In 2009, I submitted was I thought was a killer proposal for BlogWorld. I waited several months to hear back, but I wasn’t worried. Surely they would pick my proposal. It was brilliant, how could they not?
Needless to say, I was rejected.
To say I was disappointed was an understatement. Several scenarios ran through my mind:
- Did my proposal suck?
- Did I get bad reviews from my talk the year before?
- Do the people at BlogWorld not like me?
It’s a year later, and I’m the first person who goes through all of the proposals for BlogWorld. I’m going to do another post about the proposal picking process (how’s that for an alliteration?) in a couple of days, but for now I want to say that I’m in a position to understand why some proposals are picked and others aren’t – and I’d like to share that with you.
It’s about the proposal, not the person
There’s one thing I’d like to stress because so many of my friends submitted proposals for BlogWorld. It’s a proposal we don’t accept, not a person. I’m supposed to say it’s not personal, but it is. It’s not personal because we don’t make decisions based on personal feelings, but it’s personal because we’re faced with a dilemma of whether or not to choose our friends, even if they might not have submitted a strong proposal. If we don’t accept our friends’ proposals, how will they take it? Will it ruin our friendship?
I hope not, but I think I’ll find out who my real friends are this month.
The Form Letter
Here’s where I expect to receive the most criticism.
If we didn’t accept your proposal, you’re probably going to receive a form letter from me. I hate that it’s a form letter but truth be told, we received almost 500 proposals and have about 125 speaking spots to fill. This means I have to send 375 notices to people. As much as I hate sending the same letter to everyone, I don’t know how else I can expedite the process. I apologize in advance for being so impersonal. Last year, when my proposal wasn’t accepted, I didn’t understand why my friends at BlogWorld would send me a form rejection letter. Now I understand it better. I’m not making an excuse for it, because form letters suck. Just want you to understand where I’m coming from.
Reasons why we probably didn’t accept your proposal
There are many reasons we don’t accept proposals and many times it’s not what you think. Granted, we do receive some clunkers, but mostly it’s a matter of choosing the strongest talks and speakers.
Here’s a look at why we may not have accepted your proposal:
- No space: How do you choose the best of the best? The truth is, if we want to make BlogWorld a quality event we’re going to have to go through every proposal and choose the standout talks and speakers. It doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with a big name, either. Moreover, when we say we only have 120 – 125 spots to fill, that’s not for one track. For example, the content and mobile tracks only have four spots to fill a piece. The main reason a speaker proposal didn’t make the final cut is simply because we can’t choose everyone.
- Bad reviews from previous talks: Sometimes a speaker didn’t receive very good reviews from prior BlogWorld speaking gigs. It might mean that person wasn’t prepared or that he or she wasn’t a very strong speaker. We have to feel confident that we’re choosing speakers who are prepared and engaging. If we have to narrow down the best of our speakers, we might be hesitant to accept someone who received complaints from the last speaking engagement.
- No speaking experience: We all have to start somewhere, right? While we do choose first time speakers, the truth is, some times we don’t. This happens when several people submit the same type of proposal and we have to choose the strongest or most knowledgeable speaker for the gig.
- Not a strong proposal: If you took five minutes to write up a proposal that says nothing, it shows.
- Not a strong speaker: Sometimes shyness or a loss for words can work against a speaker.
- Not an original proposal: We received a bunch of the same proposals. The top talks including legal issues, branding, blogs to books and clouds. If you based your proposal on a popular topic, understand that others are going to do the same. Your best bet is to choose a unique topic, but not so unique no one will be interested.
- Your talk won’t fill seats: Perhaps you had a good idea, but it’s a little too focused. The problem with this is when you get too nichey it’s not going to fill seats. With so little space available, we need to choose the talks that will fill a room.
- It’s a sales pitch: No, no, a thousand times, no. If the pitch is only about you or your company it won’t be considered. We have booth space available for those looking to promote their wares.
- It’s not relevant to BlogWorld: We received some topics that are relevant to other conferences such as SXSW or Web 2.0, but they’re not BlogWorld talks. If you don’t know much about BlogWorld or our audience, it’s probably best to do some research first. This especially holds true if you’re a P.R. person pitching for a client. It’s best to first find out of your client is a good fit.
- We received it after deadline: Just because the form is up, doesn’t mean we didn’t see you sneak it in past the deadline. We did have the form up for a couple of months, so that should be enough to craft a proposal.
- You didn’t propose anything: Sometimes folks will fill out the form asking us to consider them for a panel, but without including a proposal. We may or may not do that but we prefer to see a proposal.
- A proposal wasn’t very well written: Please take time to proofread proposals. If it’s riddled with misspellings and grammatical errors we don’t have faith in your ability to take the time to put together a quality talk.
Those are the main reasons we might not have accepted your proposal.
To say this is a tough job is an understatement. I have an obligation to the BlogWorld attendees to provide the absolute best content possible. Tickets are $600 – $1200 a pop so if folks are going to come, they have to walk away with useful, actionable information. As someone who attends BlogWorld every year (even before I was hired) I can say there’s nothing worse than shelling out the cash for ticket, airfare and hotel and walking away with a lackluster experience. So the pressure is on.
The reason I’m doing this series is because so many potential speakers had questions about their proposals, and I hope this helped. Next, we’ll look at the process the BlogWorld team goes through in choosing speakers. (Expect to read about marathon conference calls and bad Arnold Schwarzeneggar impersonations.)
If you have any questions about your proposal or submitting a proposal for future events, feel free to contact me at email@example.com and I’ll answer your questions and concerns to the best of my ability.
Deb Ng is the Conference Director for BlogWorld and blogs about blogging and social media at Kommein. Feel free to follow her on Twitter @debng.
Coming from the guy who has had to do this for four years now, I have to say great post Deb! Telling people they didn’t get accepted is hard. We had over 300 speakers last year because I obviously suck at it 8).
Many of these proposals come from good friends, even more from acquaintances that we like, even more from people I personally would pay to hear speak, even more from people who will can benefit our event in other ways (like sponsorship dollars) if we accept their talk but we have to make very hard choices.
I will add another reason, sometimes we have to tell amazing speakers no simply because they have been on the stage at Blogworld several times already and we have to give new speakers a chance and our audience some diversity of views and style.
We have an very big responsibility to this community, and to this industry. We are the industry event for new media and we have to present the best content, the best speakers and a well rounded program that represents as many voices and perspectives in our industry as we possibly can. Dave and I take that responsibility very seriously and we know you do too.
You have done an excellent job throughout this process Deb. I know you can take the heat and in the end our attendees and everyone else involved in the event will thank you for the hard work and dedication you have put in to make this our best conference yet.
Let me be the first to say it….
Ps. I know Jim Turner can relate to where you are in the process right now.
A great post Deb.
Hang in there – in the end, you guys will have a killer show and everyone will say “wow, that was worth it!” and you’ll get twice as many proposals next year.
From someone who got the form letter telling me “not those panels this year” herself.
Rick has made some great points too. I’ll second his Thank You.
This is an awesome post Deb. I can remember the stress that we dealt with last year in telling people no, even though it was a great presentation it just didn’t fit for many of the reasons above. I think many conferences and of course Blog World for years to come can point to this post and give people a feel for the issues facing the conference director.
So do you think you can sneak me in on a panel? 😉
As someone who is just starting to speak at conferences and submit proposals, this is really helpful. It is hard to not take it personally when you aren’t picked, but there are so many factors and there are also other conferences. I’m finding that starting out local is best when you are just starting out.
Although you do realize that if you continue to give such good advice, you are making your job harder. LOL! Next year you’ll get 500 perfect proposals. 😀