Discover the 3 proven secret-weapons for writing great conference proposals (Part 1)

Posted on: October 26, 2011

Weapon #1: Inspired Outlines

Welcome to your first lesson on creating great conference proposals! Let’s start at the beginning … the idea.

The question is: do you have one?

You might be running on empty or have a few half-formed ideas that feel thick and foggy.

The solution: turn your idea meter to 11.

Step 1: Get Inspired 

The best way to get inspired is to allow your mind to relax. It’s that feeling that you get when you go for a long drive and set your mind to cruise control. You take in the scenery around you and just let your thoughts wonder.

Your first step is to reclaim that feeling.

Instead of thinking hard about your idea and getting a brain freeze – without the benefit of sugary goodness – stop thinking and instead:

  • Go for a drive
  • Take a long walk
  • Sit quietly and listen to some music
  • Visit a museum
  • Hang out in a cafe

Break your daily routine and expose yourself to the outside world so that you can get the mental stimulation necessary for new ideas.

Jot down topics that come to mind, and then follow the next step to nail down your focus.

Step 2: Nail Down Your Focus

Now that you have some topics in hand, it’s time to break out the ultimate weapon for helping you focus your proposal – the three sentence mini.

The three sentence mini is the ninja writing technique that guarantees that you will be able to clearly and concisely communicate your idea.

Say goodbye to rambling, tangents, and illogical points.

Here is how it works:

Pick a few of your favorite topics, and for each topic create three sentences that will form the foundation of your proposal outline.

The three sentences include: The Setup, The Plot, and The Point

The setup answers the question ‘why’ and leads the reader in, the plot is the difficultly or conflict that you are addressing, and the point is the message that you want to get across.

So let’s say that I wanted to write a proposal about ways to design for behavior change. My three sentence mini might be:

Designers are charged with changing user behavior to meet specific business goals (The Setup)

Rather than affect behavior change, existing techniques only serve to reduce friction in a design (The Plot)

Behavior change only arises when three key elements converge at the same time: motivation, ability, and a trigger. (The Point)

 Here is another example:

 I used to ride horses in competition, and every now and then, I’d take a fall. (The Setup)

Everything’s going well, you’re feeling great, and then the horse balks in front of a jump – you go arse over teakettle and land in the dirt. (The Plot)

You never learn how not to fall; you just get better at falling. (The point)

The Takeaway:

There is one more sentence that you have to write that is specific to conference proposals – the takeaway.

You need to answer: What are the key points that the audience will learn or take away from my presentation?

It is best to address this question in a bulleted format that lists 2 – 4 key takeaways.

Step 3: Expand Your Minis 

The last step in creating your proposal outline is to flesh out your mini by writing down three supporting points for each of your three sentences, as follows:

Designers are charged with changing user behavior to meet specific business goals

  • By eliciting targeted behaviors within the product, such as submitting a rating
  • Increasing the duration of a specific behavior
  • Helping users achieve lasting behavioral change

Rather than affect behavior change, existing techniques mainly serve to reduce friction in a design (The Plot)

  • Reducing friction often means improving the usability of the product
  • Reducing friction is a good first step towards behavior change
  • The next step is to strategically incorporate concrete triggers into the design

Behavior change only arises when three key elements converge at the same time: motivation, ability, and a trigger. (The Point)

  • Motivation arises from pleasure, pain, or fear
  • The ability to change depends on physical or mental effort, time, or money
  • No behavior happens without a trigger

Key Takeaways

  • The three key elements of behavioral change
  • Questions your team should ask when designing for behavioral change

Now that you have your outline, double check that your points are logical and work to support the main statement.

Use it Today

Congratulations! With the completion of your outline you have the majority of your proposal already written.


Now just use the outline to create a narrative and get set for tomorrow when you will learn the second secret weapon: How to Create Catchy Headlines

[Disclaimer: The ideas presented in this blog are not original. I learned all of the techniques from a great writing course called Damn Fine Words ]


3 Responses to "Discover the 3 proven secret-weapons for writing great conference proposals (Part 1)"

This is a MUST READ for anyone submitting to the 2012 IA Summit!

Thank you for writing this Alla!

Thanks for your comment Jill, I am glad that you found it to be helpful! :)

[…] there are four slides for each idea. The inspiration for them is taken from Alla Zoller’s how to write great conference proposals post where she in part 1 talks of ‘The setup’, ‘The plot’ and ‘The […]

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Alla Zollers

I design products and services that just. make. sense.

When products make sense, customers are happy.

If customer are happy, they sign-up, stay on site, engage, share, and buy your product or service.

Happy customers allow companies to profit in both senses of the word.

I provide the following services:

• Heuristic Evaluations
• Discovery Research
• Strategy and Vision Development
• Information Architecture
• User Experience Design
• Usability Testing

You can find me on:

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