability to deliver your story in a way that participants can enjoy and replicate. If you are just getting started, submit for a presentation at a district-level conference, then move to state, regional, national, or even international conferences.

4. Promote yourself

Teachers often don’t like to talk about themselves or their work. Be proud of what you have done and share it. In marketing speak, build your brand.

When I have evaluated submissions in the past, I first get rid of poorly written proposals. But after that, reading and comparing descriptions is rarely enough.  Of course I read the descriptions, but I usually head online for more information so I have a better picture of the entire package.  Who is the presenter and what is their online footprint? Where had they presented before? Did they include a URL for their blog, so I could see their philosophy and style? Had they already been collecting and sharing thoughts and ideas on the topic through online articles, wikis, or web site?

Certainly build your credibility by sharing experiences, accomplishments, and recommendations in your bio. List the presentations you have given before. Share quotes from participants in past sessions you have led. If you have additional credentials and degrees, mention it. If you have won Teacher of the Year at your school, include that in your bio.

You also need to promote yourself outside of your session proposal. Session evaluators often want more information about your philosophy, past experience, and style.

Not everyone wants to invest in the time in a personal web site, but this is a great place to collect the work you have done. Think of it as an electronic and organic (growing and changing) curriculum vitae.

If you have a blog, share it. If you don’t maintain a blog, find a blog that might be interested in having you write a guest post. Creative Educator is always looking for classroom stories. These aren’t articles you have to spend days researching, editing, and visioning; they are snapshots of effective classroom practice.

5. Explore what was ACCEPTED last year

I can’t encourage this one enough. If you want to know what types of sessions are accepted at any conference, explore their conference program from last year. What titles or topics were mentioned over and over? Even if these aren’t your focus or cup of tea, you will get an idea of what the conference is hoping will be submitted.

If you have attended an educational technology conference in the past year, it is likely that you have used an online scheduling program to organize your time. Start by going back through your schedule to see what you choose and try to determine why.  How did you pick what you wanted to attend? What key words did you use in your search? What titles did you click to read more?  Did you search by presenter name? Hmm, nice reminder to go back and work on #4 and build your own brand.

6. Find connections to standards and research

While not all conferences require you to submit related research and standards, it is still a good ideas to share the skills that students, teachers, media specialists, or administrators will gain from your presentation or as they implement projects and strategies you are sharing.

Common Core is at the forefront of just about everyone’s mind, with Virginia (SOLs) and Texas (TEKS) the exception. The Common Core standards are specifically written not to be curriculum (what or how to teach), but a series of performances, freeing you up to choose you how you best think you can help your students reach them.  Be sure to specifically share how your instructional strategies, visioning, and classroom ideas will help students demonstrate mastery of these news standards as well as those for science and social studies.

In the words of ISTE, “Simply being able to use technology is no longer enough. Today's students need to be able to use technology to analyze, learn, and explore.” Whether you are sharing how students can build digital age Communication and Collaboration skills or how teachers can Design and Develop Digital Age Learning Experiences and Assessments, demonstrate that you aren’t using technology for technology’s sake.  You can find a list of the National Educational Technology Standards (NETS) for Teachers, Students, Administrators, Coaches, and Computer Science Educators online at: http://www.iste.org/standards

Is your district focusing on Classroom Instruction That Works? Be sure to not only include a reference to the research by Marzano et al. (2004) or Dean et al (2012), but to the specific strategies you are referencing such as Nonlinguistic Representations or Summarizing and Note Taking. If your system is focused on 21st century skills, be sure to include the Learning and Innovation skills (4 C’s) as well as the 3 R’s. 

Write the proposal

Still here after all that? You thought fitting all your great ideas into a 50-word description was hard? After you have done all of the above, the writing may be the easiest part.

You know you are great, you have done the work to establish your professional and presentation prowess, and now it’s time to show the reviewers that your presentation itself great. Tie in to the theme of the conference. Go beyond a title that simply latches on to the theme, but hits at the heart of why the theme applies to student learning (think thematic unit based on big ideas, not apples).

Get creative with your title, but be sure that it accurately describes the content of your session. Your goal is to get the right people to want to come to your session, not just any conference attendee. If you are focusing on primary students, be clear on the age range. Don’t say literacy if you are focusing on strategies for ELL’s.

My final word of advice?

Write a proposal for a session you want to attend!

I look forward to watching your presentation! 

Topics: presentation, conference

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