Conference Session Proposals: Reminder and How-to Review

Perspectives ,

Posted By Dana Metheny
Updated: Thursday, August 3, 2017

Conferences are fun, there’s no doubt! We all enjoy social networking, meeting new and old friends, going to entertaining museum and community places and enjoying time away from our ordinary routines. But, in addition to all that, everyone wants to learn something new at a conference! And, why not from YOU?!

There are a few days left to submit your conference session proposals for VAM’s 2018 50th Anniversary Conference at Norfolk's new luxury waterfront hotel, Norfolk Hilton The Main. #VAM2018. You must submit your session proposal to the Conference Program Committee by Monday, August 7. Submit your session proposal online.

We know that museum professionals who have done these proposals before will think creatively about their choice of topics and presentation methods. But, for those of you who are new to presenting at conferences, preparing a presentation can be a bit intimidating. We VAM staffers want to encourage everyone who is passionate about their work to share, share, share their expertise with our member network, because together, we can better meet the unique challenges of our Virginia museum missions.

So, here’s a review and reminder of what goes into preparing a session. Once you have the presentation details down, you can write up your proposal and send it forth to the review committee. Doing the prep work in advance will help you remember what you promised and keep you focused as you polish and practice your session closer to the conference dates. Thank you for participating and don’t forget, you can submit your session proposal online.

Let’s get started. Remember, it is a good idea to approach the task at hand by breaking it down into small, manageable parts.

  1. Consider your audience first. Whether you have a few topic ideas or you know exactly what topic you want to present, spend some time really thinking about who your information will benefit the most. At the VAM conference, you’ll find a whole range of audience members from active retirees to emerging professionals just starting out. Does your topic speak to a specific group or is it going to be helpful to everyone? Take time to understand the backgrounds, values, and interests of your audience. Ask yourself what they will expect from your presentation.
  2. Of course, your topic should be one you have great interest in and one you can speak on from experience. Is your expertise drawn from life experience or from extensive research. Including both aspects will make for an inspiring session. You want to encourage others to follow through in some way after you speak. Perhaps they will follow in your footsteps at their own museum. Perhaps they will be compelled to do further research and draw their own conclusions. Don’t be afraid to think beyond the box when you pick your topic!
  3. As you form your session description, write up a one sentence objective that states what you want your audience to learn from you. Consider the prior knowledge of your audience and the time limits you have for the presentation. Use this objective to keep you focused as you develop your presentation.
  4. Define and prepare your main content. So, what will you say about your topic in your defined amount of time? Where do you start and how much detail should you include? The prior knowledge of your audience will dictate this, but regardless, you need to illustrate and support each one of the points you make. Be sure to include variety in your presentation: present data and facts, share quotes from experts, include firsthand experiences, and provide vivid descriptions. If you can inject humor along the way, it helps to break up the serious flow of information and keeps your audience engaged.
  5. After you have the main presentation laid out, only then should you tackle your introduction and final conclusion. The into should state the topic and the purpose of the session. It should reveal what they should expect from you, and capture everyone’s attention in some creative, inviting way. Entice them to settle in and figuratively put them on the edge of their seats. Define what they will learn and how you will impart the information. Then summarize your conclusion with your main points. You know the saying: "Tell them what you're going to tell them. Tell them. Then, tell them what you told them." All that comes in the introduction, before you launch into the main presentation. Some ideas for your intro: explain the relevance to the listeners' goals, values, and needs, stimulate thinking with a question, share a personal experience, tell a joke or humorous story, show a cartoon or colorful visual, make a stimulating or inspirational statement, or give a compelling demonstration. During the final conclusion, restate your main points and tie them together so that the audience will remember the most important take-away from your session. In your conclusion, make sure you have delivered your session’s purpose as you promised in the introduction.

The proposal review process is competitive and not all submissions will be selected, so think creatively as you develop it. Keep in mind you can polish the presentation later as the conference dates get closer. Once you get your session idea defined, you can (boldly!) move forward by submitting your proposal on the VAM website.

Good luck and thank you for your proposal!