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!