13 Tips for a Winning Program Proposal

By Leslie Carroll, HNS North America Program Chair

So, you’re thinking of proposing a program for HNS2019. You’ve read the “Call for Proposals FAQ” to get the basics, but you probably still want to know: “What are they looking for?”

Successful HNS programs are dynamic and entertaining, as well as informative. Even if you may be an academic, HNSNA Conference is not an academic conference where one “presents papers.”

A winning program proposal will demonstrate how the presenter—and the program—will connect with the audience in a variety of ways.

A successful presenter will:

(1) Be prepared to talk TO your audience, not AT them.

(2) Prepare a pithy program title with a punchy subtitle that succinctly describes your topic: i.e. HOOCH THROUGH HISTORY: From Mead to Martinis

(3) Write a galvanizing, comprehensive, 100-word description of your discussion topic (for the printed conference program) that will make people so excited about it that they can’t wait to attend your discussion.

(4) Include your Subject Matter Qualifications and those of each co-panelist for each proposal; note that qualifications for a thorough discourse on Tudor undergarments would not be the same as for teaching Scrivener (even if the proposal comes from the same author).

(5) Include your photo (for the printed program in 300dpi); for panels, the lead panelist will be required to submit all panelists’ photos with the proposal.

(6) If proposing for a panel, you should have no fewer than 3 and no more than 5 people (including a moderator). For HNS2019 programming, ALL panels MUST have a moderator. No exceptions.

(7) Include panelists from a variety of publishing platforms. (i.e. a balance of trad pubbed and self-pubbed “indie” authors)

(8) Historically themed Koffee Klatches should be an interactive, group conversation (that you lead and moderate).

(9) Stay focused and stick to the subject you propose: Both your proposal and your presentation should stay on message.

(10) Propose topics we haven’t yet seen at HNS. Think: inclusivity, diversity of people, places, and eras.

(11) Unless the subject of your session is industry-focused, avoid including one of our industry guests on your panel; their Conference hours will already be filled with pitches and other industry related programming such as Cold Reads sessions. What will they add to your session that someone else could not do? Including an industry guest on your panel could work against you, as it limits the Program Committee’s ability to schedule it (if it’s accepted).

(12) Ditto with use of AV equipment. Due to space/cost considerations, the Program Committee can only accept a limited amount proposals that will require AV equipment; and you will be required to justify on the submission form why you need it. If you can present without AV, the chances of getting your proposal accepted increase exponentially.

(13) Surprise and delight your colleagues by thinking outside the box!

As you’re crafting your proposal, remember there are six surefire ways to get your proposal rejected!

  • Submitting a panel proposal without any panelists on it other than yourself. The Program Committee will not source panelists for anyone.
  • Panel proposals without moderators. One of the panelists may act as the moderator as long as s/he does not hog the spotlight during the session. If one of your panelists will moderate, this must be stated in your proposal.
  • Incomplete proposals: submissions that omit requested details (e.g. bios/subject matter qualifications and photos of each presenter).
  • Solo presentations that are self-promotional and/or Koffee Klatches that are mini lectures in disguise (monologues, instead of interactive).
  • Submitting a tired topic seen too often at HNS.
  • Submitting programming with the same panelists on multiple proposals; you may get one through, but not all of them.

Feedback from Conference attendees helps the Board and Program Committee shape future programming; lessons learned from past Conferences are enumerated below for your edification.

  • Avoid self-promotion. You can reference your titles (for example how you researched a topic with reference to your novel) without your program being all about you and your books.
  • Speak up so that everyone in the room can hear you. Even if you think you don’t need it, use the mic; that’s what it’s there for.
  • Stay on message and stick to the topic described in your proposal. That’s what will be printed in the conference program and that’s what people will be coming to hear. Attendees become disappointed and frustrated when the topic they came to hear isn’t what they get.

Now that you are armed with the essentials, sit back, fire up your imagination, and write that winning program proposal! The Call for Proposals will go live in mid-October and be open for only five weeks, so watch the HNS North America website for further announcements and updates!

Jenny Q Panel

Jenny Quinlan at a 2017 panel presentation, “Going Indie.” Photo Credit: Gail Pasternack

 

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