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Conference Speaker Proposals: FDIC and More

Having just weeded through a very large queue of FDIC 2016 speaker proposals, I thought I might share some tips and pearls for prospective conference speakers and presenters.  Three times or more each year, I cull through speaker proposals, grading and selecting those I believe would best serve the needs of FDIC, EMS Today (our sister magazine "JEMS" annual conference) and Pulse Check (a small New York State EMS Conference).  Some conferences limit the number of submissions, others don't.  FDIC allows only two submissions per person, which implies a need to make each submission count.  As a reviewer and conference advisory board member, I have some opinions to share.  There are three imperatives every submitter should keep in mind:

  1. Pick a sexy title - if a title catches the eye of a reviewer, it will likely bring attendees into a classroom.  It should also be short so it can be read quickly, and tell people what you are going to present.  Not feeling creative?  Look around: newspaper and magazine articles can provide some inspiration.  Some conferences have very creative titles: Eagles, an EMS Medical Directors conference held annually in Dallas, is run by Paul Pepe, an EMS doc with an incredibly creative flair.  So much so that he often retitles his presenter talks to make them more appealing. Visit the Eagles here.  No matter how much you like it, don't ever steal a title from another presenter.  Stealing will invariably come back to bite you.
  2. Follow directions -  virtually every stack of speaker proposals I have ever reviewed had a half dozen or so proposals that didn't follow directions.  Some contain blanks in critical places, others don't provide the information requested (for example, writing a description of a program in a box that asks for learning objectives).  At times, submission forms or platforms can be confusing, or even redundant.  Regardless, when you finish inputting a submission, it should contain a talk title, your name, affiliation and title, a talk description, outline, learning objectives, your bio and your contact info.  If any of these basics are missing, you probably misread the instructions.
  3. Have someone help you - no presenter should hit the "submit" button until they have someone else review the proposal.  Get a friend (preferably someone who can proofread for grammar and spelling) to look your proposal over to make sure they can understand what you intend to speak about and how you will deliver the talk.  Use a spell checker and if one is not available with the submission platform, cut and paste your material from a spell checked word processing document.  Nothing says, "I'm not a spectacular presenter" more than horrible spelling and grammar.  If you know an author or someone who speaks at conferences, they would likely be more than willing to look your proposal over.

Once you submit a speaker proposal, it runs through multiple layers of review.  The conferences I sit on advisory boards for all use multiple reviewers for each proposal.  Some score the proposals, others ask for Yes/No and, "explain why."  This is where things get a bit tricky.  For starters, every proposal is a small fish in a big sea.  The size of the ocean can kill your submission right off the bat.  For example, last year (FDIC 2015), there were literally two dozen proposals on autism.  This year, there was a plethora of proposals on behavioral health as well as cancer in firefighters.  When your submission happens to address the same topic submitted by a couple dozen others, reviewers lean towards selecting known subject matter experts (if you're reading this post, that probably is not you).  Another 'size of the ocean' phenomenon pertains to the type of sessions.  There are far more 90 minutes classroom sessions at FDIC than there are 4 hour HOT classroom sessions yet both tend to get equal numbers of submissions.  Putting your chips in the bigger pool (90 minute classroom sessions) increases the likelihood of being selected. 

Not every proposal can be successful and not every presenter can get onto every program.  I am fond of letting people know that my own submissions to speak at FDIC are often rejected.  The same happens to big names like Rick Lasky, John Salka, and Alan Brunacini.  Don't take it personally and try to learn from the experience.  The staff who process submissions for any conference are more often than not very happy to provide feedback on why your submission(s) weren't selected.  All you have to do is ask.

Mike McEvoy

EMS Editor

Fire Engineering 

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Comment by John K. Murphy on July 13, 2015 at 10:19am

Great tips Mike

John - Fire Service Lawyers

Comment by Assistant Chief Billy Greenwood on July 13, 2015 at 8:34am

Thank You Mike for providing a first hand look and insight brother.

Billy Greenwood; Tap the Box on FE Radio

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