Are you conference proposal ready? Do you have a unique viewpoint on an issue, idea, or concept that you think will benefit the field? What should you be aware of before starting your proposal, to make for the strongest presentation, and to further not only your topic, but yourself as a trusted and reliable source on your topic? The following are twenty-one questions to consider and contemplate prior to writing your proposal, developed over the course of over seven years in the museum field, and more than four years of experience proposing, presenting, and participating in conferences of both local and national significance.
1. Do you have an issue, idea, or concept that needs to be shared, addressed, or debated by your colleagues in the conference format?
2. Is your issue, idea, or concept timely and relevant?
3. Does your issue, idea, or concept particularly mesh with the theme of a particular conference?
4. Are you familiar with other colleagues, friends, or those active in the field that are willing to support your idea, develop it further, and present at said conference? Are you willing to contact individuals who you do not have a preexisting relationship with to ensure the strongest session panel?
5. Are you willing to share your issue, idea, or concept online during the development stages of your proposal, so as to include and incorporate feedback or specialists you had not previously considered or were familiar with?
6. Who is the audience for your proposed session? Are they emerging, mid-career, or seasoned professionals? Those with little experience with your topic, or those who are experts looking for fresh opinions or ideas? Who will benefit most from your session (disciplines could include, but are not limited to: curators, conservators, exhibition designers, educators, administration, directors or board members)? What types of museums will find interest in your session (art museums, history museums, historic sites and historic houses, science museums or centers, academic museums, children’s museums)?
7. What are the educational outcomes of your proposed session? Can you answer the question: “when someone leaves this session, they will know x/will be able to x/will be able to improve x/will bring x back to their site…”?
8. Are you comfortable speaking to a large group of people? If not, what will your role in the session be? Will you be a facilitator and chair for the session?
9. Do you know a seasoned professional who would be willing to co-chair your session?
10. Can you think of creative ways to engage your audience, beyond merely utilizing Powerpoint presentations (recently, interesting sessions have included games, working in small groups to answer questions, and going as far as to turn a session into a ‘game show’)?
11. Do you know someone with prior experience proposing sessions and presenting that will help you craft your proposal, recruit presenters, and will advocate for you during the approval process?
12. Are there opportunities for you to present locally, then transition to larger, national or international stages?
13. Are there opportunities to participate in poster sessions, student sessions, or emerging professional formats to gain first-hand experience before transitioning to a full-on session proposal?
14. Are you able to afford all aspects of attending and presenting at the conference? Are there scholarship opportunities? Can you share a room, carpool, or discover other ways to share the expenses of attending and participating? Will you be able to take time off from your job, school, and other commitments to attend the conference? Would you be able to secure partial or complete funding from your employer, your college/university, or from other sources?
15. Does your issue, idea, or concept overlap with other fields? Are there specialists from outside the museum field that would make your session stronger, more diversified, and/or more appealing to museum practitioners?
16. Is your concept transitory or is it something that will not hugely evolve between when you propose your session, and when you present? Do you love your session idea enough to live with it for over a year or more? Are there spin-offs to your topic which you are familiar and well-versed within? Are you able to keep up with the evolution of your topic?
17. What will you gain professionally from presenting at said conference? Do those gains justify the work, expense, and time to foster a creative, strong, and well-presented session?
18. Is aligning yourself with the topic of your session proposal, your panelists, and the conference an appropriate and strategic career move?
19. Who is your competition on this topic, and how can you ensure your competitive edge?
20. Who do you know within the conference’s supporting institution, and are their ways to leverage those relationships? Can they help you, or direct you to others who can? Are they available to answer questions, or provide feedback as you craft your proposal?
21. Are you comfortable in stressful situations and on deadline? Do you have strong communications, time and group management skills? Are you a leader?