Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Long and Short of Answering the Grace Hopper Call for Participation

You have a great idea for a Grace Hopper conference session. A really really great idea! In fact, as you prepare to submit your proposal, you realize that your idea may be TOO great. How in the world will you and your panelists cover everything that needs to be said in the space of a one hour session? It's just not going to fit! What do you do now? First, know that you're not alone. Others are facing the same problem as they work on their proposals. Others faced the same problem last year, and the year before. So I asked Deanna Kosaraju, the Anita Borg Institute's VP of Programs, what advice she has for those whose GHC ideas won't fit neatly into a one hour session.

Deanna's top recommendation is that you really try to make the session fit into a single hour. Why? Because, based on prior GHC experience, Deanna expects there will be approximately ten times more conference submissions than there is physical space and time available at GHC 2010. In addition, the committees reviewing the program submissions will try to accept sessions from as many different presenters as possible. I'll offer some suggestions below for how to pare your session down. But here are your alternatives if feel you just can't make that work.

Can your idea be broken into two or more one-hour sessions? Divide them up with your collaborators and submit them (separately) as a mini-track. In the submission for each, describe how it is related to the other(s) and request that they be scheduled back-to-back (if that's necessary). But be forewarned: the committee may accept your multiple session proposals but only give you a single one-hour session to present them. This happened to me a few years ago when our two-panels-plus-one-BOF (Birds of a Feather) mini-track was accepted, but we were instructed to combine the two panels into one. We did, and used the BOF for the overflow conversation from the panel.

The other option is to include in your submission an explanation of how long the session should be. You will need to make a compelling case for why the session cannot be condensed into a single hour. You'll also need to show how the agenda will be broken up into chunks no longer than one hour, so that attendees will get regular breaks. Even if you do, the committee may accept your session proposal but only give you a single hour to present it. Deanna assured me this also has happened before.

Remember: The program committees will try to accept sessions from as many different presenters as possible. And they will receive many more great proposals than they can possibly fit into the available space and time. So let's go back to Deanna's original recommendation.

How do you condense a great session idea so it will fit into a single hour? Here are a few of my own suggestions, then I would love to hear yours:
  • One reason that sessions get too big for one hour is by having too many speakers. Limit the number of panelists you invite, so that each will have adequate time to share her contributions.
  • Select a subset of your topic to focus on. That might mean narrowing the problem space, e.g., focus on one special case or ignore special cases and focus on the general. It might mean selecting only the most important aspects of your topic, or perhaps the most popular (like a top ten list).
  • Move some of your content into a reference area in the back of your slides. You won't have time to present it but you can let attendees know it's there. Post your slides on the conference wiki for attendees to download. Or create an online resource area where attendees can go to find and/or share more ideas (this can also be done on the conference wiki).
Now let's hear from you. Have you streamlined a large session idea to make it fit? Have you combined multiple sessions into one? What tactics have worked well for you?

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