Guidelines for Proposal Writers

As the reviewers examine each proposal for how well it meets established criteria, they are also looking for a balance of topics in each content focus area and a balance of learning approaches within the focus areas.Someone may submit an outstanding proposal that is not accepted simply because there are too many of that type. Before choosing your proposal topic, carefully review and consider all the possibilities outlined in this Call for Presentations. If your preferred topic is “tried and true,” what new and different perspective could you offer? How narrowly and deeply could you focus your topic to really explore its underlying implications? How uniquely might you approach the way you deliver the contentusing effective adult learning principles and practices?

The CAS has developed several short (10-minute) video clips on adult learning principles, writing effective learning objectives, developing your session plan, the power of visual – slides and data slides, and engaging your session participants. These training tools will help all speakers enhancing the learning for their session participants.

We expect to receive many quality proposals on topics of interest to actuaries. What can you do to ensure your proposal stands out?

What can you do to ensure your proposal stands out?

Using adult learning principles and practices

Too often, conference education programs are structured the way many of us may have experienced learning while growing up: a “sage on the stage” shares his/her knowledge with a group of eagerly listening participants. In the real world,however, adults operate on a very different set of expectations. Extensive research in effective learning has identified and clearly shown the impact of key principles in the way adults learn. Keep these principles top-of-mind as you develop your proposal and, if accepted, your session or workshop.

Adults are active and self-directed: they generally take personal responsibility for discovering they need to learn or do to successfully reach their goals.

Adults have a ‘readiness to learn’ based on their personal circumstances: choices about attending a conference and deciding in which sessions and workshops to participate are driven by specific needs for information.

Adults need to know the relevancy oflearning to their specific challenges: a connection must be made betweenthe information presented and the participants’ situations and environments.

Adults bring their life experiences to learning: they learn more effectively when content builds on what theyalready know.

Adults can learn from each other as well as from the presenter(s): they will expect to share ideas and experiences with the presenter and with fellow participants in generating steps for practical application of what they learn.

You’ll note a common thread of engagement and interactivity runs through the ways adults learn most effectively. Your proposal must describe how you will include audience engagement and interaction in your session or workshop. Some ideas for interactive delivery are included in these guidelines.

Writing clear and focused learning objectives

Knowing from the beginning what the desired outcomes of a session will be for the learners helps you keep content development and delivery focused on what matters most. Developing learning objectives requires you to think deeply about your topic. They serve as a framework to ensure focused content, engaging delivery, and applicability to session participants are maintained. Objectives also help participants evaluate the session when it’s over based on how well the objectives were accomplished for them.

In their simplest form, learning objectives provide the answer to this question:

What should the audience be able to do when the session or workshop is over?

Objectives are desired results, written from the learner’s perspective, so learners will understand what they need to learn about the topic and what information is important. Objectives can help learners decide which sessions and workshops will best meet their needs, since they will be able to compare what each option will provide against the skillsor knowledge they need. Objectives also serve as the basis for session design and development. Once good objectives are determined, use them as a filter to decide what content should be included in the session to achievethose objectives. This way, you can focus on what the learner will be able to do when it’s over to ensure the only content presented is that which will give learners what they need.

How many objectives are needed?

For a typical session one to three learning objectives are expected. Keep in mind that objectives help focus the content. They should be learner-centered – that is, written from the learner’s perspective – and be very specific. They should also be realistically achievable within the time frame allotted to the session.

Three types of objectives
All learning objectives are behavior-based and learner-centered. However, there are three types of behavior that learning can convey. Additionally, objectives contain specific action verbs that create observable results. Words like learn, know, or understand are not observable and therefore should not be used.

During the proposal submission process you will have a maximum of 25 words to express each learning objective of your proposed session or workshop. Be sure your objectives are written with actionverbs to show how the content can be applied back on the job and make a difference to participants. Also, be certain your objectives can be realistically accomplished in the time allotted.

Writing a compelling description

Your primary goal in developing yoursession or workshop proposal should be participant learning, not providing a showcase for your own ideas, opinions, experiences, products, or services. Providing great value to participants, including something tangible they can use immediately, will give you the exposure you’d like to have. Put yourself in the learner’s place, and create a learning opportunity and description that would inspire you to attend, participate,and learn!

Required: A more in-depth description
To help reviewers evaluate your proposal,you will be asked to write a description (maximum 150 words) that must contain the following elements:

the primary categories of information you will share.

the impact of any program, activity, or research

how participants will be able to apply what they learn from this session

how you will involve the audience in your session

types of information you will include in your handout to ensure it is an active learning tool and doesn’t just repeat what you say.

Selecting interactive delivery methods

When participants work together to solve a problem or discuss an issue, the value they take from the learning experience increases significantly. If your proposal is accepted, it will be your responsibility to make sure there are opportunities for participants to get involved. Using any number of techniques, you can help to ensure your audience will be better able to transfer what they learn to their own environments.

During the submission process, you will be asked to share how you plan to include audience participation in your session. There are a variety of methods that work well regardless of the session format you choose. The content and expected outcomes are what drive the choice of method. In longer workshop formats – and sometimes in concurrent sessions – you can easily use more than one method for engaging your audience in the learning process.

In determining how to involve your audience in the session or workshop, begin with your learning objectives. How will participants use the content when they return to their jobs? How can you help them learn it so they can use it successfully? If the topic is complex, for example, you may want to create an exercise that enables participants to get a little hands-on experience trying something new in a safe, group-learning environment.

There are several methods you can use to involve your participants, even in a short, 75-minute session. Here are some to consider, and when they're most effective.

Technique Used effectively to:


Generate ideas and enthusiasm


Explore opposing aspects of an issue


Explore an issue and develop perspectives

(full- or small-group)

Reach a conclusion or agree on a solution


Demonstrate applications for learning

Nominal group technique

Help participants ask questions anonymously or generate a lot of ideas from a large group quickly

Peer-assisted learning

Knowledgeable participants help others do an exercise

Question & answer

Learn content by asking and answering questions of either participants or presenter(s)


Enhance personal learning and its application to participants


Try new skills, stimulate discussion, portray a challenge


Gain new perspectives on issues, provide examples of experiences that demonstrate the value or importance of material presented


Many variations depending on need; can react to a topic, generate ideas, problem-solve, discuss an issue, provide opportunity to work in teams, work toward consensus, etc. Requires at least some debriefing for full group to benefit. Create groups by asking them to work with people in the rows in front or behind them; stand up and move to another area of the room; pair up with someone they don't know, count off by number, etc.

Please note: leaving time for a Q&A segment at the end of a lecture is not considered true audience engagement for the purpose of learning, and proposal reviewers will expect more. While getting their questions answered does help participants clarify or understand the content, using questions as a learning tool takes it a step higher. For example, speakers can pose questions to participants that require them, individually or in small groups, to reason out what they are learning and how they might apply it.

Other tips for an interactive delivery:

  • Limit slides by focusing on key points, instructions for activities, etc. rather than listing all your content.
  • Provide a handout that allows participants to include their own insights, results of group exercises, questions they want to explore further, etc.
  • Consider incorporating a pre-work activity into your description so anyone planning to attend can be ready. Ideas include reading an article or bringing with them a case study, statistics, ideas, sample problems, etc. from their own organizations.
  • Give them an assignment to complete after the conference to help ground learning and apply it once they're back at work.
  • Especially in longer workshops, get people up and moving around in some way by doing group activity. You can also ask participants to stand in place or group together in response to questions you ask, rather than just raising hands.

We will make available many excellent resources for more information about this important element of conference learning. We will notify accepted proposal writers but you are also encouraged to check back frequently. The bottom line: getting your participants involved in some way with the content and with each other will help them learn much more effectively than will just you telling them what they need to know.

Planning a useful handout

Why use handouts? For one thing, seminar participants expect them. Participants appreciate handouts they can take with them to serve as reminders of what they learned. Handouts facilitate note-taking, allowing the learner to concentrate more fully on what you're saying. They provide connection for learners who must see more than distant slides as well as for learners who must do something (the act of writing things down can help them learn).

This is an important distinction: handouts are far more than a paper record of your session or workshop. If all you provide is exactly what you plan to say, why should people give you the gift of their time to learn from you? They can just pick up the handout. You must provide "value-add" in your session and leave participants very glad they were physically in the room with you.

Handouts are an active learning tool, and require just as much thought and planning as any other part of your session. The type of handout typically used for conference handouts – and the easiest – is to provide a three-slides-per-page printout of your slides. However, you are short-changing your participants if that is all you provide.

As part of your proposal, you will be asked to share what you plan to include in your handout. At this early stage, we don't need content details; however, the reviewers want to know what type of handout you will do and what kind of information it will contain if your proposal is accepted. What should you consider?

Think about how your handout might be used during and after your session or workshop. How might you make it an effective tool for future reference? Successful handout elements include:

  • Key points in a format that facilitates note-taking (read: plenty of white space); remember you must add value during the session by expanding upon what is in the handout, regardless of what your handout looks like.
    A tip: participants may have personal "a-ha" moments when what you or other participants say resonates with them; be sure to also leave space for them to jot those down
  • Charts, diagrams, or other material that is too detailed to put on a slide.
  • Checklists that provide a list of steps to follow or things to consider in implementing what is learned.
  • Job aids that provide a reminder of a process or of procedures to follow
  • Graphics, drawings, symbols, illustrations that will reproduce well in a black-and-white handout to make it visually stimulating
  • Brief articles that support your points (be sure you have copyright permission to use the work of others)
  • Instructions and/or worksheets for an activity or exercise; for example, if you use a case study, the handout can include relevant case information and questions to think about in analyzing or solving it.
  • A glossary of terms
  • A bibliography or list of resources (don't forget websites!) for those wanting more information.

All these elements can be used separately or in combinations that will fit your content and your objectives. Tell the proposal reviewers what you plan and generally how your content will be shared in the handout.

Remember: your learning objectives drive what is included in your content whether in your slides, your handout, or what you plan to say. We want you to be thinking now about how you plan to make your session or workshop an effective learning experience for those who attend.

Writing the title

Are you surprised this is the last element of writing a winning proposal, and not the first? Think about it...the title is what potential participants read first. It should capture, in 10 words or less, the key concept behind why someone should attend this session instead of others held at the same time. You are in the best position for writing an effective, eye-catching title if you have already given serious thought to what your session or workshop will be about and what participants will take from it.

An effective title, besides being short, is in active tense. Grab a copy of this morning's newspaper and read some headlines. If well-written, they are short, clearly articulate the content of the article underneath, and use action verbs. Some may use a play on words or a little appropriate humor. They're always written after the story is complete and scheduled to run in the newspaper. Regardless of how headlines are phrased, the intent is clearly understood and you can quickly decide whether to read the article.

That is the function your session or workshop title serves. Make it the headline of your proposal. Ensure the reviewers (and potential participants!) want to learn more.