How to Write a Conference Speaking or Session Proposal that Gets Chosen Every Time

You want to speak more about your great idea.
You’ve even found a great conference that’s a great match for your goals.

You excitedly await the day the “call for speakers” comes… and then you have no idea how to turn your great idea into a great session proposal.

Tamsen

Tamsen Webster at TEDx Cambridge

Greeeeeeeat.
Now what? Actually, it’s pretty simple to write a great session proposal. All you need is to gather a few key items together, and then follow a fairly tried-and-true format.

THE INGREDIENTS

Here’s what you need:

  • The idea, simply stated
  • The problem that idea solves
  • The action you want people to take as a result
  • 1-3 key concepts you’ll cover to support the problem, idea, and/or action
  • Why you’ve got the credibility to talk about all of this

If that sounds remarkably similar to what you need to think about before drafting the talk itself…you’re right.

In fact, you should never write a session proposal without knowing these key items.

The good news? By the time you’ve finished writing your session proposal, you have a very strong outline for what the talk is going to be about. That saves you the pain of discovering, months down the line, that your session proposal sounds nothing like the talk you’ve finally put together — a sure recipe for frustrating yourself, and an audience expecting to see what you originally submitted.

Here’s an example of those ingredients, from a talk I’ve been submitting recently:

  • IDEA: How to speak for marketing purposes (without alienating potential customers)
  • PROBLEM: Content marketing is a crowded space, but companies need a way to differentiate
  • ACTION: Use a set of tools to develop a great talk that meets your marketing, and the audience’s, needs
  • KEY CONCEPTS:
    • Speaking has an important, and underused, role in the marketing funnel
    • Why and how many speakers fail when creating a talk for marketing purposes
    • A framework for understanding the key elements of a successful “marketing” talk
    • A set of simple tools for creating those elements in your own talk
  • (RELEVANT!) CREDENTIALS:
    • 20+ years as a marketer and branding/messaging strategist
    • 15+ years as a speaker, over 3,000 presentations
    • Current positions (SVP of Executive Communications Coaching at Oratium; Executive Producer of TEDxCambridge)
      With all of those ingredients in hand, you have everything you need to put it together.

THE RECIPE

I write session proposals the same way every time. I’ll use the above “ingredients” as the basis:

  • Open with the problem, as experienced by the conference’s attendees: In a world of where written, and even audio, content is reaching a saturation point, what’s left? How can your message not only rise above the noise, but truly connect with your customers?
  • Follow with the action, or some allusion to it: Speaking. In-person events. Webinars.
  • Include a key idea or two: The challenge, of course, is that while people love to buy, they hate being sold to — and word gets around fast if you start “selling from the stage.”
  • Then, finish with the outcome, benefit, or promise, while weaving your credentials in: In this session, learn from a veteran marketer — and Executive Producer of the second-largest TEDx event in the world — how you can overcome audience resistance (and your own) to make the most of content’s last frontier.

In each case, go with the ideas or information that are most relevant for the audience.

Some conferences want you to list 3-5 key takeaways from the talk. In that case, add (or substitute for the outcome sentence) a bulleted list drawn from your key concepts:

  • In this session you will learn:
    • The most common mistakes marketing presenters make and, more importantly, how to correct for them
    • How and where speaking belongs in the marketing funnel
    • Simple tools for choosing the best topics, structuring your talk to sell, and capturing leads, as well as do’s and don’ts for delivery

But there’s one more thing you need before you can submit… the title.

THE EASY WAY TO FIND A GREAT TITLE

The easiest place to start writing your title? With your ingredients. Base your title on any of the elements you just pulled together:

  • IDEA: “How to Sell From the Stage… Without Selling from the Stage”
  • PROBLEM: “Sending a Strong Signal — The Secret to Standing Out in a Sea of Noise”
  • ACTION: “Why You Need a ‘Speaking Circuit’ in Your Marketing Mix” (this is actually a reference to a tool I’m introducing in the talk, which also happens to be a play on words based on the idea)
  • CONCEPTS: “Why Speaking is Content’s Last Frontier, and How You Can Lead the Charge”

You can also combine elements, which is what I ended up doing for this one:

Content’s Last Frontier: How to Sell From the Stage… Without Selling from the Stage

In many ways a good talk title follows the rules and guidelines of a great headline (for an article, book, or any other forms of content). There are a ton of great resources out there on titles and how to make them better or more interesting.

Often the title is the only part of your session proposal an organizer will read — so do the work to make sure it tells, and sells, the story of your talk.

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER (AND CUTTING IT DOWN)

Let’s look at that proposal all together:

Content’s Last Frontier: How to Sell From the Stage… Without Selling from the Stage

In a world of where written, and even audio, content is reaching a saturation point, what’s left? How can your message not only rise above the noise, but truly connect with your customers? Speaking. In-person events. Webinars. The challenge, of course, is that while people love to buy, they hate being sold to — and word gets around fast if you start “selling from the stage.” In this session, learn from a veteran marketer — and Executive Producer of the second-largest TEDx event in the world — how you can overcome audience resistance (and your own) to make the most of content’s last frontier.

In this session you will learn:

  • The most common mistakes marketing presenters make and, more importantly, how to correct for them
  • How and where speaking belongs in the marketing funnel
  • Simple tools for choosing the best topics, structuring your talk to sell, and capturing leads, as well as do’s and don’ts for delivery

I’ll always start with a proposal of roughly this length (~100 words). But sometimes an event will restrict the description even further. They key there is to focus on your most critical ideas, while still following the formula.

Here’s what that same proposal looks like at ~60 words:

Why the “speaking circuit” is content’s last frontier — and how you can lead the charge

With written content nearing its saturation point, how can your message rise above the noise and truly connect with customers? Through speaking at events. The challenge? Word gets around fast if you “sell from the stage,” and worse, customers won’t buy. But good news: it’s simpler than you think for ANY marketer to make the most of the “speaking circuit” — and content’s last frontier.

THE TAKEAWAY

Until event organizers start reaching out to you (and if you’re good, they eventually will), you have to reach out to them — and session proposals are the language they speak.

And even if organizers reach out to you, they’ll eventually ask you for a description of your talk.

But now, instead of staring at a blank page (or screen), follow this simple formula.

See you on stage!

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Written by

tamsen