In 2013, I set a goal for myself to speak at one major national conference before the end of the next year. I had spoken at a bunch of small and local events and figured I should try a bigger venue.
I wrote proposals for a couple of conferences and received really negative feedback. It bummed me out and made me want to give up, since it sounded like everyone hated my ideas. But while I was getting all that slightly soul-crushing feedback, I was also reviewing proposals myself and learning what I liked and didn’t like in a conference submission.
That’s when I decided for one last shot and submitted to the 2014 IA Summit. This time, I incorporated the feedback I had gotten and wrote something like the proposals I enjoyed reading:
- I added lots of detail. I had been leaving my submissions sort of vague because I worried one of the reviewers would steal my ideas. But as I reviewed for other conferences, I realized that details showed that the submitter was smart and had thought the topic through. Their IA cred was in those details. I also realized that my talks are funnier than other people’s, and you can’t steal funny. So whether you can tell a joke or not, you’ve got something that makes your work and presentation style unique to you.
- I formatted my submission to be similar to conference blurbs from previous years. This meant I highlighted exactly what conference attendees would take from my talk and who would benefit from it. I also noticed that IA Summit blurbs were smart and approachable, so I tried to adopt that tone.
- I submitted something I wasn’t even sure anyone would like, but if they did I’d be really excited to talk about it. In the submissions I had reviewed, I was most interested in the unconventional, unique talks, and I hoped my weird ideas would be interesting too.
Helpful feedback, shining support
Regardless if you’re chosen, the IA Summit has an excellent submission feedback process. The first time I submitted a talk, for the 2013 conference, I was not chosen but received excellent responses full of positive comments, constructive criticism, and suggestions. This seems like a basic way to evaluate work, but it’s not the way other conferences do it. One reviewer asked: “How does this talk propose to correct the problem?” And another, noting that I lacked a fully formed idea wrote, “Right now it feels more like a 20-minute presentation to me — and I think it could be a really wonderful 20-minute presentation.” So for 2014, I submitted a 20-minute talk that started with a problem and proposed a solution. I was accepted.
And if you are selected, the conference organizers are going to do everything they can to help you shine. New speakers get paired with veteran speakers for pre-conference coaching. My coach listened to an early draft and provided notes on how to improve my talk. He had confidence in my talk and that gave me confidence in it too. In addition, I scheduled a slot in the speaker’s studio, where I got to practice on a stage with the same set-up as the one I would be on. I was given small tips on how to make my slides more engaging, and now long after the IA Summit I use that advice for all my presentations.
What are you waiting for?
If you’re still on the fence about submitting to the 2015 IA Summit, ask yourself: Do you have an idea you’re excited to talk about? Are you ready to have nice people review your work? Would it be helpful to get advice on how to give a great talk? If the answer is yes …
- Start making notes about an interesting project you’ve worked on or some observations you’ve made.
- Look over last year’s talks for ideas on how to catch people’s attention.
- Then review proposals yourself. The best way to fine tune your future submissions is to get informed about your competition.
- No matter what happens, come to Minneapolis and say hi to me.