The Qualities of a Great Presentation Proposal – From a Reviewer

By Erin Leonard, Associate

Every year I read thousands of presentation proposals from eager would-be presenters at the National Charter School Conference, the National AfterSchool Association Convention and many others. When you read that many proposals, you begin to notice they quickly fall into “YES – please present,” or “Sorry, we’re not interested.”

Reading proposals is very different from writing them. From a reviewer’s perspective, the best proposals all have the same key elements:

1) Clear description framing your presentation. If I can’t understand what you’re trying to present, I can’t invite you to speak. Concise, clear language communicating the heart of your content will help the reviewer know if it’s information the participants need.

2) Specific content. If you have a 60-minute session, you should be planning only 30-40 minutes of content to ensure time for Q&A and audience engagement. Instead of trying to cover the breadth of a subject, pick one topic to go very deep on. Focus on what you’ve done to succeed with the issue; share your tactics, successes, mistakes, and lessons learned; share how this could be implemented elsewhere.

3) Information participants can use as soon as they return home. Most conferences and events are focused on helping participants do their jobs better by providing new insights, tools, or techniques for their organizations (and offering value in returning to next year’s conference). If you’re able to provide take-home tools, worksheets, resources, or materials they can share with their colleagues, that’s HUGE.

4) Audience engagement beyond Q&A. Adult learners can be a prickly bunch. They don’t respond well to lectures or panels that speak at them for an hour. It’s likely your participants have an idea about your content and want to take it deeper. Poll your audience at the beginning of your session to see how much they already know about the subject – and if they know a lot, skip the introductory stuff! End your session 15 minutes early and open it up for discussion, asking participants if they have ideas or insights beyond what you’ve discussed – you might be delightfully surprised. Let the reviewers know you’re going to go beyond Q&A in your description.

5) Short, interesting title. Now, this is tough – so I recommend writing your title last. Some of the best sessions frame their title as a question, which can nicely shape outcomes. Often workshops are concurrently scheduled, so participants have to decide which session to attend – and the title can help push them to pick your session. Make it count.

Share your proposal with friends and colleagues before submitting it. Ask them if your description is clear, if your title is interesting, and if they would come to your presentation.

I’m always happy to share feedback, collaborate, or go deeper on creating effective proposals. Connect with me via email:

Best of luck on your proposal!

Using Convenings to Capitalize on Collaborative Intelligence

As part of our practice area planning, facilitating and managing convenings, Collaborative is focused on supporting the National Charter Schools Conference, the National AfterSchool Association Convention and the Carnegie Foundation’s Summit on Improvement in Education. We’re always looking for new tools to help our clients build their capacity to achieve their goals – and we’re happy to share the Rockefeller Foundation’s new publication Gather: The Art and Science of Effective Convening. This free guidebook is for convening planners and change agents aspiring to capitalize on the potential of collaborative intelligence through in-person convening.

Gather leads its readers through the process of creating a successful convening. Organized into six sections, it helps:

  • Determine whether convening is the right tool;
  • Clarify the purpose/“north star” of the convening;
  • Consider how to build an effective team;
  • Assemble the right participants;
  • Explain ways to structure the work; and
  • Ensure follow through for impact.

We recommend this guidebook to any organizations seeking to create change through effective convenings. Just as the Foundation believes that planning a convening is both an art and a science, the guidebook provides readers with worksheets, starting points, questions and frameworks for the design process rather than a step-by-step manual. Real examples of successful convenings are also highlighted.

We’re always looking to share best practices, and we congratulate the Rockefeller Foundation on the creation of this excellent workbook. Check out the book, companion materials and video to learn more.

Send Us to SXSWedu

We need your help in getting to SXSWedu 2015 in Austin. In partnership with educational leaders from across the country, we’ve proposed three new workshops that focus on shaping the future of K-12 education.

Your vote matters in the selection process, so please make your voice heard and give our sessions a thumbs-up. We’re ready to dive into important dialogues about college and career readiness, education data collaboration and digital learning partnerships:

  • Making it Matter: Real-World Learning Afterschool: We believe students today will be college and career ready, and now is the time to engage afterschool to make the promise a reality. Participants will learn about Linked Learning, global learning and competency-based learning done in afterschool where youth gain skills, knowledge, credit and embrace their future. Featuring:
    • Adam Greenman, Rhode Island Afterschool Plus Alliance (RIASPA)
    • Alexis Menten, Asia Society
    • Samantha Tran, Children Now
    • Terry Peterson, PhD, Senior Fellow at the College of Charleston
  • Building a City of Open Education Data: In Washington, DC, state agencies, community organizations and civic hackers are working together to create a vibrant ecosystem of tools for understanding and making use of data about public schools. Discover how a civic app empowered every DC parent to participate in shaping the future of the public education system. Featuring:
    • Jeffrey Noel, DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education
    • HyeSook Chung, DC Action for Children
    • Brennan McMahon Parton, Data Quality Campaign
    • Chris Given, Collaborative Communications and Code for DC
  • Unleash the Power of Digital Learning Partnerships: The digital learning revolution is more than trading textbooks for tablets-it is an opportunity to transform collaboration to boost student engagement and learning. Let’s break down education silos through partnerships that: (1) Increase digital access and literacy; (2) Empower students and families with data; (3) Boost education service and volunteering; and (4) Support 24/7 lifestyles of learning. Featuring:
    • Michael Robbins, Collaborative Communications and Span Learning

Like our ideas? Share them with your Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn networks and encourage them to vote! You can also follow us on Twitter and check out our blog.

We hope to see you in Austin for SXSWedu, March 9-12, 2015.

Rethink Your Event Programming, Increase Your Impact

At Collaborative, I manage and consult on events ranging from small, 50-person conversations to national conferences, such as the National Charter Schools Conference, with nearly 5,000 attendees.

It can be challenging to bring new ideas and innovation into an annual event in particular, but rethinking your event programming can have a huge (positive) impact on your participants’ experience – and increase your registration numbers! Continue reading

Accepting an Honor on Behalf of Many

Every day about 2:30 pm or so, millions of young people enter the doors of afterschool programs where they learn, play and grow together.  They are supported by hundreds of thousands of committed and creative afterschool professionals.

Those leaders are supported by professional development, funding and quality initiatives, all created and supported by systems-builders at local, state and national levels.  For my role in supporting those afterschool leaders and systems-builders, I am humbled to be honored this week by the National AfterSchool Association as one of the top 25 most influential people in afterschool. Continue reading

Creating the Recent Force Field: A Growing Infrastructure for Quality Afterschool and Summer Learning Opportunities

Together with my friends, mentors and co-authors, Terry Peterson and Steve Fowler, I had the opportunity to think about the growing infrastructure that we call the “afterschool field.”  Below is an excerpt from the 2013 publication, Expanding Minds and Opportunities: Leveraging the Power of Afterschool and Summer Learning for Student Success, published by Collaborative Communications Group.

“Over the past 15 years, an increasingly vital and complex infrastructure has helped fuel and sustain the afterschool and summer learning movements. With the aid of both formal and informal intermediaries, this evolving infrastructure works to improve quality and increase access in order to help more young people catch up, keep up, and get ahead in engaging, safe, and supervised settings. This infrastructure has helped more than two million young people participate in afterschool and summer learning opportunities over the past 10 years. Continue reading