The Call for Papers (CFP) is the foundation of your event. If you do it right, you will attract expert speakers and serve as a blueprint for the event as you build a content program that fits your strategic vision. Expert speakers attract high-quality attendees and top sponsors – it’s critical to start out on the right foot! Despite the importance of a good call for papers process, we’ve all seen plenty of bad versions: clunky forms with unclear instructions that don’t collect enough relevant information for event planners to make smart selections. We’re taking a stand against bad CFPs! These three easy steps will help you set yourself up for success.
Ask the right questions
You need to collect just the right amount of information that helps you make an informed decision about a speaker’s proposed topic, without obscuring the info you need. Think very carefully about what type of content you’re looking for beyond an abstract. What type of audience are you hoping to cater your event to? What qualifications are you looking for in your speakers so that your audience finds them credible? Do you prefer a certain type of presentation style? Consider different ways of asking your potential speakers to explain their topics so that you get as complete a picture as possible of what they’d like to discuss – soliciting learning objectives is a tried and true method.
Equally important, don’t ask for information you don’t need. If you’re only going to check one reference, don’t ask speakers for three. Try to limit abstract information to the minimum amount of words you need to make a decision.
Keep it simple
Spare a thought for your proposed speakers trying to fill out your call for papers—unlike you, they haven’t spent hours thinking carefully about the form itself. By clearly defining your guidelines and expectations up front and being available to answer questions during the submission process, you’ll build goodwill among potential speakers and help ensure that the information you get is the information you need. The best way to check usability is to try the form yourself (or have a friend try it for you) before you push it live. As you go through the submission process, think about what your speakers will find important:
- What is the goal of the conference?
- Who are the attendees, i.e. is my expertise a good fit?
- What format will my session need to be in?
- What criteria will be used to review my session?
- When is the deadline to submit?
- When will I find out if I have been selected?
- How will I be notified?
- Who can I contact if I have a question?
Reach the right people
The best Call for Papers in the world doesn’t mean anything if no one submits one. Be sure to publicize your CFP early enough for people to have time to put their applications together – we’ve found that roughly six weeks in advance of the deadline tends to work well. When you’re ready to release your page into the wild, be sure to contact past speakers and directly reach out to industry experts you hope will attend—the personal touch is always appreciated!
Building a solid call for papers can be a tedious task, but it’s absolutely crucial if you want your event to be a hit. Take the time to build the foundation right, and you’ll be surprised at how well the event grows around you!