One of the top reasons to attend a conference is education. Which means it’s important to source the best content and speakers. Reducing the amount of time it takes meeting planners to do this is never a bad thing, either. A well-designed abstract management system submission process will help you achieve both.
Where the Abstract Management Process Usually Gets “Messy”
On paper, running a call for papers should be pretty simple. Prospective authors and speakers fill out a form providing details of their paper or proposal. A designated team reviews and scores them to determine which ones best fit the criteria of the conference, adding the selected presentations to the conference schedule.
The problem is, it’s never that simple.
Most of us will run into at least one of these challenges during a call for papers:
- You realize after your call for papers has started that you need information you forgot to ask for
Luckily, you can modify your submission form even when your open call is in-progress. But you’ll still need to ask anyone who has completed a submission to return to the abstract management system and complete the new fields—while hoping they actually do.
- Information provided by submitters is missing, wrong, or inconsistent
This may hinder your ability to accurately score a submission. And, it creates a lot of work for you and your team to clean up the data before it can be published to your event materials.
- You don’t have everything you need to create final conference materials
Perhaps you didn’t plan to ask for final speaker assets until after they were accepted. Or maybe you only received a headshot in a format suitable for the website, not a printed program book. In either case, you will spend more time trying to get your accepted speakers to come back into the system and provide outstanding files.
You can avoid most of these issues—and save yourself a lot of time—by making some easy changes to your abstract and speaker submission forms.
Here Are 7 Ways to Increase the Quality of Your Abstract and Speaker Submissions
- Start with the end in mind
Before setting up your submission fields, make a detailed list of what author, speaker, and session information will be featured in your final event materials like your mobile app, program book, or online agenda. Reverse-engineer your submission form to collect this information in the right format.
For example, do you need a 50-word session description for the mobile app and a 150-word description for the online agenda? Make sure to ask for both so you don’t have to chase it down later or edit it yourself. Will speaker bios include credentials and affiliations? How will those be listed? Make sure you specify this on your submission form so you don’t have to clean up the data for consistency later.
- Include helpful tools and examples in your submitter instructions
A great speaker submission starts with great instructions.
Instructions help submitters determine whether their topic is a good fit for the conference. They also and provide information on the submission process and timeline. While this is a great starting point, you can take it a step further.
Provide users with tools to help them create a better submission such as:
- Visual examples of a preferred vs. incomplete submission
- Templates to help them organize their information
- An AP Style Guide to help enhance their writing
- Divide your submission process into rounds
When you open your call for abstracts, you want to get all the information you need so you don’t have to chase it down later.
At the same time, you don’t want your form to be too long or complicated. This could deter potential submitters.
One way to strike the right balance is by breaking your submission process into rounds.
Use the first round to collect everything you need to evaluate a submission for your conference. Use a subsequent round to collect information from your accepted speakers for your final conference materials.
- Break up fields into smaller pieces of data
Don’t leave any field on your form open to interpretation. Make it clear exactly what information goes in which field by breaking up your fields into the smallest parts possible.
For example, a field as simple as “Name” could be filled in several different ways. Do you want last name, then first name, or the other way around? What about a middle initial? Instead of one “name” field, break this up into three separate fields.
Also, try to think of everything an author or speaker will want to provide, like credentials and designations. If you don’t provide a designated space for it, they’ll find a place to put it. This will lead to inconsistent data that someone needs to clean up after the fact.
- Add helper text to your forms
No matter how clear the submission form seems to you, users will still get stuck. If you know there are areas where you get a lot of questions, add helper text to these fields.
Helper text gives additional context to a field so the user better understands how to fill it in. This helper text usually appears when a user hovers their mouse over a designated symbol near that field.
- Use conditional logic to lead submitters down the right path
If your submission process is simple and straightforward, you may only need to present one set of questions to all users. But many conferences aren’t this simple. The submission process requires branches where submitters need to make choices. And based on those choices, are served different sets of questions.
If your submission form contains any branches, use conditional logic. Add dynamic fields that only display based on a previous field’s input. This ensures your submitters only see fields that are relevant to them. It reduces their frustration and results in more accurate and complete submissions.
- Include some checks-and-balances for your submitters
Add at least one checkpoint to your submission process to encourage more thoughtful and thorough proposals. Some ideas include:
- Charge a small fee for each submission. This will encourage only serious speakers to submit their highest quality proposals without being cost-prohibitive.
- Set a limit on the total number of submissions one author can submit so they’ll only present their best work for consideration.
- Add controls into your abstract management system that prevent an author from starting a new submission until a previous submission is complete.
To deliver industry-leading educational content at your conference year after year, it’s all about the quality—not quantity—of submissions you receive. Incorporating even a few of these recommended steps will make it easier for your submitters to provide better proposals and better data. And, it will reduce the amount of back-end required for you and your team.
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