Blog | November 24, 2014

What Makes For A Good Industry Session Conference Proposal?

Source: Life Science Leader
Rob Wright author page

By Rob Wright, Chief Editor, Life Science Leader
Follow Me On Twitter @RfwrightLSL


When I asked Jordan Warshafsky, partner at Ashton Tweed, why he decided to serve as a member of the 2015 BIO International Convention educational program planning committee he replied, “Given that this year’s Convention is being held in my hometown, I thought that being a committee member was a way of giving back.  I hope that being a member will, in some small way, begin to repay my gratitude for all those who have helped me get to where I am today.” With nearly 400 submitted session proposals in five different focus areas, Warshafsky and committee peers have had to review an average of 80 submissions, rank on a five point scale, submit comments, as well as participate in a 90 minute conference call (one per focus area) to discuss the merits of each. In addition, committee members will finalize their decisions with an in-person meeting prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. It is quite a commitment. In an effort to help folks interested in submitting future session proposals to BIO, or any conference for that matter, here are some insights as to what committee members are looking for so you can increase the odds of your proposal being accepted.

What Are Committee Members Looking For In A Session Submission?

Prior to the formal review process, I asked committee members Warshafsky and Stephen Tang, University City Science Center president & CEO, what they were looking for when reviewing this year’s proposals. Here is what they had to say.

Warshafsky: “I want our attendees to walk away from each session with at least one idea they can implement tomorrow. The key factors I look for are the quality of speakers, timeliness of topic, how well done is the proposal (as that tends to foreshadow how well the session will be),  the lack of self-promotion, and finally, its educational value.”

Tang: “I look for the uncommon:  topics, speakers, points of view, and timeliness that can’t be found anywhere else. When the audience leaves a session buzzing with excitement and chatting with each other about what they just heard, that’s the mark of success. Be bold, be relevant, and above all, be provocative!”

While I agree with their suggestions, I have a few additional recommendations to add.

Five Tips To Help Get Your Proposal Accepted

In reviewing all of the 400 session submissions, as well as the grading sheets, there are a number of consistent things that result in a session receiving a low score. So here are some best business practices you can apply when submitting session proposals to BIO, as well as other conferences.

  1. Know Your Audience. BIO has a lot of cross appeal. Thus, if you are going to submit a session that is highly specialized, it is not likely going to score well. While the speakers may be great and well researched, it might be a better fit for a highly specialized conference. Here is what one reviewer had to say about a submission that missed the mark, resulting in a rating of a “1” (low): “Utopian discussion, but no take homes for attendees.”
  2. Submit A Complete Form. Many of the sessions had fairly incomplete session submissions (e.g., missing an elevator pitch, panelists who had not yet been contacted). If you are going to take the time to submit a session, take the time to do it well and make it complete. For example, this reviewer gave a session submission a “5” (a high ranking), noting: “Excellent topic which should attract a large audience. Great panel, all speakers confirmed. Outstanding!”
  3. Title Your Session As If It Were Your Baby. One consistent problem I noticed with proposals is that many had titles that were overly academic; blatant commercials for a city, country, company or industry; or provided little enticement to get people in the room. Take the time to review Google for a few titling tips, because that is often the first thing people read. Like it or not, people have biases. If you want to reduce the likelihood of creating a negative bias right out of the gate with a bad title, then have a better title. In fact, write the title before you write the proposal. A reviewer had this to say on one submission:. “Very relevant topic – title may need work to explain content.”
  4. Submit Your Proposal To The Proper Focus Area. While it may be difficult sometimes to decide if your session is a general interest topic or not, it should not be difficult to determine if you have a session proposal on intellectual property (IP) and the conference has an IP track, where it should be submitted. Submitting a session for the “wrong home,” shows inattention to detail, results in people double grading, and is honestly not a good way to set yourself up for success. Here is a comment from a reviewer to make my point. “Is this about comparing various approaches and pipelines to see what the measure of differentiation can/should be? Or is it about establishing the differentiation with payers, in which case, this should be move[d] to the Value track instead of R&D. The title is really too long, needs an editor to tighten it up, and type together the description/methodology to the title. This could make a compelling program, but still not sure if it belongs in R&D or Value Track!”
  5. Confirm Your Speakers. One of the biggest ways to get your proposal accepted is to have your speakers confirmed. Reviewers have a hard time considering and highly ranking a proposal that sounds very good on paper, but there is a chance that one or more speakers might not show. For example, a reviewer who graded a session a “2” (low) had this to say: “This session presents a risk of sounding like a sales pitch for the 3 companies mentioned; subject not likely to be of broad interest, 2 of 3 panelist not confirmed.”

While I applaud anyone who responded to my challenge of being BIO Change Agents, I would suggest to those people whose proposals that don’t get selected this year, take the time next year to put together a better and complete submission. To learn more about the BIO educational planning process, be sure to check out their website for other suggestions on how to submit a winning proposal.