Tips for leading a conference workshop

Esalen Big Sur - my favorite writing place

Esalen Big Sur – my favorite writing place

Since I participated at the Greater Los Angeles Writers Conference as both a workshop leader and panelist the end of June, it’s time to share a post I wrote for The Memoir Network’s Writers Blog in early May on this subject. I very much thank The Memoir Network’s founder Denis Ledoux for inviting me to write for his great memoir website. Here’s the post verbatim:

Promoting yourself as a writer

Participating in writing conferences, either as a panelist, lecturer, or as a workshop leader is a great way to get your name and book out in public and to network with other writers like you

Being a presenter comes with tasks, but the challenge is not impossible. I’d like to offer you some  guidelines to help you be as successful as you can be to:

  • Respond to a presenters’ request for proposal,
  • Adhere to a list of conference presenter’s guidelines, and
  • Develop a workshop that keeps the promises you proposed – in the specified allotted time.

I recently co-led a workshop at the Story Circle Network’s National Memoir Conference, Stories from the Heart, in Austin Texas, called Telling Healing Stories: Writing A Compelling Memoir. Now that the conference is over and I’ve reflected a bit, I’d like to offer some lessons I learned to inspire you and hopefully help make your conference presentation experiences easier.

1. Responding to A Conference Request for Presenters’ Proposals

The request for proposal we responded to was relatively short. It asked for the presentation title, synopsis, goals, methods, and benefits. However, I never let the brevity of a request fool me. In my many years experience working on proposals in the aerospace industry and writing grant proposals in the non-profit arena, I learned the most important aspects to responding to a request or list of guidelines are:

  • Answer each item explicitly, in the order given, and in specific and meticulous detail. Don’t just give one or two-word answers.
  • Deliver your proposal on or before the due date in the manner asked for, e.g., a word document by email, a prescribed electronic form to a provided link, or by snail mail, so after all your hard work, you won’t be disqualified.

2. Responding to the Conference Presenters’ Guidelines

Once we were accepted as presenters we received the conference’s presenters guidelines Paying attention to these guidelines is mandatory:

  • Know your audience. Do your research beforehand at the conference website to learn the work this organization does and the makeup of the likely attendees
  • Be prepared by asking for the right visual aids for your presentation
  • Deliver on the promises you proposed
  • Maintain control of the group – that is, don’t let anyone in the audience dominate the conversation. This can be prevented by requesting all questions be held to the end of the workshop.
  • Include writing and sharing by participants. Make sure you have a list of prompts ready, but allow the participants to write about anything they choose if they can’t relate to a prompt. Encouraging your audience to write is the key.
  • Teach, don’t pitch. This is tricky. Reading examples from your books should be related to the topics presented, not as a tool to sell your books. If your readings are compelling enough, your books will sell on their own merit.

3. Developing Your Workshop’s Content with a Timetable

In developing your workshop’s content continually remind yourselves to prepare a presentation that follows the proposal that has been accepted. Here are suggestions for a short one and a half workshop with the goal to inspire your audience to start writing their memoirs:

  • Introduce the workshop and yourself.
  • Ask each member of your audience to each say their name, say what they are writing and what they want to get out of the workshop
  • Present craft talks about some aspect of writing a memoir; e.g., plot, theme, structure, dialogue
  • Read briefly from your own memoirs or from other author’s memoirs that exemplify the topic of your craft talk
  • Provide opportunities for your participants to write in response to prompts geared to the craft talks. To break up the pace of the workshop, I suggest inserting a writing exercise after each craft talk and reading
  • Take a considerable amount of time developing your prompts in advance. It also helps to state them aloud, and write them down on large flip charts placed on easels in front of the room
  • Provide opportunities for your participants to share in small groups and with the full audience
  • Hold a short question and answer period at the end.

Establish a time limit for each segment of your workshop – down to the last minute – but be flexible enough to revise it as necessary. Because some parts of your workshop could take more or less time than anticipated, you need to be able to take away a reading, shorten periods for sharing, or even add another prompt to make up or fill in the time.

In addition to the above specific suggestions, I would like to leave you with some more general considerations

4. Hand Out A List of Resources and Other Take Aways

  • A list of resources could include of Books, Magazines, Blogs and Websites, Networks applicable to your workshop topic. I’ve posted the resource list that we gave out recently on my blog Choices. Please click here to take a look.
  • A brief synopsis of your workshop.
  • Bookmarks, business cards, or other logo gift items.
  • Signed books for sale.

5. Request in Advance the Audio Visual Equipment You’ll Need for Your Workshop

Come to your workshop room early to make sure it is set up and ready for your allotted start time. Some things to ask for are:

  • A table and chair at the front.
  • A pedestal or lectern or both
  • A microphone at the front for you the presenter and a few microphones around the room so members of the audience can be heard.
  • Flip charts, easel, and marking pens.
  • Projector and your own laptop if you are making a computer presentation with electronic slides.

I wish you all great success as a presenter at your next writers conferences.

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