Pitching Your Conference

Note: I am on leave through the end of the month. If you have a comment or question, you might have to wait a little longer than usual for me to respond.

Not every organization has a formal pitch process for hosting events. The space advocacy organization I worked with, however, did require a live presentation to the Board of Directors on top of a written proposal. No pressure, right? Anyhow, even if you don’t have to give a formal presentation to promote your event, it is likely that you’ll at least have to answer some verbal questions from the decision maker(s). In either case, the primary message of this post will be: Be Prepared!

Know Your Content, Know Your Audience

I was in a somewhat lucky position for the pitch meeting in that I was the primary proposal writer as well as the (assumed) conference chair. That helped when it came to making the verbal pitch because I knew the content very well and I knew how I wanted the conference to be run. Even so, I had to rehearse. Microsoft PowerPoint, in this case, was an excellent tool for keeping me on track. I tried–mostly successfully, with the help of my co-chair–to keep my primary presentation short: 10 slides, along with 10 for backup data, should it be requested. The structure was:

  • Proposal summary (1 slide)
  • Estimated other direct costs (2)
  • Site maps (3)
  • Open Issues (1)
  • Why NSS should choose Huntsville (1)
  • Q&A (1)

The audience, in this case, was the National Space Society Board of Directors, who were meeting during the 2009 International Space Development Conference (ISDC), the conference my chapter was bidding to run in two years. Fortunately, I knew or had met most of the people in the room; presentations, however, are their own special flavor of stress (some people fear them more than death). You are there to convince people to give you money and support for your cause. I don’t recommend it as a regular thing, but I think I lost a few pounds in sweat waiting for my turn to speak.

Win Themes

Obviously we won, or I wouldn’t have spent all these minutes and electrons writing about event management. As near as I can tell, our chapter won based on the following:

  • Content: it helps to have a NASA center in your town when you’re pitching a space conference
  • Previous chapter history with the conference: before my time, but the fact remained that we had people with experience running a successful conference whom we could tap for information/advice
  • Cost: Huntsville’s cost of living was and is pretty low compared to the rest of the U.S.
  • Potential for income: I was proposing bringing in large space companies to the exhibitors room that hadn’t made an appearance at ISDC in years, opening the door to making money through more booths and sponsors
  • People: our chapter, the Huntsville Alabama L5 Society (HAL5) was and still is a large, active chapter within the organization, making it easier to find people to do the work
  • Quality of presentation: I’m assuming I did a creditable job of making our case, staying on topic, and wearing a good suit to help me “look the part” of a responsible conference chair

Thoughts for Technical Writers

As this series has continued off and on, I’m certain that some of you have been wondering why I’ve been introducing the topic of event management into a blog about technical writing. The primary point of all these posts is to demonstrate that technical writers–even the introverted ones–CAN do this sort of thing, and I’m throwing out free advice to help you along so you don’t go in blind.

We communicate all the time, even verbally, when we’re interviewing subject matter experts or talking to our leaders or peers. The trick (for me) is to give your talk as if you were sharing a hobby with a friend: you’re excited about it, your audience doesn’t know what you know, and you want to share more.  You might have different strategies, but the bottom line is that you can put your technical communication skills to work in new ways by presenting in this type of forum. You’re organizing information, you’re trying to persuade, and you’re aiming to produce a favorable result (for you).

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About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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