It’s that time! The call for sessions for the 2014 PRSA International Conference is now open. We spoke with Katherine Hutt, APR, Fellow PRSA, who provides valuable advice and suggestions from her perspective and experience. Read this before you submit that session entry!
Q: What are your top three suggestions for submitting a strong session proposal?
- Pay attention to the guidelines set out by the Conference Committee. Tailor your proposal to fit within the structure suggested.
- Play off the conference theme if you can. The Conference Committee is looking for a program that flows, so topics that fit within the theme are going to get more attention, especially if there are similar proposals.
- Spend some time thinking about a clever or action-oriented name for your presentation.
Q: Do you have advice to share on how to pick a topic or issue that will be most relevant and compelling for this audience?
The most compelling topic is one that you know a lot about. Let’s face it, none of us has cornered the market on public relations, so be sure to highlight what you bring to the table on a particular topic. Take a look at your practice over the past 18-36 months. What is the most significant thing you’ve done? What presents a new or different approach to a widespread matter? What new tactics or techniques have you tried successfully?
Q: How do you identify the right panelists to participate in the session?
Sometimes this occurs naturally, especially if you’ve worked on a team, hired a great agency, or been in coalition with other groups. Look for a balance of roles, levels of leadership, speaking styles, PRSA involvement, etc. Frankly, if I had a choice between an APR and non-APR to be on my panel, I would ask the APR. Have the most senior person serve as the moderator; this can be the most senior person on the project or the most senior person within PRSA.
One thing I would avoid is a panel made up of a client and a vendor only. They tend to end up sounding like commercials for the vendor’s services, even if that was not the intent. A vendor can be a valuable contributor to a panel, but make sure there is balance.
Q: What do you believe is the true value of organizing and participating in a session at the International Conference?
I get a lot of personal satisfaction out of public speaking and mentoring, so that is my primary motivation. If I was considering running for national office or was looking for a major career move, I would certainly see the value in high-visibility opportunities such as this.
I would say the one reason not to do it is to hone your presentation skills. We’re all professional communicators, so if you are not at the top of your game, practice elsewhere before attempting to speak at PRSA. People will get up and walk out of a session if the speaker is poor, the topic is disorganized, or the presentation does not meet the description in the program. Don’t throw something together at the last minute, even if you are a good extemporaneous speaker. You are being judged by a jury of your peers! Give them something to rave about.
Katherine R. Hutt, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Director of Communications at the Council of Better Business Bureaus, where she serves as national spokesperson for the 100-year-old BBB brand. She had her own PR agency for 15 years, and previously worked for two non-profits. A PRSA member since 1985, she has been accredited since 1989 and a Fellow since 2004. She has held several national positions, including the PRSA Board of Ethics, and is a past NCC president, board member and committee chair. She has also served as president of Washington Women in Public Relations, and WWPR honored her as “PR Woman of the Year.” She has spoken at three previous PRSA National Conferences and recently has a proposal accepted to speak at this year’s ASAE conference.