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Creating Stronger AECT Convention Proposals
Suggestions from the
Program Planning Committee
Many organizations’ annual conventions are highly competitive and one needs to submit a strong proposal in order to get onto the program. AECT sets a high expectation for the quality of our convention program. Acceptance rates vary from year to year but clearly the proposal process has become much more competitive in recent years across all categories: posters, roundtables, workshops, and concurrent sessions.
But what makes a strong proposal? That is, what appeals to reviewers and program planners? What do they look for and how can you develop the strongest proposal possible?
Here, we offer 15 principles (in no particular order) and each principle is followed by specific tips to strengthen your proposal. We include tips about both style and substance, including how to make your proposal more visually appealing. While some of these tips will require a little bit of technical know-how (like how to insert HTML codes in the online proposal submission form), you can implement most of these principles with little additional effort.
Principle 1: A strong proposal is one that matches the Call for Proposals and is well matched to program initiatives and themes.
Principle 2: : Proposals that comply with the stated submission requirements are much more likely to be accepted.
Principle 3: Reviewers tend to infer that the properties of the proposal will be the properties of the presenter or presentation.
Principle 4: A strong proposal has few errors and looks polished and professional.
Principle 5: Strong proposals have the potential to interest more people.
Principle 6: A strong proposal is well organized and logical.
Principle 7: Strong proposals use proper English expression and grammar.
Principle 8: Proposals that make a real contribution are more appealing than ones that do not.
Principle 9: A strong proposal is well-informed.
Principle 10: Strong proposals make clear what their objectives are.
Principle 11: A proposal submitted to the proper division is more likely to be accepted.
Principle 12: A strong proposal describes what will occur during the presentation.
Principle 13:: Research studies in progress are less likely to be accepted
Principle 14: A proposal that chooses the right delivery format and requests the appropriate amount of time is more likely to be accepted than one that does not.
There are lots of proposal options. You can propose a concurrent session, either as a thirty-minute presentation or a sixty-minute one. You can propose a poster session or a roundtable. You can propose a workshop. Or you can propose a symposium or panel session, perhaps even proposing a session longer than 60 minutes. You can even propose variations within any of these format. For example, you could propose an interactive 60-minute concurrent session in which one or more presenters present for a short time each and then the attendees and presenters move into an interactive discussion. The possibilities for proposals are limited only by what you can conceive.
The reality is, however, there are a limited number of presentation slots in the entire convention. This includes roundtables and posters. So, if one proposer gets a 60-minute slot, another proposer may not make the program at all. Similarly, a proposed session of longer than an hour likely bumps other proposers from the program. So program planners (and reviewers) must consider whether a proposal makes the best use of time and space and warrants precedence.
Roundtables and posters should be highly desirable if your intent is to share your work with others in a setting where there is time to answer questions, to discuss implications, and to compare your findings/contentions/beliefs with those of others. Unlike some professional organizations where one may find oneself in a huge room with dozens and dozens (and dozens) of other roundtables or posters, AECT tries to make roundtable and poster sessions more select, with around 10 roundtables and perhaps as many posters in a one-hour block. We let the room dictate the number. Our goal is to create a fertile environment for exchange. (We have a *fabulous* room in Jacksonville, by the way, for roundtables and posters. It is probably our nicest room.)
Concurrent sessions tend to favor formal presentations. That is, they often emphasize one-way delivery (even if only initially). This is a type of sharing format in which one hears what the presenter has to say and then a discussant or facilitator may coordinate audience questions.
Workshops usually focus on skills and acquiring the ability to accomplish some task or set of tasks. Workshops generally do not focus on conceptual or philosophical issues, except as those relate to tasks to be accomplished. Recall that workshop attendees pay a $15 materials charge, so the dynamic of who attends is a bit different.
Symposia (and their near cousin, the panel discussion) tend to involve a group of “experts” or “authorities.” This group normally discusses an identified issue and there may be either a discussant that reacts to what is presented and asks the “experts” follow-up questions or the symposium may be interactive with the audience playing this role.
Let’s consider how delivery format and requested length affect likelihood of being accepted. As noted above, a longer proposal likely bumps someone else. So proposals for longer than 30 minutes need to be *unusually* compelling and appealing to a large number of potential attendees. If not, it is unlikely to be accepted for more than 30 minutes. If the proposer makes clear that he or she will present only if given more than 30 minutes or if the scope of the proposal makes clear that what is proposed cannot be done in 30 minutes, that proposal will likely not be accepted unless it is unusually compelling and appealing. One strategy might be to express in the proposal a desire for more than 30 minutes, but to make clear that you would be willing to take a 30-minute session on the same topic and would reduce the scope accordingly if so accepted. Of course, if what you wish to accomplish cannot be done in 30 minutes, make that clear as well, but recognize that such a decision is risky. In a convention like AECT’s, sessions longer than 60 minutes are extremely rare. Such sessions break up the normal program flow and mean attendees likely will be able to attend at least one fewer session on that day. Thus, requesting a session over 60 minutes means what you propose must be *exceptionally* compelling and should appeal to a *large* number of attendees. If you are proposing a session of longer than 30 minutes —and particularly if you are proposing one longer than 60 minutes—you need to make clear why you believe it is both compelling and widely appealing.
Some proposers seem to think roundtables and posters are of lower status. This is not how we view them. If you want the higher level of interaction and if you can meet your goals without making a formal presentation, choose one of these two formats. You are more likely to be accepted, provided you submit a good proposal and it makes clear you want the highly interactive format of a roundtable or the report-based interchange that posters encourage. A proposal that asks for a roundtable or poster but still talks as if it were a formal presentation engenders dissonance in reviewers’ minds and may be quickly rejected because its delivery format is wrong. By the same token, if you would be willing to adjust your proposed presentation to a roundtable or poster format, please indicate that in your proposal.
Similarly, a concurrent session proposal that really sounds like a highly interactive roundtable or more like the report-based interchange of a poster is likely to be rejected because its delivery format also does not match its apparent objective. And a symposium proposal with only one or two speakers will look to reviewers more like a concurrent session on steroids.
The key in any proposal is to make clear in the proposal *exactly* why the delivery format requested is best suited to the goals of the presentation and the length of time requested. As noted above, if you have some flexibility in what you are willing to accept in terms of either time or format, make that clear in the proposal.
Remember that the program planners are responsible for building the strongest international convention program they can. That requires a rich blend of presentation types. It mixes and matches in a way that makes the convention an intellectually and socially stimulating experience that flows smoothly across days. That means the program cannot be made up of only one type of session, nor can one delivery paradigm dominate completely. Variety and interest must prevail.
Principle 15:: Deadlines matter.
Clearly we do not wish to impair your creativity, nor restrict your freedom. Our goal is to build a strong convention program. A strong convention program supports and enhances the strength of the organization. But we recognize that a strong program begins with strong proposals. We hope this guide helps you produce the strongest proposal you can and that you make it onto the convention program. Please respect the volunteer reviewers’ and planners’ time. The more closely you follow these guidelines and clearly aid the reviewers in understanding your proposal, the better your chances for acceptance.