Tips for Strengthening Session Proposals

Preparing for the Annual Meeting program is similar to the publishing process for a professional journal. Papers are submitted, peer-reviewed and selected by certain criteria, sometimes revised to provide the best product, and compiled as a program that should address a theme and topics of concern to diverse perspectives and constituencies and to archivists at all levels of experience.

Following are some factors that the Program Committee members consider when deciding which sessions to include in the final Annual Meeting program.

Be sure to read the full Call for Proposals to gain an understanding of the meeting theme..

Then read the Program Proposal Submission Form completely before formulating your proposal. The goal of the Form is to help the Program Committee understand your plan. To make a more effective case for acceptance, you should give emphasis to why you are proposing the session, the speakers’ experience, what the audience will know or be able to do after participating in the session, and how the speakers will engage the audience in learning. Proposals must be complete, including all information related to speakers. The Program Committee may request modifications to proposals.

Describe the session briefly and clearly. Is this a description that will entice a majority of the Program Committee members to think that the session will be of value and interest for a significant number of archivists? Writing the session description may be very challenging because it has to be so brief (just 75 words), but this will also aid in focusing your ideas. So—

  • State the purpose of the session, and how the content relates to the program theme or suggested priorities;
  • Consider the best method(s) to engage the audience;
  • Be as specific as you can;
  • Avoid jargon; and
  • Explain why the session is importan (i.e., what is unique or of value to the profession).

Complete the proposal form fully. The Program Committee will pull together an entire 60- to 80-session program in about two days of work. Session proposals that include only some of the desired speakers, that are missing the name of the chair, or that are missing speaker agreements are very difficult to assess, especially when compared to proposals that are complete. Submit a fully fleshed-out session proposal, including the names of all speakers and their agreements to participate.

Define and consider your audience. Think about who will find your session attractive—and will actually attend it. Correlate the intended audience with the session description. The content and skills learned should be appropriate to the audience. Specialized sessions—sessions for one subgroup of the profession—are valuable components of the program. But if your session proposal is competing against several others on the same topic or with the same objectives, the Program Committee may look for other factors, such as whether you have included a perspective on the topic that might be of interest to non-specialists. Think about including the perspective of a government archivist or records manager on the topic.

Balance the list of speakers. Tell us why these are the best speakers for this session. The ideal list of speakers includes individuals who are knowledgeable on a topic, who can address it from a variety of perspectives (whether institutional, geographical, or other) and who are willing to engage the audience. So—

  • If your topic is applicable to a variety of types of institutions but all your speakers are from university archives, or if your topic is applicable in any state but your speakers are all from Minnesota, you may want to consider inviting a government archivist or museum archivist, for example, to participate.
  • Similarly, consider a list of speakers that includes both “veterans” and people who are newer to the profession. This diversity can strengthen the appeal of your session. If it appears that all the speakers are saying essentially the same thing, the proposal probably will not be competitive.
  • How will the speakers interact with the audience? Are they willing to try different methods of presentation in consideration of the session’s objectives and target audience?

Select the right format. Is the session format appropriate for the objectives and planned activities? Allow time for presentations and for interaction with the audience. If your proposal is narrowly defined, a special focus session may be the best option. Panel discussions can be enlightening, but only if the panelists and chairperson have some remarks prepared in advance and an idea of how to focus the discussion. If your session is a work in progress, make sure the key players in the project are involved. If you have questions about choosing a format, please ask a Program Committee member.

Consider a poster presentation. A poster presentation is a report in which information is summarized using brief written statements and graphic materials, such as photographs, charts, graphs, and/or diagrams, mounted on a poster board measuring four feet high by six feet wide. Posters will be on display throughout the conference. Presenters will be assigned a specific date and time at which they must be at their poster to discuss it with participants.

Talk to us! Program Committee members want to explain how this process works and give you feedback about how you might strengthen your session. We can help you think of possible participants or help you develop your topic. If we know about your idea in advance of the deadline, we may be able to connect you with another similar or incomplete session that has just what yours needs. In short, we are ready and willing to work with you as necessary to ensure the strongest possible group of proposals.

A list of Program Committee members is available in SAA's online Leader List. (To access contact information, users must log in.)


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