Guest post: What Makes a Good Session Proposal?

To help SNAP members prepare for the 2015 annual meeting, the SNAP blog invited a former program committee member to share his advice on how to create a strong session proposal. Feeling inspired? Share your idea for a session on the SNAP roundtable coordinating spreadsheet to find collaborators and participants. 

Guest post by Arian Ravanbakhsh

The SAA deadline for the Call for Proposals for the 2015 meeting is next week. I’ve been asked to share some of my thoughts about how to write good session proposals. I am happy to do so. Of course, the big caveat is that these are my impressions. Others may and probably will disagree, but I hope this is helpful.

First, some background. I have served on SAA program committees for both the 2009 meeting in Austin and the recently concluded 2014 meeting in Washington. To be clear, I was appointed by NAGARA to represent their members on the 2014 program committee, partly because of my experiences in 2009. I have also co-chaired 2 program committees for MARAC.

Every program committee wants to build the best meeting. This means trying to include sessions that will be of interest to as many members as possible. While every member of the committee comes with a particular interest (mine are government and electronic records), my experience is that the Committee chairs and SAA work hard to seek the widest range of representation from all corners of the profession.

It is a numbers game on some level. Last year, every committee member reviewed and ranked nearly 150 session proposals for the 70 or so available slots. I am certain some potentially great sessions were left off the program. Just as I am certain that some sessions that looked great on paper may not have come off as well when they were presented. However, I am very proud of the work our committee completed.

Here are my tips for what makes good session proposals.

Be as complete as possible. Try to have all speakers for your session selected. While committees are willing to work to improve sessions that are partially filled, it helps to have a full slate of speakers and a clear description of what you are proposing.

Be flexible. Sometimes, the committee may come back to you asking for certain changes to be made. These are the result of careful deliberations by the committee and are designed to improve the quality of the proposal.

Think about audience. Proposals that have the potential to appeal to a wide audience across the profession will be well-received.

Session submissions are stronger when they include many different voices. Personally, I like sessions where there are a variety of collections or institutions represented. However, this does not mean that a drill-down session about how your institution was able to tackle one particular thorny archival challenge will be rejected.

Consider format, but do not presume that the committee is only looking for “non-traditional” formats. We are all familiar with the “three talking heads” session format. However, that might just be the best way to convey your particular idea. All of the professional organizations that I am associated with, down to my college Alumni Board, are thinking about new and creative ways to present session topics. If you have a creative idea, by all means go with it.

Even if you follow all of these, it is possible that your session will not be accepted. It is not personal. It does not mean that your idea does not have merit or value. In the end, it might just be numbers.

I’m happy to answer questions here or at @adravan. Good luck with your session proposals for Cleveland!


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