12 Tips to Create a Buzzworthy Nonprofit Conference Session

Guest post by Lori Jean Mantooth, Points of Light

Interested in presenting your ideas about volunteerism at a fun, informative gathering of people who care about the world? Here’s some advice from Lori Jean Mantooth, Points of Light’s director of training programs:

Do you have a riveting conference session in mind? Here are some tips from Points of Light for submitting sessions for the annual Conference on Volunteering and ServiceMany of us have been there. We’ve pored over the list of workshops at a conference, reading descriptions and speaker bios in an attempt to decide which sessions to attend. I mean, if you’re going to dedicate 90 minutes to a workshop, you want to make sure it’s worth your time, right?

Or maybe you’ve been on the other side. You’ve spent hours developing a workshop proposal, hoping it would be accepted and then working hard to make sure the session lived up to your original vision.

Each year around this time, my colleagues and I get to figure out how to bring these two perspectives into one beautiful experience at the annual Conference on Volunteering and Service. We’ve just opened the Call for Presenters for 2014.

It’s an exciting time for us. We get to read about the great work that’s happening in communities around the globe. We receive proposals from nonprofits, government agencies, companies and individuals (both seasoned experts and first-timers) who can inspire and teach us all.

To help people develop strong proposals, we’ve recently hosted a webinar on the topic. Check out the recording here.

Last year we published an eVOLve issue about developing workshop proposals for any conference. Here is an updated look at those tips, tailored for the Conference on Volunteering and Service:

  • Learn about the Conference. Visit the website to learn about the Conference and who attends. The Call for Presenters page will give specifics about what to expect for workshops.
  • Review information from previous Conferences. Check out the session locator to learn about content and speakers from the 2013 Conference. Don’t just copy ideas from a past event; expand on those ideas or bring something new.
  • Align with the tracks and impact areas. The Conference workshops will be categorized into both tracks and impact areas this year. Your proposal can fit into one of each, so determine where your session fits best.
  • Use a catchy title.Many times Conference attendees don’t read past the session title. Find a creative way to catch attention.

    Donna Brazile and Karl Rove having fun onstage at the 2013 Conference on Volunteering and Service.
    Donna Brazile and Karl Rove having fun onstage at the 2013 Conference on Volunteering and Service.
  • Write a concise session description. Convey the topic and what people will learn if they attend your session. Be mindful of character limit (250, including spaces).
  • Narrow your focus. Don’t try to cover everything about volunteer management in 90 minutes. Pick one or two things to focus on.
  • Develop strong learning objectives. Don’t just relay information. Know what you want participants to learn and be able to do as a result of your session. (Hint: Use action words!) Then build a session that will achieve those objectives.
  • Plan your teaching methods. Create a session that blends presentation (lecture) with discussion, activities and other interactive elements to appeal to different learning styles and keep people engaged. Convey this in your proposal so reviewers understand how you will share, not just what.
  • Share your bio. Provide a brief sketch of your background, especially things relating to your presentation topic and your previous training experiences.
  • Consider engaging co-presenters. Your session may be stronger if you have multiple presenters. Note: The Conference on Volunteering and Service has a maximum of three presenters per session.
  • Follow the guidelines. Complete every step in the online system and meet the submission deadline of November 8. Even if a question is optional, providing an answer can help put your proposal over the top.
  • If you have a question about your proposal or the submission process, ASK! Watch the webinar. Check the Call for Presenters system and the Conference website, which contain the answers to most of your questions. If you still need assistance, contact us.

As you develop your proposal, ask colleagues to help you talk through ideas and read the proposal to ensure you’re sharing the right information in the best possible way. It may take a couple of rewrites, but the effort will be worth it. Don’t be discouraged if your proposal isn’t accepted this year. Ask the reviewers for feedback to help you improve for next time. And good luck!

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