A colleague and I had been integrating picture books into our middle school science and social studies classrooms and wondered how to share this practice with a wider audience. At a local district conference, a call for proposals opened up, and we decided to submit a proposal. Our proposal got accepted, and we were so excited! The process of submitting the proposal and then giving the presentation was a great way to connect with other educators and share our expertise.
Since 2019, I’ve attended and presented at many different conferences and in many different capacities: as a featured or keynote speaker, a workshop and webinar leader, a panelist, a volunteer, and a listener and learner. Regardless of what I’m doing there, I’m always blown away by how dynamic and powerful our voices are. There’s a common misconception that many education conferences don’t feature many actual educators or people in education, but that couldn’t be further from the truth—there are so many educators who present and share at these conferences. You could be one of them!
Whether it’s a local, regional, district, statewide, or nationwide conference, something amazing happens when you bring your voice to a larger community and showcase your expertise. Additionally, presenting at conferences can have immense benefits for you personally and professionally. However, sometimes it can be challenging getting started with the process of finding a conference and crafting a proposal. Let’s go through the process of thinking about and applying to present at a conference.
Why should you submit a conference proposal?
You can take the opportunity to speak up and speak out. Your voice absolutely matters! People want to hear what you have to say. If a conference is giving you a platform to speak about a passion of yours, consider submitting a proposal.
You can expand your skill set. Presenting at a conference involves skills such as public speaking, working with colleagues outside of your building/district/role, content creation, and content delivery—all things that we already do in our classrooms and schools. However, we can expand on them and share them with a larger audience.
You can participate in unique events. Conferences have many events, such as meals, receptions, community groups, and even affinity groups where you can connect, collaborate with, and learn from the people around you in a more relaxed way. This builds a community of like-minded educators and professionals and can also help you grow your professional learning network.
Keep finances in mind
Some conferences can be expensive to attend, regarding travel costs and registration fees. However, there are some conferences that provide free registration to presenters (such as a favorite of mine, IDEAcon), and there are others that provide free registration for volunteers.
Additionally, there is a possibility that your school, district, or organization may cover travel costs for conferences that are not local or regional; for the very first conference that I attended as a participant, my district paid for my travel and my hotel. It’s important to explore all options to reduce potential costs so that if you’d like to attend, you can make the best financial decision.
Plan Your Proposal
First, check to see the “request for proposals” deadline. All conference proposal windows have deadlines, and if you’re interested in presenting, you don’t want to miss it! The “request for proposals” window for conferences often opens early, so be sure to plan when you’d like to submit yours. If you do miss a deadline, you can reach out to the conference committee; they may be able to extend it for you, but don’t count on it.
Next, see if the conference has any specific themes or requests for content. Some conferences adhere to a certain topic (e.g., literacy, STEM, future-ready skills) for their entire duration; others don’t. If a conference has a theme, it’s definitely a good idea to stick to it.
Then, see if the conference has any specific guidelines for writing the proposal. No two conferences are alike. Some proposal submissions require only an abstract and a title, while others require a full outline and information on the technology you’ll use to give your presentation. It’s important to see what the conference proposal requires so that you won’t be missing any pieces upon submission. Additionally, some conference proposal websites even offer the rubric that they use to score the sessions. If you see one, definitely take a look at it, so that you know what criteria are used to vet and accept sessions.
Write your proposal
Decide on the presentation format. Many conferences have multiple presentation formats, such as standard presentations (45–50 minutes), creation labs/workshops (90–120 minutes), panels, and even poster sessions. Decide which format would work best for your content.
Create from the heart. Think about what you’re passionate about and what you’d like to say to a larger audience. This can be focused on a content area, an area of expertise, or an area of interest/study.
Keep learning objectives at the forefront. When you’re writing your presentation, think about what you’d like for the audience to learn during their time with you. I like to segment my presentations into three different parts: opening, action, and closing. During the opening, I introduce myself and the “why” behind the session. During the action, I showcase how to do the concept or work alongside tools. In the closing, I give “next steps” and resources for participants to continue their learning.
There’s power in collaboration. You don’t have to do this alone. If you’d like to present with another person or a group of people that may have shared interests and content, reach out to them and see if they’re interested in creating a shared proposal. I present frequently with friends and colleagues, depending on the circumstances—our voices are stronger together!
Submit your proposal
When you’re ready, press that submit button! Because no two conferences are the same, deliberation windows vary. However, you’ll typically receive notice of your proposal status via email. If your proposal was accepted, celebrate and plan your presentation! If it was rejected, there’s no harm in reaching out to the conference proposal team for feedback about how to improve your proposal for next time.Also, just because a proposal was rejected at one conference doesn’t mean that it won’t be accepted at another. Continue submitting your proposal to other conferences as applicable, and if you receive feedback on your proposal, consider implementing it.