Those D—- Workshop Proposals!

By Pamela Nowak

The call for workshop proposals for the 2015 Colorado Gold Conference came out earlier this month, spurring my usual under-the-breath comments about preparing them.

Workshop proposal forms force us to think and organize without knowing whether the effort will net results. It’s the reason we hate to fill them out, especially when they ask for detail. After all, who wants to spend time planning out an entire workshop when it might not even be selected? That seems like a whole lot of work for nothing.

Yet, is it for nothing?

Though I hate filling out proposal forms, I recognize their role. Having served as a conference chair and a member of the workshop committee, I am well-acquainted with how hard it is to make selections. A topic may sound interesting or a short summary might make promises of being geared toward advanced writers. In fact, I recall selecting some of those, back when proposals were less detailed. Months later, the presentation failed to live up to the promises. Attendees, drawn by the same short description, left feeling cheated. That dissatisfaction was reflected on feedback to the conference organizers. And, as more and more people submitted proposals, it became very difficult to decide among those on the same topic; there simply wasn’t enough detail to adequately compare them.

Over the years, especially with the growth in submitted proposals, the form has asked would-be presenters for more information, details, and organization. I’ve filled them out and it takes a lot of time and thought.

I am forced to think beyond my general topic to figure out what, exactly, I will teach. I must determine how I will fill the time and what will make my workshop unique and different. Not only must I write a short description, I must also provide a detailed one. And an outline! Gee whiz! Doesn’t anybody realize how much time that takes??

The thing I’ve discovered, though, is how much easier it is to actually prepare the workshop if it is selected. I have a firm outline to guide me and I don’t scramble at the last minute to figure out what I’m going to do. As a result, I have a much more cohesive lesson plan. I flesh it out more, in the months prior to conference and I arrive prepared and ready to fulfill the promises I made in my short description.

And if the proposal is not selected, it goes in a file for another year or another conference, saving me future work. In fact, some presenters have a whole collection of proposals which they can use for multiple conferences. Once prepared, they need only tweak or update them as necessary.

First-hand knowledge tells me how much easier it makes the selection process for the committee. With nearly five times the proposals as available slots (perhaps even more), it allows conference planners to have enough information to determine if presenters will offer organized workshops or whether they will ramble without focus. It reveals details which convey unique takes on familiar topics. The committee knows if a workshop will be hands-on or lecture-driven. Members can see if there is enough information to fill the time or if it appears the speaker will stall.

Still, there is that niggling voice that tells me it might all be a waste of time since there is no guarantee a proposal will be selected. That’s true…but there is usually a benefit to being selected, beyond sharing information with others and enhancing one’s exposure (for example, RMFW provides a conference discount). To increase the odds of selection, there are things we can do.

  1. Choose a topic that is unique yet not so different that it will appeal only to a small group of people. Conference planning centers around offering a slate that will be interesting to a broad group.
  2. If your workshop is centered around a familiar topic (such as an element of craft), offer a new technique or viewpoint. Make your proposal stand-out as something new. Give the presenters a reason to select yours instead of one of the other seven about the same thing.
  3. Select a relevant topic, something that pertains to writing or publishing today. If you aren’t conveying new information, relate how old information is once again (or still) important to attendees.
  4. Be detailed without being minute. If there are several proposals on the same topic, the details will make your proposal standout and will provide the committee with needed information. At the same time, you don’t need to provide multiple pages of detail. If it takes an hour to read your proposal, reviewers might give up.
  5. Show you are organized. This is what the outline will reflect. It will show how you plan to cover your topic, where you will offer information. It is your opportunity to show that you will not just ramble on but will, instead, offer relevant information in an organized fashion.
  6. If you are proposing a panel, you will want to take special care to show how the session will be structured and that it is not just a group chatting about a topic. The most frequent complaints about panels is that the speakers seemed unprepared, that it was too anecdotal and lacked instructive content, and that speakers seemed to lack a united focus. Including specific topics and questions will help the proposal stand out, as will including a moderator to keep the panel on-task. It is important that every panel member prepare ahead of time rather than contributing “off-the-cuff.”

Okay, time to get back to that proposal…

Pamela Nowak
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Pamela Nowak writes historical romance set in the American West. In addition to widespread critical acclaim, her books have won multiple national awards. In love with history and rich characters for most of her life, Pam has a B.A. in history, has taught prison inmates, managed the Fort Yuma National Historic Site and run a homeless shelter. She was named the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers' Writer of the Year in 2010, chaired three conferences, and now serves as volunteer coordinator. Pam and her life partner Ken live in Denver. Their combined families include six daughters and several grand-children. Together, they parent a dog and a cat. More about Pam on her website.

One thought on “Those D—- Workshop Proposals!

  1. Thanks Pam! You are exactly right, and I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to blog about it. It does take preparation time to prepare a proposal, and it is a lot of work. (The committee is aware of this and has simplified the form from last year – plus is working on a new submission system for next year.) But the preparation does save time and effort later. Plus, if a presenter is selected, they are essentially paid a conference fee. Whee! (solo presenters receive a fully comped registration, co-presenters each receive half of the registration comped, and panelists each receive a $50 discount).

    The committee really does need the requested information to make the best possible decisions for conference. Sometimes, things read well on paper, but the workshop doesn’t go over as well as we had hoped. Each member of the committee reads every single proposal, rates them, and then the committee meets and discusses each and every proposal. We compare proposals to all others of the same topic, as well as discussing unique topics, and the needs of the attendees. There is a lot of debate at times. We consider past surveys, too. It takes hours and hours of time for each committee member, but it is important that we do our best!

    If anyone has a topic they are unsure of, they are more than welcome to email me and we can discuss it. Or if they have a question about the process, or anything else. I can be reached at conference@rmfw.org.

    Susie

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