How to Build Contingency Planning Into Your Call for Papers

Last-minute changes to your conference program are bound to happen. Incorporate these four steps in your next call for papers or speakers to be more prepared for the inevitable.

Contingency planning is more necessary than ever

Meeting planners have always been contingency planning pros. And the risk of a speaker having to cancel at the last minute has always existed. But over the past several years, that risk has increased exponentially.  There are more factors present that could prevent a planned speaker from being able to travel.

Plan for the inevitable during your call for papers

If you’re using an abstract management system to conduct your call for papers, posters, or speakers, there are several steps you should take that will make it easier to make future adjustments to your program schedule and session content if necessary.

  1. Proactively manage your speaker preferences

    As part of your submission form, be sure to ask potential speakers whether they are willing to deliver their session content in-person or virtually. That way, if things need to change, you already have reportable data on which speakers you can ultimately select based on the final conference format, rather than going back and collecting this information after the fact.

  2. Collect all speaker assets early, and in multiple formats

    As part of your initial call, include a place for session presenters to supply everything you will need for your final event materials, including headshots, bios, and other supplementary materials. Ask for these files to be provided in formats that will work well across print, online, and mobile. That way, regardless of how attendees access the conference schedule and session information, you’re already covered.

  3. Consider video as part of the initial call for papers process

    Abstracts and presentation proposals are used to judge the quality and relevance of the suggested topic. But it’s also important to know whether the speaker can present the information in a compelling and engaging way. It’s also never a bad idea to use video to “audition” your speakers—even for an in-person event. However, this audition process becomes even more important in a virtual setting where it can be harder to hold the audience’s attention.  Have your speakers submit a short (1-2 minute) video of themselves delivering a portion of the presentation during your initial call for presentations. Some abstract management platforms even feature a built-in video recording tool to make the process easier.  And later, if you do need to offer pre-recorded, on-demand session content as part of your virtual or hybrid event, speakers can use this same tool to record and submit their final presentations.

  4. Leverage the built-in scheduling tool

    Many meeting planners use a series of spreadsheets to build their conference schedule which makes changes to speakers or sessions extremely time-consuming. If your abstract management software includes a built-in electronic scheduling tool, now is the time to take advantage of it! Using this tool, you can easily pull in accepted papers, posters, and presentations, drag-and-drop them into the schedule, and see flagged conflicts at a glance. Not only does this make it significantly easier to build an initial schedule, but it also saves a lot of time and potential errors if you need to manage last-minute changes.

The only think certain is uncertainty. In the world of meetings and events, there will always be a disrupter to throw our perfectly-laid plans awry. It’s even more important to take steps early on in the conference planning process—including during your initial call for presentations—that provide greater flexibility down the road.

Abstract Management Pros Share Tips on Managing a Call For Papers

Running a call for papers is one of the most time and resource-intensive tasks. But it doesn’t have to be.

While conference attendees love good food, great networking opportunities, and an inspiring atmosphere, what they really value most about your event are the insightful educational sessions. Which makes the task of sourcing high-quality content extremely important.

How to manage a call for abstracts is a process that’s often passed down from one program committee to the next. Steps are followed because “that’s how we’ve always done it.” But there might be a better way.

We consulted with four of our resident abstract management experts, Erin, John, Dave, and Paul, to develop the Best Practices Guide for High-Quality Content. Using their experience working with hundreds of conferences each year, they provide ten simple changes meeting planners can make to simplify the abstract submission and review process.

As a follow-up, we sat down with these experts to dive further into the advice provided within the guide.

Q&A With Four Resident Abstract Management Experts

Q: One of the tips featured in the guide is to “prepare your forms to collect all necessary data.” What does this mean, and why is it so important?

Erin: People spend a lot of time unnecessarily chasing down data from submitters at the eleventh hour because either they didn’t think to collect it, or they didn’t think they would need it. It’s really important to first understand where all of the collected data is ultimately going to live and how it’s going to be used, so we can help our customers get exactly what they need.

John: If the planner has a sample of what their final conferences materials will be, possibly from a previous conference, we try and get that early on in the abstract management process. The customer doesn’t think of the data the same way we do, and they shouldn’t have to. That’s our job. We look at the final conference materials and make the connection between what’s actually being published versus what’s being included on the collection form.  

Paul: Here’s a real customer example of why collecting all necessary data on your form is so important. I noticed that one customer published the city, state, and country for each of their authors, but they weren’t asking us to collect it on the form. We had time to change that before the call for papers opened, which ultimately saved them a lot of time!

Dave: Best practice tip: If you know you’re going to need specific information, make it required in the first round of your call for papers, so you’re asking people to come into the abstract management system as infrequently as possible – they’ll really appreciate it!

Erin: At the same time, we do want to be mindful of how much people are asked to provide early on. We push our customers to really think about whether they really need some information, and if they are really going to use it. It’s a fine balance that we help customers maintain.

Q: Are there other ways that author or submitter data is sometimes used that customers don’t always think of?

Dave: Reports! Sometimes a customer will need to have certain data sets for internal reporting purposes, but they may not have collected it because they weren’t thinking of reports at the time. But the reality is, even though the conference site is still being built and they won’t need to access reports for several months, providing all data sets upfront helps streamline the process.

Q: What about data quality? How can we ensure an author or speaker provides a complete submission?

John: It’s all about the fields you use on your submission form. You have to break up data into smaller pieces. Otherwise five people will fill out the same field five different ways.

Erin: This is a huge culprit! For instance, don’t just include a “Name” field. Break out “First Name” and “Last Name” into two separate fields.

Paul: And, think of everything your authors are going to want to provide, like credentials and designations. If you don’t have a specific space for it, they’ll find a place to put it anyway, and that causes a lot of unnecessary data cleanup on the back end.

Dave: Co-authors can be tricky too. If the submitter is the only person that has access to that submission, they’re going to have a hard time completing it if they don’t know all of their co-authors’ information. So, on your instructions, tell your authors to gather all of their co-author information ahead of time, and it will be a much easier process for them.

Q: Speaking of instructions, how do they factor into the submission and review process?

Dave: Instructions are incredibly important! Having clearly-written instructions that are easily accessible at the right points during the submission and review process will increase compliance and quality substantially.

John: Keep your instructions very simple, and break them out into smaller, more digestible pieces. Some customers have a tendency to try and over-explain, and this actually causes more confusion and misinterpretation.

Erin: Be sure to have a brief overview of basic qualifiers on your conference website, where the call for papers is being advertised. This allows authors to determine whether their topic is a good fit before they get into the system and start a submission.

Paul: And don’t forget about your  reviewers. Be sure you write instructions for them as well.

Q: If you could share just one piece of abstract management wisdom with all meeting planners, what would it be?

Erin:  Finalize the big decisions about how you want the process to go at the very beginning, so you don’t find yourself having to change anything while you’re already in the middle of collection. I’ve seen this happen with some large committees, and the customer then had to go back and ask hundreds of authors to come back into the system and update information.

John: I’m going to add to that and say that it’s also important to determine early on who will be the designated point of contact for everything, and funnel all communication and decisions through this person. It simplifies the process tremendously, and you won’t have multiple committee members inadvertently providing conflicting information.

Paul: Provide a designated contact to field questions from submitters—particularly new submitters. Some customers don’t think they want to do this for a variety of reasons. Not having this available and accessible creates frustration for a potentially high-quality speaker.

Dave: Consider reducing the number of reviewers you recruit. I’ve had customers that wanted to assign a single reviewer to a single submission. With fewer reviewers, you actually get better data because they are seeing a bigger pool of submissions and have more context on quality.

John: I think the biggest thing for meeting planners or program chairs to know is they don’t have to be tied to legacy processes just because that’s the way it’s always been done. There may be an easier way to achieve the same outcome, so let us help you explore that option. That’s what we’re here for.

For more tips on how to design a call for papers process that is easier to manage and results in higher-quality submissions, download the Best Practices Guide for High-Quality Content.

10 Tips for Writing Instructions for Your Call for Papers [INFOGRAPHIC]

When your organization is looking for speakers and authors to submit abstracts, papers, posters, or session proposals for an upcoming event, you want the process to be as easy as possible so that you receive even more high-quality submissions to choose from. An easy submission process begins with clear, concise submission instructions so that speakers and authors understand all requirements before they begin. Here are some simple tips and best practices for writing call for papers instructions that reduce confusion and frustration. 

Write easy-to-follow call for papers instructions with these 10 tips

View a larger, printable .pdf version of the infographic heretips for writing call for papers instructions infographic screenshot

1. Know your audience

Some submitters may not understand the terminology in your instructions. Keep your audience’s background and demographics in mind so you use language you know they’ll understand, especially if English isn’t their first language. 

2. Keep it short

When reading online, users shy away from long, complex paragraphs. To increase the chances that your users will read–not skim–your instructions, use short, easy to understand sentences.

3. Use simple terms

There’s no need to use fancy words when writing instructions for your call for papers. Using simple terms will make sure more people understand the process you are explaining.

4. Use contextual instructions

Supplement your instructions with tips that appear throughout your submission form. These additional points can be written next to specific fields, or appear when a user places their cursor over a “Help” icon. Having these instructions on the page ensures people see them right when they need them most.

5. Use numbers and bullets

If you want your submitters to follow the instructions like a recipe, use numbered lists to indicate the steps they need to take. If you have more general or optional instructions, use bullets.

6. Use the imperative

Vague statements can confuse readers. Use the imperative and write your instructions like direct commands. For example, write “Select one topic below,” instead of “Please pick from this list of topics.”

7. Use different typefaces and sizes

If you need to call attention to a particular instruction or warning, use bold typeface or consider changing the font style or size. Using a different colored font can also help, but keep in mind that colors can be difficult to read for some users.

8. Anticipate the length of the submission process

Give submitters an idea of how long the process will take. For example, your submission process may involve 3 sections and take approximately 20-30 minutes to complete. That way, submitters will be able to ensure they have enough time to complete the submission and not be rushed.

9. Go through a test-run

Because you know your submission program inside and out, you will be less likely to catch instructions that might be unclear. Ask co-workers, family, or friends who are not as close the event as you are to go through the instructions and provide feedback before you open the submission site to everyone. 

10. Don’t be afraid to change your call for papers instructions

If you think you’ve written clear instructions but you’re still receiving feedback that users are struggling with your system, it’s not too late to change them. Making edits while your call is open gives future users the chance to have a smoother submission process.

Writing instructions for your call for papers may not be as easy as it sounds. When you’re close to a project, providing detailed instructions that external users will understand can be a challenge. But, if you follow these tips, you will produce more effective instructions that can make it easier on submitters!

Looking for more tips to simplify your next call for abstracts, papers, posters and presentations? Check out this article, Abstract Management Pros Share Tips on Managing a Call for Papers, where we collect advice from a panel of abstract management experts.

 

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