Tips on Writing Successful Conference Presentation Proposals

The deadline to submit proposals for next year’s TESOL conference is June 1. Have you got your proposal ready? Here are a few tips on improving the proposals that you submit.

Begin with the end in mind
TESOL provides a copy of the proposal rating rubric in the call for proposals.  Read it. What would you need to do in order to be sure that your proposal received a high score in each category?  Now write your session description with the rating rubric in mind.

Think of your audience
When we teach writing, we remind our students to think about the audience. Who will be reading what you write? TESOL proposals are reviewed by members of the Association’s 21 Interest Sections. Be sure that you take the time to familiarize yourself with these groups and choose the most appropriate one to review your proposal. Then think a little more deeply. If you selected the Secondary Schools Interest Section to evaluate your proposal, think about the concerns of average high school teachers. What is likely to be on their minds? Does your session description meet the readers where they live and address questions that they care about?

Be focused—but not too focused
You know how you have to advise your students when they are doing research projects about how to pick a topic?

There are two extremes: in one, the topic is so broad and general that it doesn’t really say anything in particular. And the other is that it is so specific that there isn’t anything that anyone else can learn from it. If you are planning to share your own experiences in the classroom, be sure to include an application section where you clearly describe how the lessons that you have learned can be transferred into another learning context for other teachers. In other words, don’t be overly self-centered. Be sure to consider the implications of your experience for other teachers.

Understand the difference between the abstract and the session description
When you submit your proposal you write up two different summaries of your presentation. One of these, called the abstract, is a 50-word paragraph that will appear in the conference program book if your presentation is accepted. So the main audience for this short summary is the convention-goers who are trying to decide between multiple events on the program. You want to entice participants to attend your session, but only by giving a clear and accurate description of what you will talk about. However, the reviewers of your proposal will also be basing their evaluation on the 300-word session description.  The main audience for this piece of writing are the members of the Interest Section who are peer reviewers of the proposals. In this piece of writing, you want to convince the proposal readers to select your presentation for the conference program. Remember, they will be evaluating it according to the five areas outlined in the proposal rating rubric found in the call for papers, but the convention-goers don’t get to see this, only the peer reviewers do.  Clear on the difference?

Don’t write your proposal online
There are two key written portions of your proposal: the abstract and the session description. Don’t write these in the online submission program. Write them on your computer in your word-processing program. Take some time to adjust and fine-tune them. When you are completely satisfied with them, and have had time to make revisions, then copy and paste them into the online submission system.

Write clear outcomes
One of the criteria for on the proposal rating rubric asks if your proposal contains clear outcomes.  What do you expect that participants will be able do or know at the end of the session? Consider adding a line near the end of your proposal that reads something like this: “At the end of the presentation, participants will be able to  . . . .”  This sentence should make clear the outcomes that you anticipate.

Demonstrate your scholarship
One of the criteria for selection asks if your presentation refers clearly to relevant theory, practice, or research. Don’t do this in a vague, general way. The reviewers want to know that you are up on the research or how your ideas connect with those of others in the field. Cite one or two experts and give the references. Use APA citation style.  “As Smith (2011) states, ‘Learners are more motivated when they are interested in the subject.’”

Let it sit for a while
It is difficult for most of us to be objective about our writing. We think that we write well and we like what we see. One way to help us look at our own writing more objectively is to leave it alone for a while and then return to it a few days later. You’ll often see ways that it could be improved after you have a little distance.

Get a second opinion
Surveys show that about 80% us think that we are above-average drivers—but this can’t possibly be the case!  Most of us think that our own writing and ideas are pretty good—but we can always benefit from the opinions of others. Print out a draft of your proposal and a copy of the proposal rating rubric. Ask a colleague to review it critically. Incorporate their suggestions into your draft.

Good luck in writing your proposals. Hope you’ll make it onto the program!  Do you have other ideas for how to write good proposals? Please add them in the comments below.

About Joe McVeigh

Joe McVeigh
Joe McVeigh works independently in the field of English language teaching as a consultant, author, and teacher trainer. For over 25 years he has taught at universities in the United States, including the California Institute of Technology, the University of Southern California, and the Bread Loaf School of English at Middlebury College. He has lived and worked in countries including China, India, Chile, the United Kingdom, Hungary, and Saudi Arabia. He has taught students from more than 50 countries. He is co-author with Ann Wintergerst of Tips for Teaching Culture: Practical Approaches to Intercultural Communication (Pearson Longman) and a co-author with Jennifer Bixby of two books in the Q: Skills for Success series (Oxford University Press). In addition to writing and consulting, Joe speaks at conferences and workshops, and maintains a blog and website on issues of interest to teachers of ESL. You can also find him on Twitter: @JoeMcVeigh. Joe is a past chair of TESOL's Intensive English Programs Interest Section and served on the TESOL Board of Directors from 1995-1998. He lives with his wife and son in Middlebury, Vermont, USA.
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6 Responses to Tips on Writing Successful Conference Presentation Proposals

  1. Nasiba says:

    The information given in this site is so informative and helpful that anyone who is new in TESOL can easily find necessary information

  2. Maya says:

    Dear Joe,

    Thank you very much for a very clear descriptions!
    It is very easy to follow!

    Warm regards,

  3. Robin Chontos says:

    I’m making a proposal to show my boss how a program would look under my supervision. The program already exists and I want to improve it

  4. Dr.Sami Al-m'amuri says:

    Dear Joe,

    I am recently writing a research about the difficulties faced by my students in learning English literature.I need your opinions,notes,comments about this topic and especially about desinging the questionnaire which will be the major instrument of the study by which I shall reach the major difficulties faced by the students.

    Best Regards..

    Dr.Sami Al-M’amuri
    Assistant Professor,
    TESOL Iraq Vice-President

    • Yolanda Molineros says:

      I would like to read your research. I was wondering if the title remained the same. I believe that you were already concluding that students had difficulties rather than finding that out. The purpose of research is to finding out what works or what does not work. If you already state a possible outcome in your title, then there is no purpose of investigating. For instance, a better title would have been “Students’ perceptions towards learning English Literature in an EFL Environment”.

  5. Dr.Sami Al-M'amuri says:

    Dear Joe,
    i am Dr.Sami,TESOL Iraq Vice-President.I would like to inform you that your blogs are highly appreciated by me and all members of TESOL Iraq.I shall be very thankful to you and everybody who may support our new TESOL association which is recently established.

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