Create a Conference Proposal the Conference Wants and Accepts, Part 2: Start with Outcomes

Now that you've framed your proposal, start with what you want people to take away from the talk, the outcomes.

Why? Because too many descriptions are a promise for an outcome or what people will learn. If you're coy about the outcomes, people can't select themselves in or out for your presentation.

Speakers who say, “Everyone should hear my ideas” kid themselves. Your content is not right for everyone. (Mine isn't either.)

You are better off speaking to/with five interested people than to 500 who could not care less about your topic. You don't need a lot of people to use and spread your ideas. You need people who are passionate about your topic to use and spread your ideas. (I'll get into the whys of speaking later in this series.)

Help people become interested in your topic with outcomes—what they will get out of your session.

Outcomes Often Start with Verbs

Think about a conference presentation you enjoyed. What did you like about it? You might have liked:

  • Remember: An easy way to remember the facts.
  • Understand: How to understand a concept. You might not have known about the concept before. If you had known about it before, maybe this time you gained more insight.
  • Apply: How to apply this new information to your situation.
  • Analyze: How to connect the ideas to your context. Maybe even how to create an experiment to use the ideas.
  • Evaluate: Appraise your decisions or make new ones.
  • Create: You gained an “aha”  moment where you can now use these ideas to create your own ideas.

These words are from Bloom's Taxonomy. I'm not showing the pyramid, because I don't buy the pyramid. (Supposedly the things first on my list are less “useful.” However, I don't know how to create, evaluate, analyze or apply without remembering and understanding.)

Here's the problem with a proposal: People learn by doing. People make connections in ways you can't predict.

Here are two things that have been true for me in my 25 years as a professional speaker:

  • I can't depend on anyone evaluating my session for the conference to understand what I mean.
  • I can't depend on any participant understanding what I mean.

I often need to flow “up” and “down” Bloom's Taxonomy so I can share my ideas well.

That's why I start with verbs.

See Some Examples of Outcomes

In my multitasking talk, I offer these outcomes:

  • See the problems of multitasking, including costs
  • Experiment with ways to expose all the work
  • Analyze your situation
  • Practice saying No

Depending on how much time I have for that presentation, I either use a simulation or a conversation for the “Practice saying No” outcome.

Yes, I did capitalize the No. That's because people have trouble saying No. I use the capitalization to emphasize the No.

Let's go a little meta and discuss each of these:

  1. See the problems including costs means I will explain how to identify the multitasking and assess how much time people waste.
  2. Experiment with ways to expose the work means I will offer several possibilities to visualize and discuss the work.
  3. Analyze your situation is about connecting the participant with the ideas. As with many ideas, everyone's context is different.
  4. Practice saying No means people will use their mouths.

You and your talk(s) will have different outcomes. However, do you see how the outcomes might drive your abstract/description? And the title.

Beware of Potential Outcome Traps

Watch for traps as you create the outcomes:

  1. Offer actionable advice. That's why I like to start with verbs.
  2. Do not promise an outcome, as in “Johanna will share the secrets of avoiding multitasking.” No! Share those secrets in the proposal.
  3. Vary the verbs as much as you can and still keep the sentences reasonable. I often start with “See this” or “See that.” After the 5th time I've written “See,” I realize I'm actually talking about other verbs. Vary the actions you want people to take at the end of the session.

Do you know specific terms of art that other people might think are jargon? Beware of adding those terms.

For example, I did not discuss Cost of Delay in the outcomes. CoD is not jargon, but it might sound that way to people. I might add CoD later, depending on what I write for the abstract. However, too few people still know about CoD. As I iterate over the entire proposal, I'll decide whether to add it in later.

And, some conferences are so impressed with themselves that they love jargon. I tend not to propose anything for those conferences.

You need to play the conference game. Decide how you will frame your outcomes. I tend to err on the side of simplicity, so people can say yes to my proposal.

Now Try This

Write this down:

  1. Review the people you want to participate/attend your presentation. What do they need to take away from your session? List the outcomes. I try to have four or five outcomes. That's a guideline, not a rule.
  2. Start the outcomes with verbs. I don't happen to like, “You will learn” as a start. I know I'm going to learn something. Please, get to the point.
  3. How well do the outcomes match the list of problems you developed in Part 1? Sometimes, when I start a proposal, I realize I have mixed multiple problems. I need to create two proposals. The outcomes help me separate the problems and see what I'm actually proposing.

The entire series:

(Update: I wrote a book, Write a Conference Proposal the Conference Wants and Accepts that incorporates this and all the other conference proposal posts.)

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