What Makes a Proposal Great?

KickballSubmitting a session proposal for a conference is a little like a game of kickball in the school gymnasium. The game is going to be played (submit your proposal), teams are going to be picked by the captains (selection committee picking concurrent and speed sessions) and someone will get benched (your proposal wasn’t selected.) But all the players know, we will play kickball again.

When we are disappointed, naturally, many of us think “What could I have done differently?” “Why was this proposal not chosen?”

I spoke with Liz Verhalen, Director of Professional Development at TABS and we identified characteristics of a great proposal.

  1. School Partnership – Companies are smart to align themselves with a school that utilizes their product or service. Partnering with a school provides increased credibility and a platform for thought leadership. The attendees that select your session will know they aren’t getting a sales pitch but will learn how your product or service was implemented at a school, what the school has learned using your product, as well as the challenges and successes the school faced.
  2. Educational, not Promotional – TABS Annual Conference is not a tradeshow. The conference is designed each year to provide the best in professional development for our member schools. Companies that present need to assure the audience they will teach them something, not sell them something. When writing your proposal be sure it focuses on education and not pitching your products or services.
  3. Variety – TABS makes an effort to rotate corporate proposals in and out throughout the years. If you submitted a proposal and were selected, you may not be selected the following year and vice versa. Look back at the previous year’s program to see what sessions were presented and what was missing. TABS works to provide a variety of topics, schools, and companies presenting at the conference each year.
  4. Track Selection – Some tracks fill quickly. Being a boarding school conference the two most popular tracks are academic and residential life. Other tracks such as legal, health and wellness, and advancement/marketing have more wiggle room. Think outside the box – can your proposal fit into another category?
  5. Winning Title – Make sure you have a winning title, your proposal is clean and makes sense, is grammatically correct, and isn’t a sales pitch. The selection committee reads hundreds of proposals. A great title grabs their attention. This exercise is much like submitting a cover letter and resume – you want yours to rise to the top. Having punctuation errors or misspelled words is a sure fire way your proposal will get noticed for the wrong reasons.

In 2014 TABS received 200 proposals. For the 2015 conference they received 250 proposals. That is a 25% increase in the number of proposals that were received and vetted by the committee. There was space for 88 concurrent sessions and 22 speed sessions for a total of 110 available sessions. This means that 140 proposals would not make the cut. Using the guidelines above will give you and your company the best chance at being noticed and selected. Additional tidbits for a great proposal have been written about in a previous blog post. Keep all of these tips in mind as you continue to work with your customers and think ahead to the next call for proposals opening. TABS looks for proposals that will deliver great professional development to their members, make yours one of them!

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