In my previous post about Call for Proposals (CFPs) I talked about the information that is important for me, as a potential speaker, to see on a CFP landing page. In this follow up post, I’m going to look at the questions asked on the CFP proposal submission form. If you haven’t read part one, it may be worth doing so before you begin this post.
There are some questions on a CFP submission form that I really wish more conferences would make room for. Almost all of the CFPs I’ve seen ask for core information such as; title, abstract/excerpt, speaker bio and email address. However there have also been CFP forms that have asked for additional information that I felt was actually really important.
Audience Take-Away - In theory, this is information that should be in the talk abstract - however, it’s often difficult to fit this information while keeping things catchy as well as accommodate a word/character limit. It’s also difficult for new speakers to artfully construct an abstract, meaning they may miss important points. For these reasons, ask for the information separately. It will provide your organization with a clearer understanding of the talk goals and help less experienced speakers in the process.
Audience Knowledge Level - Asking this allows your speakers to clearly state how much knowledge their audience requires in order to follow their talk. This is really important. Remember, not everyone can be an expert in everything and you will probably want to balance the number of talks offering beginner, intermediate and advanced information. This is a great way to make sure you have the information needed to get your conference’s balance right. While you’re at it - why don’t you put this information on your conference schedule to help your attendees make informed choices.
Session Length - Providing your speakers with a session length drop down allows you to communicate what session lengths are available while allowing them to choose which length they think would best suit their proposal.
Session Type - As with session length, provide a space for your speakers to tell you which type of session they are proposing; lightning talks, lectures, poster presentations, tutorials, demonstrations, audience participation, expert panels - topics can be explored in vastly different ways depending on the type of session in which it is being explored.
Delivery Approach - This is closely tied to Session Type and asking this allows your speakers to more clearly communicate their intentions to you. Where Session Type is about how you are structuring the session, Delivery Approach is about how you are engaging with your audience. Looking at an audience participation session for example - I have attended a talk in which the audience were asked questions around a theme and the speaker reflected on the answers, another session delivered a series of questions in the form of a quiz to the attendees as a platform to discuss symptoms of impostor syndrome, and the most recent audience participation session I attended involved mindfulness exercises and a game of sleeping tigers in order to get participants thinking about self care. While I think it is good to give your speakers a list of suggestions (maybe hint towards the type of delivery you’re looking for), I think it may be best to leave the response for this as a text field rather than a drop down. This allows your potential speakers to be creative.
Session Adaptability - Sometimes you may find that you like a specific talk but do not have the preferred session length available. Asking speakers if their talk can be shortened, lengthened or changed to a tutorial allows you flexibility to find space for it elsewhere in your schedule where you have more space.
Additional Requirements - This allows speakers to request additional items or resources that may be less common or not within the standard set up of the presentation rooms. For example; perhaps a speaker carrying out a demo needs extra power outlets or help setting up. Without this space, you may end up with surprises on the day.
Preferred Crediting - I have met a number of speakers who prefer to be known by a nickname, online handle or pseudonym rather than their legal names. By asking this, you will have a more accurate representation of the speaker for your conference and advertising material.
Optional Photo, Not Mandatory - Allow your speakers to choose whether they wish to add a picture to their profile, don't make it mandatory. It's understandable to request a picture for advertising purposes, however making it a requirement adds a potential barrier to those uncomfortable in front of a camera and for newer speakers who may not have a suitable picture.
Optional Website/ Social Media Links - It's really great when a conference gives you the opportunity to provide ways for attendees to access further information about a speaker. However, not everyone has a website or social media accounts. Don’t make this mandatory as it can prevent some people from submitting.
Previous Speaking Experience - This information provides two great things. It provides you the opportunity to mix up the experience levels of speakers on offer at your event and it also allows you to identify which speakers may need more support. While this can be tricky, I think that more information is better than less. It’s harder to be swayed by biases when you acknowledge they are there and make an effort to provide a variety of speakers from different backgrounds and experience levels.
Photography Permissions - This is a separate issue from being video or audio recorded. Allowing your speakers to state their comfort levels with event photography can avoid difficult situations. Attending conferences, I have seen this offered to speakers and attendees via the use of different colored lanyards that express the comfort level of the person wearing them. Different colors can represent if that person doesn't want to be photographed, doesn't mind or prefers to be asked first.
Additional Information for Conference Organizers - This is a really important space, even though many speakers may never need to use it. This is a space where speakers with differing needs can let you know ahead of time. Perhaps a diabetic speaker cannot speak during lunch time slots. Maybe a speaker is on crutches and needs a chair in their room. There could be a speaker who needs access to a quiet room at certain times for religious reasons, or maybe they need a quiet room for breastfeeding a newborn. Providing space for them to tell you personal needs, rather than just technical ones, will help everyone have a better conference.
Code of Conduct Agreement Checkbox - Have this. Seriously. Ensuring that all your speakers have read, understood and agree to the code of conduct is a good way to ensure everyone is on the same page and working towards the same goal.
Filming/Recording Opt Out Checkbox - This allows your speakers to say up front if they are uncomfortable with their talks being filmed. This allows you to more effectively organize your resources and avoids a potentially uncomfortable conversation for your speaker.
Member of Underprivileged Group Checkbox - This allows another metric for you to ensure you are working towards better diversity at your event. Make this a simple checkbox. Expecting a speaker to list which underprivileged groups they belong to is insensitive.
Confirmation of Submission - On submission, your potential speaker should get immediate feedback confirming their submission has been received. This avoids confusion and duplicate submissions. Extra points for email confirmation, as this provides the potential speaker a way to verify they submitted later on.
Great! You’ve provided a bunch of great information and gotten a ton of fantastic proposals. After sifting through them, you’ve settled on Yeses, Nos and Maybes. Now what? Now you send out your first wave of acceptance and rejection emails.
I want to be really clear here - Each person who took the time to submit a proposal, regardless of result, should receive an email to let them know if they have been accepted. Failing to do so is not only rude but disrespectful to the time they spent trying to help your event be a success. Also, for would be first time speakers, it can be so demotivating that they may never try again. Lastly, it may cost you attendees - why would anyone buy a ticket to a conference that didn't even email them to tell them the outcome of their proposal?
There should be an email for each talk submitted and they should have the following information.
The Name of the Talk - Tell your speakers which talk you are emailing them about. Often speakers will submit several talks to a conference, and they need to know which talk has which result.
The Outcome - The email should clearly indicate if the talk has been accepted or rejected.
A Thank You - Thank the speaker for the time they put into creating a proposal and submitting it to your conference.
Next Steps - For speakers who have had their talk accepted, tell them what they need to do next. Often a conference will ask a speaker to reply and confirm they are still able to give the talk. Sometimes a conference will ask a speaker to register for the conference using a special code. You can also use this as an opportunity to provide further information on financial assistance available or accommodation availability.
For speakers who have not been successful, invite them to come to the conference as an attendee. If you have the budget and are able to, provide them a ticket discount as a tangible expression of thanks.
As you can see, the questions on a CFP submission form can greatly shape the type of proposals you receive and the quality by which you can build your conference around. By requesting more information rather than just the bare minimum, you allow your speakers to give you a clear picture of how their vision can enhance your vision for the conference.