Tuesday, November 1, 2016

How to Pitch Conference Directors on Teaching a Workshop

Dianne teaching a workshop for writers at the
Colorado Christian Writers Conference
Estes Park, Colorado, May 2011
I'm often asked how I got started teaching at writers conferences. Usually the one asking  is doing so because he or she would like to be on faculty at a conference. I'll answer the question of how it happened for me. Then I'll give you tips on how you might ask a conference director to put you on staff.

I'm betting my answer to the question, how I first got on faculty at a conference, is fairly unique. The first time for me, I did not ask to teach. I wasn't comfortable standing in front of a classroom teaching -- public speaking made me nervous. So instead I told God, "If you want me to teach, then instead of me asking the conference director, I'd like you to have the conference director ask me. If that happens, I will know it's from you and I'll say yes."

Now, I had attended this particular conference for at least fifteen years and had never been on faculty. So imagine my surprise when only a few weeks later the conference director contacted me and asked me to teach a workshop.

What could I do? I had to say yes, didn't I? Well, hey.  If God was asking me to teach a workshop, then he would just have to help me do it, too, don't you think?

Since then I've taught lots of workshops at several conferences. The more I do it, the less nervous I am.

If you're nervous about public speaking, I highly recommend you check out Toastmasters International and find (or start) a club near you. (Tweet that!) This group helped me immensely.

But what if God doesn't open a door for you? How do you ask to get on faculty to teach workshops at a writer's conference? (Tweet that!) If I had to do it knowing what I know now, here's what I'd do:

Find out when to pitch your workshop ideas

Send a polite email to the conference director asking when would be the best time to send some workshop ideas. (Tweet that!) I'm on faculty about every other year at the conference I first taught at, the Colorado Christian Writer's Conference, held in May. From what I can tell, now is the time to pitch that director. I know she'll start putting the spring conference together before Christmas, so I want to pitch her before that so she'll have my info in mind when she's thinking about her conference.

The same director also gives a conference in August, the Greater Philadelphia Christian Writers Conference. I know to give the director time after a conference to rest, clean up, finish the book work, etc. (Tweet that!) So I think it's best not to pitch right after you get home. Give the director some time to breathe.

If it's a conference you are attending (it's a really good idea to attend the conference you want to teach at!), then you might ask the director while you're there when she would want you to send her workshop ideas.

Prepare several pitches:

Meanwhile, brainstorm and prepare your workshop ideas. (Tweet this!) Don't just send one idea. Giving conference directors three or four options to choose from helps them shape the conference they want and gives you a better chance of success. They might even want you to teach more than one workshop (which saves them on costs for bringing in more faculty).

Here are some tips to think about when you are picking your possible workshop topics or brainstorming your ideas:

Make it useful.

I've heard some pretty boring pitches. I've also heard some pitches to teach information that is so basic probably most people there already know that much. You have something useful and unique that others need. What is that?

Check your motives. You don't want to be the person who seems to just want to be at the front of the room speaking. It's not about you. It's about:
  1. your workshop attendees and serving them (Check out my article about serving others through your writing: "Writing for Publication and ...Servanthood.");
  2. your conference director and serving her overall goals for her conference.

Make it unique. 

Why should the director pick your workshop? (Tweet that!) Remember that a lot of other people are wanting to be on the faculty too. Your pitch is competing for a limited number of workshop slots in the conference. So what do you have to offer that isn't already being offered routinely?

Alternatively, what "holes" do you see in your knowledge base or in the usual conference offerings? If there is something you need to know but nobody is teaching on, maybe you can research that topic, find helpful answers, and offer that information in a workshop. In your pitch, let the director know you've needed this information so other writers probably do too.

In other words, instead of thinking about what you want to teach, think about what this audience needs or wants. Then match that with what you can offer.

Make it short 

Write a one-paragraph (a short one!) description of the workshop you envision. Give a solid overview of your idea as well as some of the topics you'll cover. This is your pitch that you'll send with your business-letter type email to the conference director.

Then also write and send a one-sentence description to go in the conference brochure.

Make sure you have the credentials.

If you haven't yet sold a book to a publisher, don't pitch a workshop on how to get multiple book contracts. Duh, right?

Also, if you've only done it once, think twice. There may be some topics where if you've succeeded once it's a major accomplishment that you can talk about. Other topics, though, need the experience and success of more than a one-hit wonder. In other words, getting a book contract from a large, respected publish is a great accomplishment. However it may take doing that more than once to know if it was your concepts which other people can employ that made it happen and will work for them.

Think about what you have experienced. What have you learned? What knowledge do you have to share that will help or interest others? Is there enough info there to teach a 45 minute (or two-hour) workshop?

Under Promise / Over Deliver

Whatever you promise the conference director in your pitch, make sure you can and will deliver what you promise...and more.

You may be asked for...

Recently I heard a writer ask another conference director what she wanted from people who pitched her workshop ideas to teach at her conference. She said she wanted to hear you teaching. She asked for a CD or an MP3 recording. You might want to be prepared in case a director asks you for a recording of you teaching a workshop.

Many of the conferences where I've taught record workshops and give the presenter a free copy. If yours doesn't give a free one, ask politely if that can be included.

Of course if you haven't taught a workshop anywhere yet, this is a problem. Perhaps you could ask to teach to a local writer's group or club and record that.

When You're Invited...

You'll need a photo for the web site and brochure. You'll probably receive a contract to sign. You may be asked for a bio to put on the web site. You will probably be asked for a lot of activity. Be sure to respond promptly with quality items.

Add Value for Your Audience

As you prepare your outlines for the workshops you might teach, think about adding value for those in your class.

At the very least create handouts - something for your attendees to take home. Perhaps you can give away other products of value to your students (that doesn't cost you a lot): maybe a checklist to help them implement your strategies when they get home, or a list of resources.

You'll be giving far more than your workshop presentation. People will want to hang out with you, ask you questions, eat a meal with you, talk, tell you about their projects, etc. The conference you're speaking at may schedule you to meet with conferees one on one during hours when you're not teaching. You may be asked to critique manuscripts attendees bring or send in advance. Some conferences expect you to do these things when you're on faculty and it's all included in what you're being paid. Other items you may get paid an additional fee for doing some items, like critiques.

Add Value for Yourself

Think about what you would like your students to do when they get home. Would you like them to buy your books on Amazon? Visit your blog? Then put your Amazon page (short URL), web site, blog URL, etc., on all your handouts. (Tweet that!)

During your class, circulate a sign-up sheet for your newsletter. You can input their email addresses yourself when you get home and your newsletter app will send them a confirmation to opt in.

Think ahead about what could benefit you, and then create sign-up sheets or whatever you need for that. But of course always remember the purpose of the workshop is for the benefit the people attending, not you!

If you don't have books published, make other products to sell on the faculty tables or bookstore. More than a dozen years ago I created five helpful pamphlets for writers with my teachings on several topics. These continue to sell well at conferences where I teach, adding to my income, and I've since made some of them into e-books so more writers can benefit from them. All because I wanted to offer something of value at conferences.

Avoid these Turn-offs 

I've experienced:

  • Workshop leaders walking in late.
  • Coming completely unprepared.
  • Talking about nothing but themselves.

I still have a bad taste in my mouth and am reluctant to purchase those authors' books.

When you're asked to be on faculty at a conference, this is a time to give, not to take. Give to your conference director and give to your workshop attendees. (Tweet that!) Give to others at the conference. I'm betting you'll end up receiving more than you give in the long run.  And chances are good you might get invited back.