In 2010, one of my business partners at the time goaded me into submitting a speaking proposal for a state conference. Neither of us had presented at a conference before, so this would be a first for us both. What’s the worst that could happen?
Minnesota at the start of November. That’s what. I should have looked at the conference dates before we submitted. But who would ever ask us to speak?
In spite of the chill in the air, we had over 100 attendees listen as we talked about using social media to market a fledgling architecture firm during a recession. And since then, I’ve presented on various topics at close to 20 conferences across the US.
But this year, for the first time ever, I’ve been on the other side of the conference equation. Instead of submitting as a speaker, I’ve been a reviewer for the Texas Society of Architects 2021 conference. And suddenly I have a lot of sympathy for anyone who has ever reviewed one of my submittals.
The process itself has been both challenging and interesting. Very early on I was reminded of what participating in committee work can look like. As a one-man shop working on residential projects, I have grown very accustomed to dealing with individuals and couples. Suddenly there was not only 15 committee members but organization members higher up the food chain who would be providing some oversight and in some cases approval.
However, the biggest challenge was simply reading through the submittals. All 147 submittals. Especially since most came in the night before our first review meeting. While I had read through roughly 25 submissions prior, you could tell presenters were paying close attention to the deadline date. That morning I had another ten submissions to read. By lunch – another 25. And by that evening after dinner – when I could dedicate time to read – the remainder had shown up.
After reading some of the submissions, I started wondering how rambling some of my presentation summaries must have sounded, especially early on in my speaking career. So much so that I opened up that first presentation and reread what we sent in. Luckily, we were working with a speaking coach to assemble the 50-word summary and the longer synopsis. Something I highly recommend if you have the means.
I cannot tell you the number of presentations I read where clearly – while they were focusing on the due date – the person submitting clearly did not pay attention to word limits. Summary paragraphs that could double as presentation scripts. Speaker bios that encompassed entire careers. And what should have been single sentence learning objectives becoming paragraphs. All of which just added to my own worry about my past. Eek!
However, I did power through and finish reading and rating for our meeting the next day. And the best part? Reading a submission, thinking “That’s a session I would gladly sit through!”, and then being able to champion that session as we started whittling the list down to the 70 slots we had available.
If you’re wondering, none of those were mine. I opted not to submit this year. I thought better to get a peek behind the curtain, get an understanding of the process, and wait until next year. When I can send in my own rambling submittal and listen for the sighs from my fellow committee members.