Presenting at an industry event is an important step in any professional’s career. It is also an excellent opportunity to promote, showcase and reward a team for a job well done. But most importantly, it is a critical factor in keeping an industry relevant, competitive and strong. Every professional worth their salt should consider it their duty to share their successes and failures.
Of course, in order to present at an industry event, you must first submit a proposal in the form of a session abstract. Sourcing professionals are well-versed in writing business cases and category strategies, and we have all read our fair share of good and bad proposals. However, when it comes to writing a speaking proposal, many sourcing professionals don’t give it the time or energy it deserves. These abstracts are often used to describe your session, and if the goal is to share your thought leadership, you will want to make sure your abstract grabs your audience’s attention. Consider the following five tips to write a compelling proposal for your next industry event.
To write a good proposal, first define your objective for presenting to help drive the format and content. You may decide to present to showcase you or your team’s achievements and thereby gain recognition. Or you may use the opportunity to establish yourself as a thought leader on a particular subject. Presenting in a room of peers or potential clients can also help you better understand the trends in your industry and the needs of your stakeholders and customers.
What is your approach?
Define your approach so you know what voice to use and which person to bring with you to present. For example, a session recognizing a team initiative may require input from different people, resulting in a need for several session panelists, potentially even internal or external customers. At SIG events, our session formats range from interactive workshops to topic-based presentations and keynote discussions.
Who is your audience?
Event attendees walk into a session with expectations. Understanding your audience in depth means you can meet their expectations in real time, or at least help them relate your solution to their own problems. The best presenters provide examples and illustrate solutions so the audience “gets it.” Ask your event organizers about the attendees — their titles, roles, companies and current requests. Take a look at past presentations and submissions, and make note of the presenters and their profiles.
What does your audience want to hear about?
Look at current discussion boards in the industry membership community, including social media hashtags (like #sourcing, #procurement and #outsourcing) or LinkedIn discussion groups. Take a moment to read what your competition is pushing. Check to see if the event organizers conduct interest polls and collect requested topics. Poll your audience by asking just a handful of simple, thoughtful questions about their concerns, goals, success measurements, budgets, strengths and weaknesses. Join webinars and listen to what the facilitators and audience members are asking about and what needs further clarification.
From an analytical perspective, ask the event organizers how the success of your presentation will be measured. For example, SIG asks our session attendees to evaluate session presentations based on relevancy and usefulness of the content, as well as speaker knowledge and delivery. Scores and specific comments are passed back to presenters and used when SIG is evaluating future proposals. Most event organizers also use these session evaluations to suggest topics for focus and presentation.
How do you make your proposal stand out?
To make your proposal get noticed, begin by thinking of a problem and its solution, identify three or four learning objectives, then expand on the concept by writing to the audience you have identified. Consider what differentiates your topic from other presentations on similar topics and use action verbs and quantitative descriptors to set it apart. Make it easier on yourself down the line and write the abstract so you can easily build an outline from it and then subsequently use that outline to build your presentation slides.
One quick way to grab someone’s attention is with the title itself. Think about it from the perspective of the attendee who is scanning dozens of options. They need to be able to quickly identify what they will learn in your session. Here are some examples of presentation titles that stand out: “How to Save 25% in Corporate Travel Expenses,” “Breaking Down Blockchain: Why Best Class Procurement Organizations Are Using it to Manage Supplier Risk,” or “How to Make Your Transformation Stick.” You can view other examples here from SIG’s 2019 Fall Global Executive Summit.
And for goodness’ sake, check your spelling and grammar! As a sourcing professional, I am sure you have lost confidence in a supplier’s proposal because they did not spell a company name correctly, audit their math or accurately identify a source of information. So be diligent and review your work. Submit completed, checked work per all deadlines and within all guidelines. This includes the word count, which is important to the organizers — who tend to use the abstracts as descriptions in their event mobile apps, website and/or in printed guides.
Before you put pen to paper (or fingers to keys), carefully review the instructions and guidelines for completing your proposal abstract. Make sure you understand what is required of you to be considered, and how and when you must submit your proposal. Do not let a tool or deadline frustrate your efforts and derail your submission.
Like the sourcing event lifecycle, organizers need time to review proposals, get clarifications, write recommendations and make awards. Our consumers — the event attendees — need time to review their options (e.g., look at the agenda), make their business case to attend and book (affordable) travel. Pushing deadlines means event organizers lose opportunities to put attendees in your session. It also robs you of benefitting from constructive feedback.
Once you have confirmed your proposal submission, follow up with event organizers and show you are interested in presenting.
Take advantage of opportunities to promote the event and thereby your session. For example, SIG offers our presenters the opportunity to blog on our website, participate in our podcast and cross promote on our social media channels. Comments can clue you in before the session about how your solution may be understood and accepted or what your presentation may be lacking.
Once again, consider your obligation to your community and those who can learn from you. I have been reviewing supplier proposals and presenter abstracts for over 20 years. I have no idea how many initiatives, categories or suppliers that covers, but I DO know that I have learned at least one thing from every proposal I have ever read: Sharing is one way we can make a strong, competitive community that supports sustainable, healthy innovation.
Finally, keep in touch with your organizers. Bend their ears. Ask questions. Stay involved. Never hesitate to reach out to me about this topic, SIG or any of our events.
Mary Zampino is SIG’s vice president for content, research and analytics.