Giles on Crafting a Proposal

Write from your experience

The things you care about — the projects that have got you really excited or the IA discussions you find yourself having by the water cooler or in the pub — those are the things you’re most likely to want to talk about at the conference.

That could mean a specific project you’ve worked on. At last year’s IA Summit, Tim Caynes talked about his experience designing mobile wallets. Or it could be a topic that runs through your work (Johanna Kollman spoke about how to apply ideas from systems analysis to IA projects — an important topic for her).

You don’t need to be a world expert — but you do need that personal connection. A great conference presentation comes from a speaker who has spent time living and working with the ideas they’re presenting and who cares about the topic.

Keep a list of ideas

These days, I keep a document on my smartphone for ideas and useful references and links (because I know I’ll always have my phone with me). Often just writing an idea down sets off a whole string of other ideas that become the basis for a talk.

When I look back, I discover there are themes and connections that run through the notes I’ve made. Don’t let those moments of insight, discovery or inspiration fade away. Write them down.

Make time

You’ll need time write a proposal. Time to read through the application form, to write out your ideas, discuss them with a friend and then to finally submit the proposal. I’ve found that chatting through ideas helps improve them vastly.

My guess is that all that effort adds up to 4 hours of work, minimum, and as much as 8 hours if you’re doing a thorough job.

So put time for those activities in your diary — especially the one about discussing it with a friend. Not only will you get vital feedback, you’ll also make a public commitment to writing your proposal — so you’re more likely to see it through.

Offer a new perspective

As you’re developing your idea, ask yourself how you can offer a new or unexpected perspective on a topic. It might be by finding something surprising or counter-intuitive in your topic or it might be by finding out what’s unique about your approach or it might be by fusing two seemingly unrelated ideas (‘what the Aztecs can teach us about taxonomy’ — I’ll give you that one for free). Recognizing a new perspective can get you (and your reviewers) excited about your topic.

Go for it

I’ve been wondering what it is that makes some people submit proposals while lots of great people never seem to step up to the mic. So I’ve asked the people I admire the most: how did you get started? The common thread seems to be that someone told them they ought to give it a try. That’s the only difference — not experience or opportunity or super powers, just a word of encouragement.

So let me tell you now: you could be a great speaker at IA Summit 2013. Even if you’ve never spoken at a conference before. Any questions?