Organizers, here’s what is missing from your Call for Proposals

Here’s a note we received from someone in our speaker community:

“What does a submission look like? Does anyone have an example of a winning one? Is it just an essay; and if the event doesn’t give any specs, is there a common guideline? There’s a call for entries with <insert conference name here>, and the event theme is <>, and then it’s just an email address.”

If you’re looking to attract great speakers (especially those who are generally under-represented on stage) a vague call for speakers isn’t going to cut it.

It’s true — there are conferences that give very little information and expect speakers to spend time applying. The good news is most Calls for Proposals are a little better than that. However, many CFPs are still missing important information speakers want to know.

If your Call for Proposals isn’t including these details, it should be.


Here’s what someone curious about speaking at your conference wants to know:

Event Details

When and where is your event? You may think this is obvious when it’s on your homepage, but don’t make your applicants go looking.

What else can you tell speakers about your event? Is there a theme? Who is your audience? How many people are you expecting to attend (or have attended in years past)?

Talk Requirements & Selection Process

What types of talks are you looking for? Do you have certain formats? Should the talks fit under a certain theme or track?

Be specific about what information needs to be included. Provide details for how you select talks and specific criteria you evaluate. Link to past talks and proposals that have been accepted in the past.

Speaker Commitment

What is the commitment you will be asking of the speaker once they’ve been selected? Are they expected to deliver their presentation in advance? Will there be any required pre-conference meetings? Is there a talk revision process?

What is your ownership policy? Will you post all talks on a video streaming service after the event?

Code of Conduct

Does your event have a Code of Conduct? Include a link to it. Speakers don’t just want to know if there is a Code of Conduct, but how it will be enforced. That information should be included in the Code of Conduct itself. This is a priority for a lot of speakers, so it should also be a priority for you.

Speaker Compensation

What will speakers receive as compensation for speaking? Do they receive a free ticket? Will you cover their travel and hotel? Do you pay your speakers? (We strongly recommend all three.)

Is there anything else you offer that you want them to know about?

Accommodations

What accommodations do you offer? Are you willing to facilitate accommodations for speakers with disabilities? Do you offer child care? Special meals for dietary restrictions? Non-alcoholic beverages at receptions?

Timeline

When does the call for speakers close? When should applicants expect to hear back?

Don’t be afraid of overwhelming a speaker with too many details. The more the better. It takes work to put together a proposal, and the more information you can provide to help a speaker decide if it’s worth their time, the better.


Kudos to conferences that do this well!

  • While Clarity doesn’t have a call for speakers, they have a public page on how they select their speakers and what they offer them.
  • IAC (formerly IA Summit) does a good job outlining what they look for in talks and linking to resources to create a great proposal.
  • UX Australia offers a clear post on what they look for in proposal and an example of a successful submission.
  • We love XOXO’s inclusion policy.

Don’t just take it from us, these speakers share what they are looking for when they decide whether or not to speak at a conference:

There’s more work to getting a diverse speaker lineup than just putting out a well-crafted Call for Proposals. Individual outreach is important; so is structuring the event to be an inclusive space underrepresented speakers want to be part of. You can check out this article on “Why Women Say No to Speaking and What Conference Organizers Can Do About It.”

A special thanks to our speaker community, including Jenny Shirey, Soumia Fares, Vanessa Colina, Jenny Shen and Sarah Fathallah, who provided input on this article and Dorothy Levin for her edits.

What information do you look for in a Call for Proposals? Do you know another event that does it well? Want help implementing these for your next Call? Please reach out: contact@womentalkdesign.com


Women Talk Design is on a mission to see more diverse speakers on stage. We elevate brilliant women and gender non-binary speakers and their talks so organizers can better discover them, provide tools, information and resources to organizers on how to design more inclusive events, and offer training, events, and community for new speakers.